By Daniel Kerwin, Games News Service
PORT MORESBY, July 18 – After watching Tonga captain Aisake Haukinima smash a six over the roof of the cricket pavilion at Bisini Grounds, for the first time it was possible to conceive of a much-favored Vanuatu side finally tasting defeat in the Port Moresby 2015 Pacific Games men’s cricket tournament.
But, despite some brief showings of vulnerability, Vanuatu eventually managed to scrape together enough momentum to fend off the Tongan threat and a spirited effort from New Caledonia to maintain its unblemished record on the final day of round robin play.
Only Saturday’s final is left standing in its way of finishing off an unbeaten run to the gold medal.
“It was a bit of a chore today by the look of it, we didn’t play the way we should have played,” Vanuatu coach Shane Deitz (AUS) said. “The boys have been under a lot of pressure this week, so it was a bit of a relaxing day.”
“We need to really turn it on tomorrow though in the final game and secure gold, which we probably deserve with the way we’ve played all week.”
Papua New Guinea also registered victories against New Caledonia and Tonga, staying on pace for a gold-final match between the two teams that have been the clear-cut class of the tournament.
“We’re still confident,” PNG captain Christopher Amini said of a potential final against Vanuatu. “We had our plans in place that we really didn’t really execute too well the past two games against Vanuatu. This morning and this afternoon we worked on that, and it worked out very well.”
To set up the anticipated final, PNG will need to defeat Tonga on Saturday morning in the match up between the second and third place finishers. Judging by the way Tonga stepped up against Vanuatu on Friday, victory is not assured for the home side.
Vanuatu seemed on track for victory against Tonga until Haukinima stepped to the crease with a very clear mission.
“We decided that since Vanuatu’s a very strong team, that we were going to give them a fight,” Haukinima said. “Me and my boys talked about this morning that we needed to improve ourselves, and I had to lay the pathway for that as the captain.”
Haukinima seemed unstoppable as he clubbed a pair of sixes early in his innings, looking like the kind of player that was about to change the tide of the match.
However, a big error in judgement on his end led to his dismissal via runout after facing just seven balls.
His tally of 16 runs combined with Aloisio Pau’u’s (TGA) knock of 40 and Maamaloa Kuluka’s 25 gave Tonga a respectable 108 runs, but still a seemingly routine target for Vanuatu.
However, the Tongan bowling attack had a surprise for the Vanuatu batsmen, leading to what turned out to be a tense run chase.
Soloni Helu (TGA) bowled out Vanuatu captain Andrew Mansale to leave Vanuatu on 64-4 in the seventh over, with Haukinima taking the wicket of top-scorer Trevor Langa (VAN) in the next over.
When Helu caught the edge of Ronald Tari’s (VAN) bat in the next over for a routine catch by the wicketkeeper, Vanuatu suddenly looked in trouble.
“(Helu) is very surprising to us all,” Haukinima said. “He did practice at home, but he never bowled a spinner in his life. This is the first time he bowled a spin in a match. We had to come up with something creative, and he came up with it.”
Vanuatu suffered only one further lost wicket, though, en route to chasing down the total in 16.3 overs.
Lea Tenisi led the Tongan bowling effort with three wickets taken.
“I mean, 20/20 is a funny game,” Mansale said. “There can be one over where your opponent can pull the game off, and I think we did well to stick to our plan. Though we had some batsman like (Haukinima) smashing it around, we stuck to our game plan and finally we got the reward.”
Vanuatu batted to 9-195 in its afternoon match against New Caledonia, with openers Joshua Rasu (57 runs) and Ronald Tari (33 runs) leading the way. Nicolas Magulu took five wickets to lead a solid New Caledonia bowling effort.
Magulu immediately set his sights on the boundary to open New Caledonia’s batting reply, with he and fellow opener Atea Nea netting five fours between them, but Vanuatu maintained a steady bowling attack of attrition in limiting their opponent to 8-122 over a full 20 overs.
Nalin Nipiko nearly pulled off a hat trick for Vanuatu in the 16th over, but his wicketkeeper wasn’t able to reel in a thick edge on the hat trick ball. Nipiko ended up with three total wickets at the expense of 22 runs in his four overs.
In the day’s other matches, Papua New Guinea did not spend a lot of time in the field during its two victories, handily taking care of a pair of very manageable run chases.
In their morning match, the PNG bowlers finished off the New Caledonia batsmen for a total of just 40 runs in 15.3 overs. Nea (10 runs) was the only new Caledonia batsman to reach double figures.
The PNG bowling attack was led by Nosaina Pokana (three for 11 off four overs), Damien Ravu (three wickets, one run off two overs) and Jason Kila (two for eight off 1.3 overs).
New Caledonia’s Raho Sam (12 runs) and Kipling Doriga (26 runs) made the required 41 runs in just 3.2 overs without the loss of a wicket.
Tonga hung around almost long enough to bat out its innings against PNG, but managed only 83 runs in 19.3 overs before all of its batsmen were dismissed.
Pau’u (22 runs) and Nikolasi Moala (TGA, 14 runs) put together an opening stand of 41 runs before they were dismissed by Alei Nau two balls apart during the seventh over.
Raymond Haoda and Joel Tom also took a pair of wickets for PNG, with Kila leading the way with three wickets taken for the cost of just 10 runs in his four over spell.
Raho Sam belted three fours and two sixes in a fiery innings to lead PNG’s batting attack with 33 runs, with Doriga adding 26 runs of his own. PNG reached the required target in 10.2 overs.
Amini is confident that his team will be ready to do what they need to do on Saturday for a run at the gold medal.
“The boys are in good spirits,” Amini said. “We have a young group of boys here, they’re learning every day.”
“Just being around them is good for me. I’ve played a long time, and I’m glad to help the next group of boys coming through. Hopefully they learn something, and come tomorrow, the medals playoff, they’re ready to go for gold.”
Haukinima is equally confident in his quickly improving squad making some more waves before the end of the tournament.
“I’m very proud of my boys,” Haukinima said. “Since we started from day one until day three today we are improving. I’m very proud of my boys, and they’re getting things done. Bowling, length and line, and also the batting as well is very much improving.”
Mansale said his team will enjoy having the morning to prepare before facing whoever it needs to in the final in the afternoon.
“May the best team win and good luck to both teams, whoever goes to the finals,” Mansale said.