Papua New Guinea's rise to ODI status has been one of the feel-good successes in world cricket over the last four years. Their journey has included famous wins over Hong Kong in their maiden ODI and Netherlands in their maiden first-class Intercontinental Cup match.
But as good as those wins were, they could not prepare PNG for the spontaneous jubilation that overflowed when Norman Vanua's match-winning six sailed over midwicket to slay Ireland at Stormont. Before nearly getting rugby tackled by Assad Vala and John Reva, the denouement to the match was so sudden that Vanua himself was at a loss for what to do after the fourth six in six balls flew off his bat to clinch an improbable two-wicket win.
"I was in shock actually," Vanua told ESPNcricinfo. "As soon as the ball left the bat, I was like, 'What do I do?' I turned around and all my team-mates were running after me. I was like 'oh it's a six so I have to run and celebrate'. So I was in shock and the boys just got into me. It is really good, the best feeling ever scoring the winning runs."
The three sixes off John Mooney in the 19th over made for a sweet reversal of fortune for PNG, who in 2012 at the Qualifier in the UAE were victimized by Bermuda's Janeiro Tucker, whose three consecutive sixes in the final over killed PNG's chances of advancing to the playoff stage. The bowler that day was captain Rarua Dikana, now the PNG team manager, and on Wednesday, he was one of the first to sprint on the field to give Vanua a bear hug.
The win was all the more improbable coming from PNG's No. 10, who entered with the score at 93 for 8, with the team needing 31 from 19 balls. Vanua was cold-blooded in knocking off 28 of those runs, with all four of his sixes effortlessly timed to perfection over the leg side, including three in five balls off the tournament's leading wicket-taker Mooney.
"To be honest, there were a lot of things going through my mind," Vanua said. "I just reflected back on how many overs were left and assessing the boundaries, which one was shorter to hit from. It worked out pretty well. I used the shorter boundary in the (18th) to bring the score down a bit. In the last two overs, I just said if it's in my zone I'll hit it otherwise I'd just take a single off it. Happily they came through.
"I just kept my cool, tried not to think too much and just played to my strengths hitting the ball down the leg side. It worked out for me. I sort of planned it when the bowler was running in to put him off his lengths. I sort of mixed up my stance and ran up and charged him and it worked pretty well for me."
In a tournament that has seen its fair share of upsets - Jersey over Hong Kong, Oman over the Netherlands and Afghanistan - PNG's win is remarkable in a different context. PNG already entered this tournament as a top-six Associate and had previously beaten Ireland in a warm-up match ahead of the last World Twenty20 Qualifier. But that was in the UAE in a match that did not really count for anything.
A few members of this side toured Ireland as juniors during the Under-19 World Cup Qualifier in 2011, but they never played in Belfast. The senior team has not been in Ireland at all since the ICC Trophy in 2005, where they finished 11th out of 12 teams. So not only did PNG break Ireland's 21-match tournament winning streak dating back to 2012, they did it on Irish soil.
"We've played against some good teams but we've never done it against Ireland," Vanua said. "We played them in a warm-up match at the last qualifiers where we beat them but this one, to win in a pool match, it should be up there. We've had lots of good victories but this is probably the best one for me I think."
LMFAO's "Sexy and I Know It" blared out of the speakers not long after the match had ended and PNG's players celebrated like rock stars. As they huddled together for another rousing rendition of their own victory song, the Ireland players and coaches were forced to walk past the PNG tent to get back to the pavilion.
When the singing got louder and more joyous, several Cricket Ireland staff and other event volunteers came out to take in the scenes. Even Ireland coach John Bracewell could not hold back from cracking a smile. PNG earned the win and deserved to soak it up for all it is worth.
The victories over Hong Kong and Netherlands were the result of diligent preparation and impressive performances with bat and ball. Lega Siaka's century against Hong Kong last November, and the 200-run fifth-wicket partnership between Assad Vala and Mahuru Dai against Netherlands last month were match-defining, but PNG's Cinderella story had lacked one shining moment.
Not anymore. Vanua's mammoth six over the trees lining Upper Newtownards Road at Stormont is now frozen in time for Hanuabada's heartiest.