Scotland recovered from an early stumble to take pole position in the new Cricket World Cup League 2, though only net run rate separates them from Oman, to whom they lost the first match of the competition on Thursday (15th). Both sides won three of their four matches in Aberdeen over the last week, whilst Papua New Guinea went winless in the first of 21 trilateral series that make up the second tier of the ICC’s new ODI structure.
PNG’s Barramundis had started strongly in the inaugural match of the competition after being put in to bat by Oman at Mannofield, Tony Ura and newcomer Gaudi Toka seeing off the Omani new-ball pair of Bilal Khan and Kaleemullah to put on 77 for the first wicket, but Oman skipper Zeeshan Maqsood would find the breakthrough in the 16th over, turning one between bat and pad to bowl Toka for 28. Maqsood would finish pick of the bowlers with 3-35 as PNG continued to be pegged back by regular wickets, finishing on 229-8 with all eight wickets falling to spin. Oman’s chase was likewise punctuated by regular wickets, Aqib Ilyas the only top-order bat to make it out of the 20s as the Red Brigade struggled to 144-6 in the 37th over, but a counterattacking partnership of 90 for the 7th wicket between Sandeep Goud and former Pakistan youth international Fayyaz Butt saw them over the line with 5 balls to spare.
Somewhat surprisingly, spin would continue to dominate throughout the week and it was again the slow-bowling attack at the fore when Oman handed hosts Scotland a shock defeat in the second match of the series to go two-from-two. Leg-spinning all-rounder Khawar Ali starred for Oman with bat and ball, taking 4-23 in nine overs including the crucial wickets of Richie Berrington and Scotland skipper Kyle Coetzer, whose 56 from 72 balls was the largest individual contribution as the hosts were spun out for 168 inside of 45 overs. Ali would ensure the Scots never really got back into the game, striking a composed, unbeaten 79 from the top of the order, support from Jatinder Singh (19) and Aqib Ilyas (61) ensuring Oman would chase comfortably, with eight wickets and 35 balls to spare.
Scotland would get their first points on the board in the third ODI, spin again the key as they restricted the Papuans to 205-9, offspinner Michael Leask taking 3-37 and left-armer Hamza Tahir, on ODI debut, going one better with 4-37. Ura and Toka had again laid a decent platform, putting on 63 for the first wicket, but Leask accounted for both in back-to-back overs, and Ura’s run-a-ball 46 would prove the top score for PNG, though Kiplin Doriga’s unbeaten 39 from number 7 as the tail collapsed around him saw them past the 200-mark, it would not prove enough. Coetzer led the way from the top of the order, building partnerships with Calum MacLeod and Berrington to take his side to 160-3 before being bowled by his opposite number Asad Vala four runs short of a century. Three more wickets would fall as the hosts rather stumbled in the final stretch, but eighth-wicket pair Safyaan Sharif and Mark Watt would get them home with 7 balls remaining.
Tahir was again the star for the hosts as they had their revenge on Oman in the fourth match, taking 5-38 to claim a maiden ODI five-fer in only his second recognised ODI. Half-centuries from Matt Cross, Berrington and Craig Wallace had seen the hosts recover to post 223-7 after Bilal Khan had struck in each of his first two overs to remove Coetzer and Macleod, but though the first innings had seen the first real success for seamers in the series, Ajay Lalcheta also bagging two wickets on “full-status debut,” it was the slow section that won the game for Scotland, Mark Watt building pressure at one end and Tahir profitting as Oman were bowled out 85 runs short.
Sticking with a slow-bowling strategy, the Scots would bowl fully 41 overs of spin in their final match against Papua New Guinea, comfortably defending a first innings return of 242-7, which would prove the highest total of the series. Richie Berrington top-scored with a belligerent 81 from 64, including six sixes, while Kyle Coetzer recorded his third half-century of the series with 62 off 91. The Barramundi’s chase got off to an inauspicious start as Sharif pinned Ura LBW in the second over, and despite a dogged 48 from Vala the Scots remained largely in control throughout. Damien Ravu’s unbeaten run-a-ball 38 from number 10 provided some late entertainment, but never threatened to overhaul the target as PNG sank to a third consecutive defeat, 38 runs the eventual margin.
Oman would match the hosts tally of three wins from four in the final game, whilst the hapless Papuans would be handed their fourth defeat as Oman chased a 207-run target with relative ease. Though Toka and Ura again shared a promising opening stand, taking PNG to 48 without loss by the 8th over, Bilal Khan would account for both, and Jay Odedra would ensure the innings did not recover its momentum, the off-spinner bagging 4-34 as PNG battled to 206-9. Khawar Ali and Aqib Ilyas put on 98 for the 2nd wicket to set up the win, and despite a fightback from the Barramundis that saw the Omanis collapse from 110-1 to 136-6, Mohammad Nadeem and Suraj Kumar would rally with an unbroken 71-run partnership to seal the win, and take Oman level with Scotland at the top of the table.
With another 20 such trilateral series to come in CWC League 2, (the next scheduled to begin in just three weeks’ time at Lauderhill, Florida) it’s rather early to make too much of the standings, but Papua New Guinea will be under pressure to get points on the board when they take on the USA and Namibia next month. Despite their winless streak there were some positives to be found in individual performances across the series; the opening partnership of Tony Ura and debutant Gaudi Toka looks promising, with an average first-wicket stand of almost fifty across the four matches. And despite less than favourable conditions, young left arm seamer Noisana Pokana also impressed once again. The Barramundi’s lead wicket taker at WCL Division 2 earlier this year, Pokana was again the best of the PNG bowlers, and with 6 wickets at 18.5 the most successful seamer in the series. Nonetheless the brittleness of the PNG batting order remains a perennial weakness, especially in the face of quality spin bowling, of which they will likely see plenty more over the course of the competition.
Oman meanwhile will be pleased with their week’s work, taking two points off League 2 favorites Scotland away and only trailing them on net run rate. The integration of newcomers Sandeep Goud and Suraj Kumar into the side has lent the batting a degree of depth that had been missing in the past, whilst the form of Khawar Ali and Aqib Ilyas across the series will also bolster Oman’s hopes of securing a crucial top-three finish in the League. With Maqsood also making adroit use of his slow-bowling options throughout, the Red Brigade also look less dependent on their intimidating pace attack, and a more balanced all-round side than many might have anticipated. Though they have a long wait until their next fixtures in the competition, Oman will carry plenty of confidence into their next assignment when they host Namibia and the United States in January.
Scotland will likewise be reasonably pleased with their place at the top of the table and the way they secured it, despite dropping their first game at home. Skipper Kyle Coetzer again led by example, topping the run tables with 214 runs at 53.5, whilst left arm spinner Hamza Tahir impressed on his first consistent run in the senior team, with 10 wickets at 10.2. More broadly the series showed that Scotland had the slow bowling options to prosper in spin-friendly conditions, cause for optimism as they look ahead to their next League 2 fixtures which see them take on the UAE and the USA at Dubai in early December.
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