Japan have qualified for the 2020 Under-19 World Cup in South Africa in most unusual circumstances, as favourites Papua New Guinea forfeited their final match in the East Asia-Pacific Regional Qualifier at Sano, Japan, after suspending 11 of their own players. With both sides undefeated, the walkover saw Japan top the table to qualify for their first-ever Under-19 World Cup, indeed their first ever major ICC tournament.
The exact circumstances behind the decision were unclear, but Cricket PNG saw fit to suspend fully 11 members of its 14-man squad. In a statement on facebook CPNG stated the players were suspended was “for internal disciplinary reasons and failing to adhere to our strict codes of conduct” but offered no further clarification. They went on to thank Japan as hosts and wish them well as EAP representatives at the World Cup.
Papua New Guinea Under-19s, know as the Garamuts, have a dominant record in the tournament, having won eight of thee last nine editions. They had looked on course to claim a tenth title, recording convincing wins over Fiji, Samoa and Vanuatu to set up a de-facto final against the hosts on Saturday.
Japan have a less illustrious record in the tournament, having finished bottom of the table on the three previous editions they contested. This year however, playing in front of home crowds at Sano Cricket Ground, a new purpose-built facility some 50 miles north of Tokyo, Japan matched the Papuans win for win in the first three games, trailing them only marginally on net run rate as the two teams enjoyed a rest day on Friday prepare for a showdown on the Saturday.
The match would never happen though, as CPNG withdrew their team ahead of the game, leaving Japan champions by default. For Japan, which joined the ICC in 1989 and has been an Associate members since 1996, qualification for the World Cup is a landmark achievement. Next year’s U-19 World Cup will be the first time Japan have participated in a top-level ICC global event, and in fact the first global competition at any level since the final World Cricket League Division 8 in 2012.
In recent years Japan’s stocks have risen appreciably both at senior and age-group level, the national side looking competitive at the EAP Sub-Regional T20 Qualifier, despite eventually missing out to the Philippines, And winning last year’s East Asia Cup in Hong Kong. The under-19 sides achievement is remarkable, even if the manner of it is unusual, reflecting a growing interest and investment in cricket in the country, especially at Sano, which hopes to become a centre for the game in the region.