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By Peter Della Penna in Hong Kong
Papua New Guinea captain Rarua Dikana took 4 for 1 on his way to a Man of the Match performance as PNG bowled USA out for 44 in 20.2 overs on their way to a seven-wicket win at Hong Kong Cricket Club on Tuesday at ICC World Cricket League Division Three in Hong Kong. It’s the second lowest total for USA in 50-over matches and the worst since they were bowled out by Australia for 65 in a 9-wicket loss at the Champions Trophy in 2004. USA’s lowest total in 50-over matches was at the ICC Trophy in 1997 when Kenya bowled them out for 32 to win by 211 runs.
Pic (Right): Howard Johnson, Asst Coach, was injected into the playing XI ahead of Durale Forrest, Ryan Corns and Muhammed Ghous. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna]
USA decided to make two changes from the lineup against Denmark, bringing in Ritesh Kadu to wicketkeep, allowing Carl Wright to play as a specialist batsman. Howard Johnson, originally brought on tour as an assistant coach, was added to the squad as a replacement player for Aditya Thyagarajan after he went down injured against Denmark. Muhammad Ghous was then dropped in favor of the 46-year-old Johnson, who was preferred as an extra seam option ahead of 28-year-old Durale Forrest, a seam bowler in the original 14-man squad.
“Our main reason for coming here is trying to get to Division Two and other than Howard Johnson’s age, if he’s up for trials or selection, he can walk into the team,” said USA head coach Clayton Lambert.
The toss was perhaps the most important moment of the day and PNG won it, sending USA in to bat on a morning that was overcast and chilly with slightly more grass than usual left on the wicket. From the first ball it was clear that USA was going to have their hands full with the ball swinging and seaming around.
Wright and Lennox Cush opened the batting for USA and Cush fell for a duck to the third ball he faced with the score on two. Hitolo Areni bowled a full delivery that Cush drove at off balance and inside edged the ball off his pad to second slip where Kila Pala took the catch low to the ground. Wright fell for 2 to make it 16 for 2 when he drove away from his body at a wide delivery from Loa Nou to give the keeper Jack Vare-Kevere a simple catch.
Steve Massiah was looking sharp at the other end, but after cracking four boundaries, he fell driving a full ball on off stump straight to the man on the short boundary at mid off. Massiah looked crestfallen and stood staring into the ground for several moments before he had to walk off for 18 with the score at 25 for 3. Kadu was gone for a duck two balls later when a fullish length ball jagged back to beat him between bat and pad.
Sushil Nadkarni survived long enough to add 12 runs with Orlando Baker, one of only two double-digit partnerships for USA. He soon perished for 7 to a cut shot for the second time in two matches. Nadkarni tried backing away but was cramped for room by the delivery from PNG captain Rarua Dikana and offered an edge to first slip.
Rashard Marshall then was bowled off an inside edge for a duck when he came forward to defend a back of a length delivery from Dikana to make it 39 for 7. Usman Shuja was given out LBW to the first ball he faced from Amini and Asif Khan lasted 10 balls before he played across to a full ball from Dikana and was struck in front to make it 44 for 8 after 19 overs.
Meanwhile at the other end, Baker blocked everything that came his way in a dogged effort, but he was soon running out of partners. He lasted 41 balls, proving that with a bit of application, conditions could have been negotiated. However, with only two wickets in hand, he changed tack and tried to hit out to score some runs as the only recognized batsman left. He failed when he sent a full ball outside off straight to Tony Ura at cover. The innings was over six balls later when Johnson played across to Dikana to give him his fourth with only one run scored off him.
PNG’s chase was short and sweet, taking six overs to get the runs. Johnson took two wickets for USA, making the day even more surreal. Asad Vala was caught behind for 17 before Ura was beaten for pace to be clean bowled for 7. Mahuru Dai padded up to a Kevin Darlington delivery to be given out LBW, but Chris Kent erased any glimmer of hope USA had by hitting a four and two sixes. The winning single by Kent came off a misfield.
In the day’s other matches, Denmark was bowled out for 102 before Hong Kong defeated them by seven wickets at Mission Road, making USA’s loss to Denmark all the more painful. Oman won a thriller over Italy by one wicket at Kowloon CC. Italy posted 240 for 8 in their 50 overs and had Oman at 122 for 7 in the 27th over. Number nine batsman Amir Ali was dropped at first slip on 20 with the score at 152 for 7 and that proved costly in the end.
He added 99 runs for the ninth wicket with Awal Khan to take Oman close to victory. The ninth wicket fell with the scores level as number 10 Rajesh Kumar went for a big shot to end the game but sliced the ball off a top edge to point with the scores level at 240. The batsmen crossed while the ball was in the air and on the next delivery, Ali clipped a leg stump half volley in the air just wide of a diving effort by the man at backward square leg. Had he been fielding one yard to the right, the game may have ended in a tie.
In slightly positive news for USA, Aditya Thyagarajan’s injury is not as bad as originally feared. Speaking from Bangalore on Tuesday night, Thyagarajan said he had fluid drained from his knee before having an MRI which showed no tear and was diagnosed with a patella dislocation and a stretched Vastus Medialus Oblique muscle. It will require 2-3 months of rehab.
“Last night was so good for me with news that I only have a minor ligament stretch and my meniscus and ACL hasn’t been touched at all. Then today it completely changed into bad slash sad news when I was following the game,” said Thyagarajan. Even though he is getting treatment away from the team, he is still intently following the action and is pulling for everyone to come back and win the last two games.
“As a team we all have been together for the last three years,” said Thyagarajan. “All of us have experienced ups and downs. I think we should just consider it another down which happened to us when we lost to Singapore in Division Five and then we lost to Italy in Division Four. What happened after that? We came back strong and we qualified for the next division. Right now, all we should think is to win the next game and then go all out against Italy.”
“Me being here in India, I really can’t do anything. But I know I can do one thing which is to completely support the team which is playing on the ground and I think all the American fans should be behind the team.”
USA is now at the bottom of the points table on net run rate with Hong Kong, Italy and Denmark all ahead of them but with identical 1-2 records. Oman is 2-1 and PNG 3-0. However, USA can still qualify outright if they win their final two games and get help with other results. Should USA defeat Oman on Wednesday and Italy on Friday, they would finish 3-2. A scenario could play out where PNG defeats Denmark and Hong Kong to go 5-0, Oman loses to both USA and Denmark, and regardless of the Hong Kong vs. Italy result on Wednesday, both of those teams lose on Friday. In that case, PNG would be 5-0, USA 3-2, Denmark and Oman would finish 2-3 while one of Italy and Hong Kong would finish 2-3 and the other at 1-4.
The picture will definitely get clearer after Wednesday’s matches. Come to Dreamcricket for live coverage of USA’s match against Oman beginning at Tuesday night at 7:45 p.m. EST.