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PNG's rise as world cricket heroes

PNG captain Assad Vala leads his team off the field (Peter Della Penna)
PNG captain Assad Vala leads his team off the field (Peter Della Penna)

| ESPN CricInfo

DUBAI - Papua New Guinea? Why are we talking about them now?

They've just made it to their first-ever senior cricket World Cup.

Wow. When did they start playing?

According to the International Cricket Council, the sport was introduced to the country in the 1900s by Christian missionaries from England. But their first match took place against a touring Australia XI in 1972 at Amini Park in Port Moresby, their capital. A year later, they were formally admitted as an Associate member of the ICC.

Have they ever come close to qualifying before?

They have been a part of every global qualifier since 2012, and fell just short of T20 World Cup qualification in 2013 and 2015, losing a pair of elimination playoff matches to Hong Kong and Afghanistan respectively. They also narrowly missed qualifying to the 2016 T20 World Cup in India.

The women's team was one match away from reaching the Women's T20 World Cup in Australia next February but lost a semi-final match to Bangladesh at the qualifier in Scotland in September. PNG's Under-19 side has traditionally been very successful and has participated in the ICC U-19 World Cup eight times since 1998.

Ah, that's plenty of history. What else have they achieved?

Securing ODI status at the 2014 World Cup Qualifier in New Zealand was a significant accomplishment. They then became one of just six teams to win their first ever ODI - along with Australia, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Bermuda and Afghanistan - when they defeated Hong Kong in a match played in Townsville in November 2014.

Hmm. Is this a big surprise? The fact that they've finally managed to get to a World Cup?

Going by their ODI form, yes. PNG had lost eight consecutive ODIs in Scotland and Florida in August and September to begin World Cup League Two. They also lost both their tournament warm-up matches to the UAE and Oman.

British bookmakers had them listed at 20 to 1 odds to win the tournament before the first match, well behind Ireland (5 to 2), Scotland (3 to 1), Netherlands (4 to 1), Oman (5 to 1) and UAE (6 to 1).

It is something of a shock, then. Are any of their players full-time pros?

Much of their squad is employed by Cricket PNG in various roles, from ground staff at Amini Park - the main turf wicket complex in Port Moresby - or as development and junior coaching officers working around the country to increase playing numbers and participation.

.…and they are all locals from PNG itself?

The entire PNG squad is of Papuan heritage and almost all have been born and raised in and around Port Moresby. Several players are second or third generation national team representatives.

The most prominent representation of that is Charles Amini, whose grandfather (Brian), father (Charles Sr.), brother (Chris) and mother (Kune) have all captained PNG national teams while the main cricket venue is named after the family.

Many PNG players have gotten opportunities to play club and grade cricket in Australia as part of the Brian Bell Scholarship program to further their development.

Lega Siaka (Melbourne Renegades) and PNG captain Assad Vala (Brisbane Heat) were assigned to Big Bash League sides as part of a community contract rookie scheme in the past while Chad Soper - born to a Papuan mother and New Zealander father - grew up mostly in New South Wales and plays grade cricket in Sydney for Northern Districts CC.

Excellent. Anything else I should look for when I watch them?

PNG have a long established reputation as one of the best fielding sides in the Associate cricket world. Their speed to the ball creates routine confusion for batsmen in the middle leading to more run-out opportunities, while their general athleticism is on par with anyone from the Test nations.

That's not to say that their players are not skilled as well, but they have historically beaten better-ranked sides through sticking to fundamentals and core discipline as well as incredible fitness and stamina.

They do not have anyone bowling in the 135 kph range but their spinners are very talented and some of their batsmen - such as Vala, Siaka, Amini and Tony Ura - are among the most explosive hitters in the Associate world.


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