World T20 2021 | Not here just for the show, debutants Papua New Guinea have high ambitions

Abhishek Singh

Abhishek Singh

Author| Oct 15, 2:15 PM

PC- Twitter
PC- Twitter

For the first time, a team apart from giants Australia and New Zealand from the Asia Pacific would become part of the legacy called cricket World Cup when the Barramundis from Papua New Guinea take centre stage against Oman in the first match of the ICC T20 World Cup 2021. 

This would be an iconic moment in the history of the tiny island nation as after Rugby League and Australian Rules Football (both not worldwide known games), cricket would become the third sport where it would be participating at the biggest stage of them all. 

The importance of this has not yet been fully engulfed by the players, who would become the first lot to represent their country in World Cup and neither by the people Down Under. Assad Vala, the skipper of the PNG team summed it up in an interview with ICC. 

"It has been a long time coming. We have come close on many occasions. We are a couple of days away from playing our first World Cup match. The boys are looking pumped up for the game on Sunday,” Vala said on Thursday.

“During this pandemic, it will mean a lot for people back home. We are trying to put a smile on their faces,” he added. 

However, the road to the World Cup wasn’t easy at all and neither has it been easy ever since their qualification. 

PNG Road to World Cup 2021 

Having come agonizingly close to a World Cup Qualification spot in 2013 and 2015 ICC T20 World Cup Qualifiers, where they finished eighth on both occasions with only six teams qualifying, the Barramundis made sure in 2019 that they finished top of the pile in a group that comprised of the likes of established nations such as the Netherlands, Scotland and Kenya.

The Vala-led side won five of its six games, losing only to Scotland by four runs and finished top of the group even as it was tied with the Netherlands on points, but had a better net run rate. 

Although having qualified already basis their Grup topping feat, in the semi-finals, PNG beat Namibia and qualified for the final in which they were handed a seven-wicket defeat by the Netherlands. 

The 2019 World Cup Qualification was actually for the 2020 T20 World Cup, scheduled to take place in Australia, but due to the Pandemic, the PNG are playing the 2021 World Cup on that qualification ticket. 

However, ever since the Qualifier in 2019, the next time PNG got to play international cricket was in September 2021, i.e. just a month ago. It was evident in their form as they lost all four ODIs (two each against Nepal and USA), and two T20Is (against Scotland and Namibia) coming into the World Cup. 

In the warm-up games also the team has suffered severe defeats and hence going into their maiden World Cup, it is the belief and togetherness of the team that has more value than the form they are in. 

A close-knit unit

A large portion of Papua New Guinea's squad hail from in and around the Hanuabada village, a coastal town near Port Moresby and most of the players in the squad have played almost their entire cricket together, right from the age groups. 

The form of the team might not be at its best right now, but the people in the squad have seen it all before. They know how to come back and they have done it in the past as well. It might be the big stage that gets the players going finally. 

A team of all-rounders

The PNG team has more than six people in the squad who can both bat and bowl. The names Charles Amini, Assad Vala, Chad Soper, Jason Kila, Gaudi Toka and Norman Vanua are the ones who can change the course of the game with both bat and ball. Apart from Toka and Kila, all of these players are experienced as well. 

While Soper has played only six T20Is, he has an experience of 28 ODIs, in which he has scored 408 runs and taken 38 wickets with his right-arm medium-fast. The skipper Vala has also had one of the best careers so far with two T20I fifties and 3/7 as his best bowling effort, claiming 19 wickets and scoring 391 runs in only 18 games. 

However, the two all-rounders that matter the most are Vanua and Amini. While Vanua is a bowling all-rounder and can finish games with both bat and ball, Amini, who comes from a cricketing family holds the key as he can bat in the middle and bowl at the death and has 232 runs and 14 wickets to his name in just 16 T20Is. 

The big ambitions 

Vala in his interview also said that PNG are not here just for the showcase that they have become the third Oceania team to get to the World Cup, rather, they are here to show that they belong and they would want to get to the second round so that they can play better teams and get inspiration to qualify more in near future. 

“We want to play to the best of our abilities. We want to express ourselves. We want to make it to the second round to test ourselves against the best teams in cricket. We don't want this World Cup to be a one-off. We want to keep improving. We want to get exposure and knowledge against the best teams,” said Vala. But can they do it is the question? Can they get to the second round?

Can they do it?

The two teams that PNG can look to defeat are Oman and Scotland. While they have lost to Scotland in their previous two encounters, with the last loss being a quite big one. However, they can draw inspiration from their 2019 Qualifier clash against Scots where they remained just four short of a win.  

As far as the match against Oman is concerned, it is the most important for PNG. They have not played Oman before in T20 World Cup and although Oman have been at this stage before, PNG are well versed to get one past the hosts and if they can do it, their next meeting against Scotland might become a virtual qualifier for the second round. And at that stage, you never know what might happen. 

PNG World T20 2021 Squad

Assad Vala (c), Charles Amini, Lega Siaka, Norman Vanua, Nosaina Pokana, Kipling Doriga, Tony Ura, Hiri Hiri, Gaudi Toka, Sese Bau, Damien Ravu, Kabua Vagi-Morea, Simon Atai, Jason Kila, Chad Soper, Jack Gardner.

Fixures

17 Oct vs Oman

19 Oct vs Scotland

21 Oct vs Bangladesh 

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