Japan have qualified for next year's ICC Under-19 World Cup in South Africa - the first time the country has qualified for a cricket World Cup at men's, women's or junior level - in bizarre circumstances. They secured their place in the tournament after Papua New Guinea - their opponents for Saturday's final group match in ICC Under-19 East Asia-Pacific Regional Qualifier - forfeited the game in Sano. The forfeit occurred when PNG could not field a team for the final day's play after Cricket PNG suspended 11 of its 14 squad members "for internal disciplinary reasons and failing to adhere to our strict codes of conduct," according to a statement issued over Facebook by Cricket PNG.
Japan, who were the hosts, and PNG were both undefeated, with three victories each heading into Saturday's final day of group play at the Sano International Cricket Ground, a turf facility located 100 km north of Tokyo. Both teams had defeated Samoa, Fiji and Vanuatu in their opening three encounters and had a scheduled off-day on Friday June 7, ahead of their de facto final on Saturday, before a statement was issued by the ICC announcing that PNG had forfeited due to the suspensions en masse.
Japan participated in the East Asia-Pacific Regional Under-19 Qualifier for the first time since 2011. In their three prior appearances - 2007, 2009 and 2011 - Japan had only won one of 11 matches, a 24-run win over Fiji. This year's squad is a cosmopolitan mix of Japanese players, along with several players of other ethnicities.
PNG had won the East Asia-Pacific Under-19 championship seven consecutive times from 2002 through 2014. But this is the second time in the last three tournaments that they have failed to take the regional berth to secure a spot in the Under-19 World Cup, having finished runner-up to Fiji four years ago albeit under more traditional circumstances.
The Japan Cricket Association was first established in 1984 before the country became an ICC Associate Member in 1995. The closest the Japan men's team came to reaching the World Cup was their participation in 2008 WCL Division Five in Jersey, a tournament more famous for being the start of Afghanistan's journey up the world rankings. Japan were relegated to Division Seven after that event, and after they lost a semi-final to Ghana in 2012 WCL Division Eight in Samoa they were dumped out of the World Cricket League for good, effectively closing the door on a pathway to qualify for a men's World Cup.
The Japan women's team has also struggled competitively over the years. Most recently, they finished fifth out of six teams in the Women's East Asia-Pacific T20 World Cup Qualifier held last month in Vanuatu. Their only win came by 31 runs over Fiji.