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In a dramatic clash at KaZaa Field, Tonga grabbed a last gasp win against Japan but it wasn't enough to edge past their East Asian rivals and claim a the final spot in the final of the final of the East Asia - Pacific (EAP) Cricket Cup tournament in Port Vila, Vanuatu.
In conditions more suited to the middle of winter than a summer sport, incessant drizzly rain threatened to interrupt the titanic struggle at KaZaa Field. Japan batted first and the innings was held together by number four batter Sriram Sampath who crafted an intelligent knock of 92. Sampath entered the game at 2/31 and guided his team mates through the rain and slippery conditions before being the 9th man dismissed in the 42nd over. His innings took 99 balls and included nine 4's and one 6. As usual Viliami Toupinoia toiled hard as was rewarded with 4 wickets for 35 runs in his 10 overs and team mate Simione Latu also chipped in with 4/40 off 10 overs.
Tonga started well with Tuponuia (21) again in good form and Faka'ositau Hala (34) enjoying his opportunity higher in the order. Naoki Miyaji (3/48 off 9) and leg spinner Munir Ahmad (2/36) firstly slowed the run rate and then claimed crucial wickets in the mid stages of the innings. After 24 overs, the game was back in the balance with Tonga 5/98. Japan's second leg spinner Kenji Murata also claimed two wickets and at 8/144 it looked like Tonga's chances had slipped away. However, Mafi Langi (15no) and Maamaloa Taulangi (27) had other ideas and their 47 run partnership for the 9th wicket created another twist in the day when Taulangi was clean bowled by Miyaji. It was left to Sione Tupou Pese to hit the winning runs prompting wild celebrations by the Tongan players and supporters. Alas, their celebrations were short lived as the realization came that they had missed the final by an agonizing 4 overs.
Cook Islands booked their place in the final with a comprehensive victory over Indonesia at Independence Park. Indonesia batted first and raced away to a good start and after 20 overs were 2/109 and potential looking at a 250+ score. The Cooks hit back though and when John Stevenson was 250+ bowled by Benjiman Cummings for an elegant 70 the score had stalled at 5/166. Wickets fell regularly from that point on as S Marukore (3/11 off 5) and Dunu Eliaba (3/30 off 9.1 overs) got on top of the Indoensian lower order and they were bowled out for 196 in the 46th over.
The Cooks showed their hand early in the second innings when Joseph Joe (16) clubbed the first two balls of the second over for boundaries. Dawn Tare (42) and Chris Brown (59no) scored freely for the Cooks and they passed the required target in 41 overs. I Gede Aras was the pick of the bowlers with 3/50 from 9.4 overs.
The final game of the round was the clash at Club Hippique where Vanuatu were too strong for Samoa bowling them out for 84 and then needing only 10.4 overs to complete the 7 wicket win. Fuimaono Konelio smashed 35no off only 16 balls for Samoa and Andrew Mansale replied with 43no in 26 balls in the host's innings.
The standings after the round robin games sees Cook Islands, Japan and Tonga all equal on top with 4 wins and 1 loss. In a interesting scenario, Cook Islands defeated Tonga in the round-robin games, Japan defeated Cook Islands and Tonga defeated Japan. Net run rate is used to separate teams on equal points and in this case Tonga are the unlucky team with a net run rate inferior to the Cooks and Japan.
The final tomorrow will be played at Club Hippique between Cook Islands and Japan. Both teams have been very impressive and have improved greatly over the past 12 months. The unlucky Tonga and Vanuatu will contest the 3rd and 4th playoff at KaZaa Field and Indonesia and Samoa will battle for 5th and 6th place at Independence Park.
The EAP Cricket Cup will conclude after tomorrow's finals. Full results can be found at www.icc-eap-cricket.com by following the EAP Cricket Cup link.
Ladder After Round 5
Pts NRR 1. Cook Islands 8 1.142 2. Japan 8 0.918 3. Tonga 8 0.809 4. Vanuatu 4 -0.50 5. Indonesia 2 -0.54 6. Samoa 0 -2.47