Nipiko navigates path to cricket gold for Vanuatu

Nalin Nipiko during his innings of 49 for Vanuatu against PNG in the men's T20 cricket gold medal match. Photo by Daniel Kerwin.

Nalin Nipiko during his innings of 49 for Vanuatu against PNG in the men’s T20 cricket gold medal match. Photo by Daniel Kerwin.

By Daniel Kerwin, Games News Service

PORT MORESBY, July 18 – Vanuatu finished off an undefeated path to the gold medal in the Port Moresby 2015 Pacific Games men’s cricket tournament on Saturday, taking down Papua New Guinea in the final thanks to a dominant batting display from Nalin Nipiko.

Nipiko gave a shaky Vanuatu run chase some solid ground to stand on, keeping his team on pace by coolly stroking eight fours in an innings of 49, eating up the bulk of his team’s 99-run target for victory.

“He was so cool under pressure,” Vanuatu coach Shane Deitz (AUS) said. “Other guys were getting out around him, he’s only 20 years old, and he was cool under pressure. He played a great innings and won us the game.”

It was Vanuatu’s third win over PNG in three games in the tournament, securing the team its first Pacific Games cricket gold medal.

Papua New Guinea’s batsmen folded in 19.3 overs for 98 runs, with captain Christopher Amini (33 runs) the only player to give the side much of a push forward.

“We didn’t bat really well,” PNG coach John Ovia said. “Batting (first), 130 or 140 would have been a good score to defend.”

Patrick Matautaava took three scalps to lead Vanuatu’s bowling attack, with captain Andrew Mansale taking two, including the prize wicket of Amini.

Vanuatu’s batting reply was reduced to 2-7 in the third over before Nipiko came to the crease.

Nipiko and Matautaava put together a stand of 29 runs to invigorate the innings, but it was after Matauvaava was caught by Kipling Doriga off Alei Nao that Nipiko really got going.

Nipiko saw Vanuatu from 4-48 to 5-88 in the 15th over when he was dismissed, cashing in with six fours during the four-over onslaught. The stretch included a 16-run over against PNG bowler Jason Kila.

“That’s Twenty20, one over can change everything, and that’s what happened,” Ovia said.

When Nipiko edged to the keeper with Vanuatu still 11 runs away from victory, Papua New Guinea couldn’t tighten the screws any further.

A boundary by Ronald Tari from the first ball of the 18th over gave Vanuatu victory with a total of 6-101.

“Credit must go to the Vanuatu side, they deserve this victory,” Ovia said. “They were playing well, bowling well, and executing their plans really well.”

Deitz mentioned that the victory wasn’t without nerves for his side, but he was pleased with the way his team handled the pressure of playing in such a high-stakes match.

“It was a tight one,” Deitz said. “PNG fought hard, they had some great captaincy and great plans to make it a close game. It was a great game for the crowd and everyone, and we got over the line, so it was fantastic.”

Earlier in the day, Papua New Guinea defeated Tonga to reach the final, setting a target of 5-176. Tonga batted out their full overs, but finished well short on 5-108.

In the bronze medal match, Tonga defeated New Caledonia in a high-scoring affair, successfully chasing down 163, but needing a nervous 19.2 overs to reach the target three wickets down.

By Daniel Kerwin, Games News Service

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