Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town
Papua New Guinea 200 (Ura 49, Shah 4-11) beat Hong Kong 142 (Hayat 37, Vanua 4-24, Amini 4-27) by 58 runs
Papua New Guinea surged to a 58-run win over Hong Kong in their ninth place playoff match against at Old Hararians, with fast bowler Norman Vanua and legspinning allrounder Charles Amini taking four wickets apiece. Tony Ura's 49 and Chad Soper's 40 helped Papua New Guinea to battle to 200, which didn't look like nearly enough when Hong Kong cruised through the Powerplay at eight an over. However, Amini tore through the middle order to turn the match on its head, and was named Player of the match for his career-best 4 for 27.
Hong Kong had set about the chase as though in a rush to finish the game, but their top order's strokeplay also created chances for PNG. Nizakat Khan cracked two boundaries off Assad Vala's opening over, and then laced seamer Vanua up and over the covers. But he got himself into a tangle to Vanua's follow-up bouncer, and spliced a shot to John Reva, running in from mid-off.
Hong Kong captain Babar Hayat arrived at the crease like a man determined to leave his mark on this tournament, and on ODI cricket. Mixing audacious attack with studied defence and accurate placement, he hit a flurry of boundaries. Hayat took 17 runs from Damien Ravu's first over, including a top-edged pull for six off a free-hit and a mighty strike over the hospitality tents at long-on.
Where Hayat had relied mainly on raw power, Anshuman Rath utilised finesse to find the boundary, and together they kept Hong Kong motoring along at better than eight an over. It seemed Hong Kong would race to victory, but the complexion of the match changed entirely in the space of 15 minutes when Amini was brought into the attack.
Spearing flat and fast legbreaks, Amini nevertheless found significant grip in the surface, and against the run of play he removed Rath in his very first over, Vala holding on to a low catch at midwicket. Hayat then charged at him and ran past one that dipped on him, the ball crashing into his middle stump. In his next over, he trapped Simandeep Singh lbw, and his figures read 3-0-5-3, while Hong Kong had slipped from 68 for 1 to 85 for 4.
From then on, every time Hong Kong started to rebuild, a wicket fell and PNG soon took control, captain Vala cycling through his attack and using no less than eight bowlers. Vanua had Tanwir Afzal caught behind and McKechnie caught in the covers to take his tally to three, and when Ehsan Nawaz was needlessly run out for a duck, it seemed Hong Kong were raising the white flag.
Amini returned, and all but assured the result with his fourth wicket. It was a classic legspinner's set-up - drawing the batsman forward, the ball dipping and gripping, and the edge landing in slip's lap. When Vanua returned once again to slip a quick yorker under Nadeem Ahmed's bat, PNG had secured their fourth win over Hong Kong in ODIs, and their first of the tournament.
That result looked a long way off when PNG frittered away a 68-run opening stand by repeatedly losing wickets in clumps. Nadeem Ahmed took two wickets in an over, having Vala caught behind and bowling Sese Bau, and when Ura was trapped lbw by Ehsan Khan, PNG had slipped to 72 for 3. Particularly vexing was Ura's dismissal - he had looked comfortable against both pace and spin, and had just hit Ehsan for a massive six when he fell for 49.
Hong Kong heaped on the pressure with close-in catchers, prompting a counterattack from Amini, who hit Nadeem straight back over his head for a six. PNG began to rebuild, with Amini adding 37 with Soper. After he was caught behind, Soper found an able partner in Mahuru Dai, and together they added a further 59 before Soper, who had just started to come out of his shell, was trapped lbw by Kinchit Shah's offspin. Once again, wickets fell in a clump, and Shah finished with 4 for 11, PNG having lost 6 for 32 to be all out for 200. Eventually, that would prove to be more than enough.
This was the 4000th ODI to be played since the format came into existence more than 47 years ago. It was the 18th PNG had played since they gained ODI status after the last World Cup qualifying tournament in 2014, and it was the 24th Hong Kong had been part of since their Asia Cup debut in 2004. It was also the last either team would play for the next four years. PNG and Hong Kong both lost ODI status after this match. But PNG rallied to ensure they would leave cricket's top table on a high.