A third consecutive unconvincing performance from Scotland ultimately became enough to see off an in-form Papua New Guinea side in Dubai. Scotland named an unchanged team from their win against Kenya on Saturday, a performance that was far from their expected standard and hung in the balance until a batting collapse from Kenya gave them a final scoreline that flattered the performance.
A similar story could be told from this encounter with Papua New Guinea, who started the match at the top of group A after two dominant performances against Bermuda and Namibia. This time it was the left arm orthodox duo of Mark Watt and Hamza Tahir who acted as the paper over Scotland’s cracks, producing an excellent middle-over squeeze to cover for an uncharacteristically hesitant batting performance and some shaky death bowling.
The Scottish openers got off to one of their famous brisk starts as Kyle Coetzer and George Munsey frequently found the boundary to rush the score to 28 off the first two overs. But it was quickly halted by a strong burst of bowling as Munsey was dropped and caught in successive balls faced, before Calum MacLeod endured a painful four-ball duck involving a strike to the ribs and three lbw shouts off Norman Vanua, the final being given out to leave Scotland 32/2.
Richie Berrington joined his captain at the crease as they looked to rebuild, but consistent tight bowling from PNG kept the pair from finding any boundaries. After four overs of nudging singles, Berrington perished trying to loft Assad Vala over long-on. Oli Hairs came and went in a matter of minutes as he ran himself out on a questionable single second ball, leaving Scotland well behind par at 80/4 after 12 overs. Coetzer eventually reached his sixth T20I half-century from 42 balls, but fell soon after attempting to increase the run rate, caught at long-off by Pokana off Amini. He would play no further part in the game, as cramp kept him off the field in the second innings.
Tom Sole, who helped Scotland finish with a bang against Kenya in the previous match, came to the crease with three overs remaining hoping to repeat his efforts. However, it was his partner Matthew Cross who provided Scotland with some needed impetus, striking five boundaries to end unbeaten on 40. But with the batting performances from Papua New Guinea in their opening two games, the total of 146/6 looked like it would require a strong bowling performance to defend. Although PNG used eight bowlers in total, aside from the opening spell, they bowled with tight lines and managed to keep Scotland hitting well within themselves, despite several dropped catches limiting the overall performance.
Having set two record opening partnerships in their first two games, the Papua openers started with a reminder of their form, as Assad Vala lofted Mark Watt over the off-side boundary twice in the opening over. Spin didn’t last past that, as stand-in captain Richie Berrington turned to trusted seamers Safyaan Sharif and Josh Davey, who dealt with the run rate and were eventually rewarded with the wicket of Vala for 20, bounced out Sharif and caught by Hairs at third man.
With the dangerous Vala gone, spin was reintroduced and Watt rose to the occasion this time, producing a maiden over to Tony Ura, who struggled to hit him past cover. Hamza Tahir joined Watt from the other end and kept pressure on the pair, who were unable to score off the left armers, but managed to find frequent boundary balls off Tom Sole’s off spin. Tony Ura eventually showed a white flag after struggling to 17 from 27 balls, premeditating a charge against Tahir to give the bowler a simple opportunity to dart it wide and effect a stumping.
The game was still in the balance as Berrington brought himself on and leaked 12 runs, but Mark Watt pulled it firmly Scotland’s way by dismissing the two incumbent batsmen in successive balls in the 13th over. Hamza Tahir then followed with his own double strike, taking the wickets of Riley Hekure and Sese Bau to in the 15th over to leave Scotland strong favourites to close out the game.
But Norman Vanua, never one to shy away from going big, decided to take on the ever-growing required run rate, and in a partnership with Jason Kila for the 8th wicket, took 17 off Safyaan Sharif’s final over to bring PNG within 9 runs of victory. But with just one big shot required to effectively seal a win, both batsmen departed in the first two balls of the final over attempting to gloryhammer Josh Davey into the Persian Gulf. The victory margin was eventually closed at 4 runs, as Scotland took their second win and ended Papua New Guinea’s 11 match unbeaten run.