Pacific Games cricket underway this weekend
Cricket at the Olympics may have been ruled out - again - at the ICC conference last week, and the future of the sport at the Asian Games is in doubt, but cricket at the Pacific Games continues chugging along, as it had done without much interruption since 1979. This year's Pacific Games are being held in the Papua New Guinea capital of Port Moresby, and will again feature the Twenty20 format which was used for the first time in 2011.
This year, a women's tournament will feature for the first time, with six teams - more than the men's event - competing. New Caledonia will make their debut in women's cricket and will join hosts Papua New Guinea, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa and Vanuatu.
The six teams will play each other once in a round robin before the play-offs for medals take place. The team that tops the round robin stage will automatically qualify for the gold medal match, and will be joined by the winners of a match between the second and third place side. The loser of that match will play for the bronze medal with the fourth place side.
The tournament will also double as part of qualifying for the 2018 Women's World Twenty20. Two teams will join Japan in a tri-series next year, with the winners of that progressing to a global qualifier in 2017.
Rather than those two teams simply being the finalists, a convoluted method that could only have been devised by the ICC will be used to decide them. With New Caledonia being a non-ICC member, a second points table will be kept during the tournament that excludes games played by the French Special Collectivity.
The top two teams on that points table will qualify for the tri-series against Japan, raising the odd possibility of the gold medalists not progressing in World Twenty20 qualification.
Expect Papua New Guinea to be favourites for both the gold medal and T20 qualification though, with Vanuatu and Samoa the other likely medalists.
A men's tournament is of course also being held, though only four teams will take part. Defending championsPapua New Guinea are otherwise engaged in the World Twenty20 Qualifier (quite why ICC scheduled the T20 qualifier at the same time as so many other tournaments is beyond comprehension) so will send an A team, making this the best chance of PNG missing out on gold for the first time.
Silver medalists at all but the first tournament Fiji will not be represented at all, leaving Vanuatu as the sole ICC member to send a full strength side to Port Moresby. Tonga - expelled from the ICC in 2014 - will be there, as will perennial losing side New Caledonia, who will hope to add to their one win in 37 international matches since their debut in 1979.
The four teams will play each other twice in the round robin, with the play-offs for medals being structured in the same way as the women's tournament.
Expect PNG and Vanuatu to be the gold medal contenders, with Tonga the likely bronze medalists, unless New Caledonia can break the habit of a lifetime and win a match at the Pacific Games.