Vanuatu keep 2024 T20 World Cup dream alive as hybrid wicket hailed
Not only did every team taste victory at least once in the competition to show the collective talent of the region, the surface, a mix of synthetic grass and rolled soil, proved to be a huge success in unrelenting conditions.
Tested by 12 T20Is in a week of play, the pitch played its part in providing an exciting sporting contest, with the tournament going down to the final double round robin match.
Needing a strong net run rate victory to shock the hosts and claim the trophy, Cook Islands skipper Ma'Ara Ave won the toss and elected to bowl.
A maiden T20I half-century for Vanuatu prodigy Junior Kaltapau (60 off 46 balls) and top-order flashes from Nalin Nipiko (31 off 16 balls) and the skipper (37 from 21 balls) moved the game away from their rivals, whose challenge was only made more difficult by a rain delay.
Vanuatu's 160/4 from 16 overs was then adjusted to 173, meaning Ave's men needed 174 in 16 overs for victory, and an all but impossible chase in inside eight overs to overtake the hosts on net run rate.
Ave began with a boundary of his own, and his side threw everything at the favourites, only to fall 50 runs short on the DLS method.
It means Vanuatu progress to the regional final next year, joining Papua New Guinea and the Philippines. The final team for the regional final will be the winner of Sub-Regional Qualifier B next month - a three team tournament pitting Indonesia, Japan and South Korea.
Vanuatu Cricket Association CEO Tim Cutler was quick to congratulate his chargers, and praised the hard work of the other three sides who enjoyed their fair share of highlights during the week.
“I am very proud of the Vanuatu team who represented our country with pride, overcoming the pressure of our first men’s international cricket on home soil for twelve years, also managing injuries to key players," Cutler said.
“It was pleasing to see the broad talent in the Pacific region and we thank the Cook Islands, Fiji and Samoan squads who were great ambassadors for their countries and the game of cricket itself."
Most importantly perhaps, the tournament was a nod to alternative surfaces, and Cutler feels their blueprint is one others can adopt if compromised by time and maintenance constraints.
"I think the event was a real win for the hybrid wicket used. It was the first time international cricket has been played on this particular pitch system, which uses a high-quality synthetic grass filled with natural clay-heavy soil, rolled to create a hard surface which wears, and responds to changes in the moisture content in the soil," Cutler said.
“For me it was definitely a ‘proof of concept’ that more international matches can be played on these style wickets, opening up more economical options to fellow Associate members who want a near-turf like experience for a fraction of the cost and time to maintain.“
Despite falling short of tournament victory, it was a prosperous campaign for the Cook Islands who claimed three wins, and with skipper Ave taking out Player of the Tournament and Best Batter honours, making 290 runs at a strike rate of 128.88. Fiji pipped the Cook Islands on net run rate for second place thanks to three wins of their own, with Seru Tupou finishing with a tournament-high 10 wickets.
Samoa finished in fourth (one win), on the losing end of two final-over thrillers at the tournament.
Sub-Regional Qualifier B begins on October 15.
THIS IS THE BIG TIME!
The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup is coming to Australia from 16 October to 13 November 2022.