Vanuatu win through Pacific Qualifier

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A surprise defeat at the hands of the Cook Islands in their third match had kept hosts Vanuatu in jeopardy right up to the final match of the first East Asia Pacific Sub-Regional Qualifier. But Junior Klatapau's maiden half century and a fine all-round display from Nalin Nipiko saw them to victory in their second encounter, cementing their place at the top of the the table and sealing a berth at the EAP regional finals alongside Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, one step away from the 2024 T20 World Cup.

Welcoming Fiji, Samoa and the Cook Islands for the first of two EAP Sub-Regional Qualifiers, the tournament marked the first ICC pathway event to be hosted in Vanuatu, and the first to be played on hybrid wickets. The home side began their campaign in the double round-robin with two emphatic wins, returning skipper Patrick Matuataava taking 3-13 in their opener to see his side to a 56-run win over Fiji and Nipiko's unbeaten 62 from the top of the order guiding a comfortable chase in their nine-wicket win over Samoa.

Conversely the Cook Islands, making a return to ICC competition for the first time in almost eight years, had lost both their first two matches by significant margins. Nonetheless they were able to restrict their hosts to just 127, new captain Ma'ara Ave's economical 2-21 in four overs helping to restrict the ni-Vanuatu to just 127, and Ave's composed fifty from the top of the order setting up a remarkable upset.

Ave would ensure that the hosts remained under pressure throughout the rest of the tournament, striking 76* and 92* against Samoa and Fiji in the back half of the competition. The consecutive knocks secured Ave the title of tournament top-scorer and two more wins for his side, keeping them in the hunt despite Vanuatu likewise recorded wins over Fiji and Samoa.

The results put both Samoa and Fiji out of the running by the final day, though Seru Tupou followed up a 26-ball 35 in Fiji's final match against the Smaoans with a return of 3-10 in 4 with the ball to ensure Fiji finished on a high and Tupou himself top of the wicket-taking table for the tournament.

The two early defeats had left the Cook Islands trailing by two points with a hefty net run rate deficit to make up in the final match however, needing to best the hosts by a margin of about 70 runs or to chase well inside 12 overs to claim the top spot and a place at the regional finals. The Vanuatu top three would put that all but out of reach in the first innings.

Put in to bat after the weather had taken four overs off each innings, Kalatpau would built rapid partnerships with Nipiko and Matuataava to take the hosts to 146-3 before holing out in the final over, and Mansale's cameo of 15 off 5 ball saw the Cook Islands set an improbable 161 to win, which they'd have to get in half their allotted overs to top the table.

They never threatened to pull that off, Cory Dickson's 16-ball 28 from number four coming too late to worry the hosts. Nipiko made Dickson the first of his four victims, caught at long off by Ronald Tari in the 11th over, and by then the winner of the tournament, if not the match, was already decided. Nipiko went on to run through the tail, Cook Islands collapsing from 98-4 to 123 all out as Vanuatu sealed a 50-run victory.

The win sees them secure a place at next year's EAP regional final, competing for the sole EAP Qualifier slot for the 2024 World Cup alongside Papua New Guinea and the Phillipines. The three will be joined by the winner of the second Sub-Regional Qualifier, which will see Japan host South Korea and Indonesia in a similar double round-robin tournament at Sano in a month's time.