Pakistan On Course for Record 6th Hong Kong Cricket Sixes Title; England Disappoint

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[HD videos below] Defending champions Pakistan stayed on course for a record sixth Cup title at the Karp Group Hong Kong Sixes 2012 on Saturday, as they eased into the main competition alongside Sri Lanka, South Africa and hosts Hong Kong.

But it was a different story for the other five-time Cup winners England who were relegated to the Plate competition after losing two of their preliminary round games - to Australia and Hong Kong - on the opening day of action at the Kowloon Cricket Club. 

Pakistan, led by Kamran Akmal, suffered a hiccup in the final match of the day losing by three wickets to Sri Lanka but they had done enough to qualify for the main event having coasted to wins over the Netherlands and archrivals India.

Returning with three players from their successful 2011 campaign Umar Akmal, Hammad Azam and Yasir Shah Pakistan were quickly into stride as they chased down modest totals in their first two pool games.

Associate member country, the Netherlands, posted a meager 73 for four which hardly posed a problem for Pakistan with opening pair Umar Akmal (28 not out) and Awais Zia (34 retired) laying the foundation for a comfortable victory.

The Akmal brothers were to the fore again against India, who could only muster 73 runs in their knock, and both were unbeaten as Pakistan reached their target with nine balls to spare.

It was an excellent day for us, the boys played very well against India and the Netherlands. So far so good, but tomorrow is another hard day against the best teams so far, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Hong Kong, so there are no easy games for us. We will play harder tomorrow after we relaxed a bit too much in the last game, said Akmal.

Sri Lankan captain Jehan Mubarak saw his side squeak to a last-ball victory against Pakistan as the islanders remained unbeaten on the opening day. Sri Lanka were given an early wake-up call by the Dutch who came close to chasing down an imposing total of 107, falling just short by three runs.

With opening bat and wicket-keeper Kusal Perera in fine form, and with good support from Chamara Kapugede and Kaushal Lokuarachchi, Sri Lanka upped the tempo against a makeshift Indian outfit romping to a 37-run victory to ensure their place in the last four in the Cup competition, which will be played on a round-robin format with the top two advancing to the Cup final on Sunday.

We played well and the boys are happy. We didn't play with any expectations and this is how we always want to play and it worked for us today. It will be tough tomorrow, but we are in a happy mood and relaxed and that is when we play our best. We enjoy playing Sixes and we want to do well again tomorrow, Mubarak said.

Hosts Hong Kong lived up to their reputation as giant-killers when they held their nerve to defeat Englands hardened band of County professionals to book their berth at the top table.

Hong Kong had begun the day promisingly when they blasted the highest total of the day, 134 for one against a hapless Australian outfit.

Teenage opener Babar Hayat was in outstanding form scoring 34 before retiring (batsmen have to retire once they reach 31 but can return if the other players are out) as the Australian bowlers wilted under his assault.

Australia were very impressed with Babar. Brad Hodge told me he had never seen such clean hitting and that means a lot coming from a professional like him, Hong Kong coach Charlie Burke said.

Australia crumbled to a 67-run defeat to give the home side the perfect start as they go in hunt of a first-ever Cup title. Hong Kong came close in 2009 when it lost in the final to South Africa.

But the home teams balloon was punctured by South Africa who restricted Hong Kong to 84, despite another good knock by Hayat, and easily knocked off the runs for the loss of two wickets.

Needing to win their final group game against England, Hong Kong lost Hayat early and the rest of the batting could only scramble to a total of 78, which is well below par at the small ground.

But Hong Kongs bowlers came to the party with left-arm spinner Munir Dar bowling a superb opening over, one for seven, and seamer Tanwir Afzal also proving that the minnows could match the professionals with a miserly one for five off his over.

We knew we had to bowl well to have a chance of qualifying for the Cup. Both Munir and Tanwir bowled exceptionally well, said Burke.

The loss placed England in a must-win situation as they faced South Africa but the Colin Ingram-led team was too strong as they won by 21 runs having posted a sizeable total of 113 for one.

That was a crunch game for us as we knew the winner would make it through to the Cup, Ingram said. We batted well in two games today, but I think the key was our fielding. We didnt drop one catch which came our way and our ground fielding saved a lot of runs.

South Africa, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Hong Kong will figure in a round-robin competition on Sunday with the top two teams advancing into the Cup final.

The bottom four-placed sides, England, the Netherlands, India and Australia will play in the Plate semi-finals.

Todays opening round of the KARP Group Hong Kong Sixes was again well supported by local cricket enthusiasts with the venue approaching maximum capacity with attendance of over 2,700.

Among those in attendance was Mr Alan Isaac, President of the International Cricket Council, on a stopover after being in Beijing this past week.

The Hong Kong Sixes is a great event, said Isaac. It is great to see the game being played in places like Hong Kong and we hope to see the game continue to grow in China.

Less than 500 tickets remain for Sundays finals. Tickets can be purchased at the Box Office at Kowloon Cricket Club.

The tournament has been broadcast live since 2008 and in 2011 reached over 115 million households on the Indian subcontinent, across Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Australia and South Africa, as well as being packaged for distribution in North America, the United Kingdom, Europe and China.

Interview with Jehan Mubarak, Captain of Sri Lanka

Interview with Kamran Akmal, Captain of Pakistan

See more: HD Videos from Hong Kong Cricket Sixes 2012

Other 2012 Hong Kong Cricket Sixes-related stories: South Africa Beats Pakistan to Win 2012 Hong Kong Sixes, Pakistan On Course for Record 6th Hong Kong Cricket Sixes Title, Brad Hodge to Captain Australia @ HK Sixes, Hong Kong to Play Australia in First Game of HK Cricket Sixes this Weekend, India Names Strong Team for 2012 Hong Kong Cricket Sixes, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Netherlands Confirm Teams for HK Sixes, Irfan Ahmed Returns to Hong Kong Team for HK Cricket Sixes, 8 Countries to Compete in this Weekend's Hong Kong Cricket Sixes and HD Videos from Hong Kong Cricket Sixes 2012 and Pictures from the 2012 Hong Kong Sixes.

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