Anshuman Rath, the Hong Kong captain, believes his side will leave the UAE with the satisfaction of "having shown the world" what they can do, and has implored the ICC to look at Associate cricket more seriously, after his side nearly upset India on Tuesday.
Rath, who starred in a 174-run opening stand, Hong Kong's highest ever in ODIs, with Nizakat Khan, set the base for a 286 chase, before his team's inexperience in the middle showed. They eventually lost by 26 runs to get knocked out of the Asia Cup.
"I think today was bittersweet," Rath said. "We proved to the world what we can do, but in saying that, we had India by the horns and should have really finished it off. If we're being hard on ourselves, which we should be, we should have finished that game off."
After the eight-wicket pounding against Pakistan on Sunday, Rath had said his side would've benefitted from playing tougher opponents in the build-up to the tournament. On Tuesday, he elaborated on the need to follow the Afghanistan model to ensure the development of Associate teams.
"I think it's more exposure to high level cricket," he said, when asked about what they needed. "You look at Afghanistan as a prime example. Back from 2011-2015, they were performing like us, upsetting the odd teams but going through a string of performances where they were getting bowled out for 140-150 on good decks, just like we did against Pakistan.
"But with the right backing, they started getting better and better, they started training a lot harder, became fully contracted with professionalism coming. Now they're pretty much about to top group B. That's something that lacks in Associates - the exposure to high level of cricket and today we proved we're capable of it, and a lot of teams are. Look at Scotland at the World Cup qualifiers, they narrowly missed out. We just need that recognition."
For three hours, India were stretched as Hong Kong batted without any fear and inhibition. Rath and Nizakat raised a 174-run opening stand to leave them needing 112 off the last 16 overs with all wickets intact. "When [we] restricted India to 285, we knew, it was a good batting deck. They have the bowlers, but we knew 280-odd was just above par," Rath said. "We had the batting firepower, had nothing to lose so I said 'it's game on here'."
But the batsmen were starting to cramp, and spinners failed to exerted the kind of control MS Dhoni expected of them earlier in the innings. "I mean when me and Kat (Nizakat) were out there, I could tell the Indian players were getting a little anxious," Rath said. "Shikhar walked past Dhoni and said '280 may not be enough here. We should have scored 350.' They're heroes, aren't they? The respect we've earned is commendable, and we're just really happy. It's a bittersweet feeling, we should've finished that game.
"It was a confidence thing, you look at the way we batted against Pakistan and we were timid, a bit rigid, sort of 'oh my god, we're playing Pakistan.' Here after our bowling performance, restricting India to 280 when they should've got 330-340 gave us a confidence boost. We said if we give it a good crack, we could chase it, but we narrowly missed out."
As things stand, Hong Kong's ODI status will be taken away from them immediately, leaving their future in limbo. The ICC is set to meet in Madrid next month to decide the way forward for Associates, but there's nothing pencilled in for the immediate future. This leaves a huge void for players to fill. It's this uncertainty Rath hoped would end sooner than later.
"Of course, we don't know what the ICC have planned for us. Hopefully this performance helps," he said. "The next three-four years will be quiet for us, going into a rebuilding phase, but hopefully the ICC recognise that Associate cricket has got a lot better and we proved that today."