India captain Rohit Sharma heaped praise on Hong Kong, pointing out the valiant effort from the minnows in Tuesday's Asia Cup 2018 Group A tie between the two teams in Dubai.
The stand-in skipper conceded his team made quite a few mistakes in their tournament opener but gave due credit to Hong Kong, who punched above their weight and fought hard before going down by just 26 runs.
Contrary to expectations, opener Nizakat Khan (92) and captain Anshuman Rath (73) came up with the team's best-ever opening stand (174) and put Hong Kong in the driver's seat in chase of 286, which seemed an uphill task for the associate team before the two openers walked out to bat.
None of Rohit's plans worked as both the batsmen were comfortable facing the young Indian attack, which included the spin twins in Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, on a sluggish wicket at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.
However, once Kuldeep broke the stand, wickets started to fall at regular intervals and Hong Kong eventually fell short of the target.
"Not a lot of things went to plan. But to win the game is very important. We always knew it was not going to be easy. We had a pretty inexperienced bowling line up but having said that there are no excuses. We made our mistakes where we could have attacked or we could have defended better. This tournament is all about learning. And these guys will learn," Rohit said.
"You have to give credit to Hong Kong. They played really well and showed good determination. Great partnership and great batting from those two openers. Great learning for the bowling group. To handle the situations was important. It was better to have this [a tough contest] in the first game of the tournament."
Dhawan, Rayudu shine
Earlier in the day, Shikhar Dhawan had hit his 14th ODI ton (127) and comeback man Ambati Rayudu a half-century (60) to give India a strong platform to bat Hong Kong out of the contest.
However, a familiar middle-order collapse saw the second-ranked ODI side fail to get past the 300-run mark, which looked certain when Dhawan and Rayudu were going all guns blazing.
Hong Kong were brilliant with the ball towards the end of the Indian innings as they gave away only 48 runs and picked up five wickets in the last 10 overs.
22-year-old Kinchit Shah was the pick of their bowlers as he picked up three wickets, including the ones of Dhawan and a well-set Dinesh Karthik (33).
Would have been great if we had beaten India: Hong Kong captain Rath
It was heartening to see Hong Kong show great character and determination in Tuesday's tie, which came a day after they were thrashed by Pakistan in the Group A opener.
Notably, Hong Kong had lost the ODI status only earlier this year and thereby a berth in the 13-team ODI league starting in 2020.
The Asian minnows had beaten Afghanistan in the World Cup qualifiers but a string of poor results in Zimbabwe earlier this year saw them lose the ODI status that they had earned in 2014.
One can only hope the International Cricket Council will hand Hong Kong its ODI status back after Tuesday's valiant show against one of the best limited-overs sides in the world.
"We have had no pressure coming into the tournament and wanted to play with a smile on our faces on the big stage. We've done that and done ourselves proud. Yes, would have been great if we had rolled over the best team in the world, wasn't to be but super proud of the boys," captain Rath said.