After losing their first three games, the Cook Islands ladies targeted their last of round match against Vanuatu as a “must win” at the Pacific Games in Port Moresby in order to make the top four of the competition and be in with a chance to step up on the medals podium.
However, it was not be with the ladies losing their final round match to an equally determined Vanuatu side.
In wet conditions on a slippery and rough pitch, the Cook Islands took their supporters on a roller-coaster ride from massive highs, to frustration and disappointment, as they put on two contrasting displays of cricket.
Batting first, Vanuatu began the match full of confidence after chalking up a win against New Caledonia earlier in the day.
The Vanuatu opening batting pair quickly got their team’s runs rolling as the Cooks ladies settled into their bowling and fielding work for the first inning. The local cricketers dug deep to find a way to put a stop to the Vanuatu scoring machine.
Youngster, Mummy Elikana, one of four Auckland-based Pukapuka players in the national side, found her bowling line and length, and Vanuatu’s wickets began to tumble.
With fellow bowling partner Punanga Kaveaoa also on form, the pair began to put the pressure on Vanuatu.
The clever bowling was backed up by the Cook Islands women putting on a stunning display of fielding – much to the delight of their very own Papua New Guinea fan base from the village of Hanuabada, where Cook Islands missionaries to Papua New Guinea were based in the 1870s.
In fact, the dialect of the village is very similar to Rarotongan and their enthusiasm for cricket was clear as the Hanuabada mob turned out in force with flags to cheer on the Cook Islands national women’s team.
Hanuabada is known for producing a large number of Papua New Guinea’s cricket players, including more than half of the current Papua New Guinea national cricket team
With added support from our women’s football team, paddlers and touch players – the cricket action began to heat up on the pitch.
Tight fielding put a stall on the Vanuatu runs as wickets began tumbling at a regular rate with the Cooks ladies pulling out all the stops – including superb wickets bowled, run outs, stumpings and some brilliant catches.
With the Cooks on fire stemming the Vanuatu runs, their opponents completed their 20 overs losing eight wickets for 104 runs.
Chasing the total looked achievable for the Cooks who came off the pitch soaked from the rain but exhilarated by their brilliant fielding performances.
Keen 16-year-old Phillica Maruariki padded up with Maloku Mataora to opening up the Cooks batting effort.
Together the pair attempted to anchor the Cooks run chase but the Vanuatu bowlers had other ideas.
Speed bowling took its toll on the Cooks with Maruariki the first to go then Maloku before the Cooks batting defensive batting approach began to cause problems.
Defensive shots meant no runs as Vanuatu kept their bowling tight and stalled the Cooks run rate.
With each Cooks wicket that fell the Vanuatu team became more confident.
In the 16th over – with barely enough runs to write home about – the local batswomen were demanded by their coach and fellow teams to take the singles, run twos and just “smash the ball out of the park”.
But it wasn’t to be as the Vanuatu women kept composed and the bowling remained tight.
In the end, the Cooks were only able to rack up 74 runs while losing seven wickets in their 20 overs.
The loss came as a huge disappointment for the women cricket team who were left to figure out how it all went wrong – especially after a classy warm up and impressive fielding effort. The local ladies have one more game to play and while it may seem like a waste of time as they are out of the medal contention – the women know they now having nothing to lose but everything to prove to their generous sponsors and supporters.