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Barramundis regain ODI status with an incredible turnaround

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Papua_New_Guinea_ODI_CricketThe final edition of the World Cricket League came to an end on April 27, with hosts Namibia claiming the Division Two title. The stakes were high for the six teams in the fray, as a reward of ODI status for the next two years awaited the top four finishers. As it happened, the tournament produced plenty of twists and turns till the last round, leaving Namibia, Oman, Papua New Guinea and the United States as the top four teams after an enthralling week of one-day cricket.

Oman made their ODI debut in the final that they lost by 145 runs to Namibia, who themselves returned to the ODI scene after more than 16 years – they last played an ODI at the 2003 World Cup. Likewise, the USA played their first ODI in nearly 15 years when they took on Papua New Guinea in the third-place playoff. As for Papua New Guinea, they regained the ODI status they had lost after the World Cup Qualifier in March 2018, thanks to a stunning last-round comeback.

The Barramundis first earned ODI status in January 2014, following a commendable fourth-place finish at the World Cup Qualifier in New Zealand. Later that year, they created history by becoming the first team to win their first two ODIs when they beat Hong Kong 2-0 at Townsville in Australia. In October 2017, ODI cricket was played in Papua New Guinea for the first time, with the hosts welcoming Scotland at Port Moresby for their two WCL Championship fixtures.

However, an uninspiring display at last year’s ten-team World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe, where they finished ninth, snatched ODI status away from Papua New Guinea. Given the closed-shop approach of the International Cricket Council, one wondered when the Barramundis would be next seen at the ODI level. But the ICC, in a welcome move, announced an expansion in the number of ODI teams from 16 to 20 in October 2018, thus giving the Barramundis another crack.

Papua New Guinea’s quest for regaining ODI status began with cause for concern, as lacklustre batting in their first WCL Division Two match against Namibia led to a three-wicket defeat. The silver lining was that despite having only 118 to defend, the bowlers gave their all – Namibia were 88/7 at one stage. The Barramundis’ campaign was revived in the second round, as they beat familiar foes Hong Kong by three wickets in a chase of 223, mainly due to Tony Ura (87).

But the batting woes were further heightened in the next two rounds, which left Papua New Guinea’s chances of securing ODI status hanging by a thread. A ruthless USA severely dented Papua New Guinea’s net run rate by bowling them out for 127 before completing a massive ten-wicket win. It was the same story against Canada, as the Barramundis fell to 42/6 before captain Assad Vala (82) carried them to 154. However, his team could not prevent a three-wicket defeat.

The scenario ahead of the last round was desperate – Papua New Guinea had to beat table toppers Oman, who had won each of their first four games, by a wide margin in order to remain in contention. Besides, they had to hope for the other results to go their way. Vala saw Oman’s stand-in captain Khawar Ali win the toss and decide to field at the United Cricket Club Ground in Windhoek, well aware that his team just could not afford another shoddy outing with the bat.

Within the first 15 overs of the innings, the writing seemed to be on the wall for Papua New Guinea. The rampant Omani bowlers, spearheaded by pacer Fayyaz Butt, destroyed the top order to leave the score tottering at 32/5. Ura and Vala were both back in the hut cheaply, which meant that the onus to deliver something special, and to salvage what was fast appearing to be a crushed dream, now lay on wicketkeeper Kiplin Doriga and Sese Bau – the last recognised batting pair.

Doriga and Bau intently responded to the challenge, mixing caution with aggression to slowly change the complexion of the game. By the time they were separated, they had batted together for nearly 28 overs, during which they raised an invaluable 129 runs for the sixth wicket. The 23-year-old Doriga, who made his List A debut in 2017-18 and is one of the brightest Associate talents to watch out for in the years ahead, scored 65 off 91 balls, with three fours and two sixes.

Bau stayed long enough to steer the score past 200, before perishing for a 92-ball 80 that featured six fours and two sixes. The eventual total was a promising 221/8, which would have given the bowlers a big boost as they looked to return the favour early in the chase. It was left-arm pacer Nosaina Pokana, another 23-year-old, who stole the show, producing one of the spells of the tournament. He signalled his intentions from the outset, castling Jatinder Singh off the first ball.

The very next ball saw Aqib Ilyas edge one to Doriga, who collected the first of his five dismissals. Jolted by this double blow, the batting to follow caved in remarkably, with Pokana razing the top half to leave Oman gasping for breath at 23/6. Having had to face the disappointment of being suspended for an illegal action in January 2018, Pokana enjoyed the most fruitful day of career thus far, as he returned outstanding figures of 5/14 from seven overs.

Oman duly capitulated for 76 in the 29th over, giving the Barramundis a 145-run win and renewed hopes. Doriga was named Man of the Match for his gutsy knock and excellent glovework. With Oman, the USA and Namibia all assured of ODI status, the focus now shifted to the game between regional rivals Canada and the USA to determine the fourth team. Hong Kong were out of the race after a big defeat to Namibia, but Canada were very much in the hunt.

The equation was now straightforward – for Papua New Guinea to sneak in on the basis of net run rate, the USA had to reach at least 212 in their chase of 256. Canada fought hard to deny the USA, and when the ninth wicket fell at 198, they were within touching distance of becoming an ODI side after five years. But the last pair of Karima Gore and Nosthush Kenjige began to frustrate them, even as fans of the Barramundis kept a tab on the proceedings with bated breath.

Off the fourth ball of the final over, Kenjige hit the four that confirmed ODI status for Papua New Guinea for at least the next two years. With the stars having aligned for them, the Barramundis celebrated their return to the ODI circuit by defeating the USA by five wickets in the third-place playoff, and will now face Scotland, the United Arab Emirates, Nepal, Namibia, Oman and the USA in the ICC Cricket World Cup League 2 that is slated to commence in July.



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Rustom Deboo is a cricket aficionado and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of T...

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