Papua New Guinea’s spirited cricketers created history in Townsville as they became the first team to win their first two One-Day International matches. The Barramundis, as they are known, beat Hong Kong 2-0 in their maiden ODI series at the Tony Ireland Stadium, Australia’s newest international venue.
Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea attained ODI status until 2018 after coming third and fourth respectively in the World Cup qualifiers in New Zealand earlier this year. Both teams narrowly missed out on qualifying for the 2015 World Cup. Besides getting ODI status, the two teams will also be part of the ICC World Cricket League Divison One and the ICC Intercontinental Cup – the two premier tournaments for Associate nations – in the next four years.
In the first game of the two-match series on 8th November, PNG bowled out Hong Kong for 202 in 48.3 overs. Captain Jamie Atkinson (59) and Aizaz Khan (42) rescued their side from the perils of 98/6. Each of the six Barramundi bowlers took at least one wicket, underlining a strong team effort. In reply, PNG slipped from 38/1 to 76/5 before Vani Morea and Charles Amini (younger brother of captain Chris Amini) combined to put on a match-winning 91 runs for the sixth wicket. while Morea was out for 54, Amini remained unbeaten on 61 to guide ODI cricket’s newest member to a four-wicket win with a full eleven overs to spare. With this win, Papua New Guinea became the sixth nation – after Australia, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Bermuda and Afghanistan – to win its first ever ODI.
The next day, the Barramundis made it two wins out of two with another successful chase. Hong Kong elected to bat again upon winning the toss, and posted a healthy 261 in 49.3 overs. Babar Hayat (55), Anshuman Rath (51) and Haseeb Amjad (42) did the bulk of the scoring. The Papuan pace bowlers Norman Vanua (4/60) and Willie Gavera (3/45) shared seven wickets amongst them. The chase revolved around 21 year-old Lega Siaka, who struck a brilliant 109 from 114 balls from number three to become his country’s first ODI centurion. When he was run out, PNG still required 69 off 48 balls with six wickets remaining. However, the rising run rate did not deter Morea, who scored his second consecutive fifty. After a few more hiccups, PNG reached 264/7 with four balls to spare, with Morea (65*) hitting the winning boundary to spark joyous scenes.
PNG’s excellent start as an ODI team is indeed a feel-good story. Cricket has been played in the country for many years, but only recently has the national team come into the international spotlight. In January 2011, they came second in the World Cricket League Division Three and a few months later, third in Division Two. This impressive progress assured them of a place in the World Cup qualifiers in 2014, where they defeated Kenya, Uganda and Namibia in the league stage before stuttering in the Super Six round. Back in 1982 too, PNG had missed out on World Cup qualification by a whisker as they came third in the ICC Trophy.
By far the strongest team in the East Asia/Pacific region, PNG has always possessed the talent, but lack of professionalism and infrastructure have proved to be a hindrance. The country still does not have an international-standard cricket ground, with Amini Park in the capital city of Port Moresby – the hub of cricket in PNG – being the most well-known venue. The ground is named after the Amini family, who have been pioneers of cricket in the country over the years. Current captain Chris Amini’s father and grandfather have both captained PNG while his mother and aunt have played for the PNG women’s team. In recent times, the team has been coached by the likes of former Australian Test player Andy Bichel and former Sheffield Shield player Peter Anderson. The current CEO of Cricket PNG is Greg Campbell, another former Australian Test player.
These appointments, along with improvements in the quality of pitches at local grounds and the ICC’s development programmes, have played a significant role in nurturing PNG’s raw cricketing talent compared to thirty years ago, when there was no development plan in place at all. The presence of former England international Geraint Jones – a Papuan by birth – in the team has also helped. One of the biggest advantages for cricket in PNG is that the national squad is made up entirely of locals, unlike many other Associate nations. Siaka, for one, is a star in the making and an ideal inspiration for budding cricketers in the country to take the game seriously. Even before his century in the second ODI against Hong Kong, he had made himself known in the Associate world by hitting fine hundreds against Kenya and Namibia in the World Cup qualifiers. Quite a few PNG players are also on the rosters of Big Bash League franchises.
On one hand, there is the heartening rise of nations with homegrown talent – top Associates Ireland and Afghanistan, followed by Nepal and Papua New Guinea at the next tier are the four teams who can have a great future in cricket. However, on the other hand, there is the utterly callous decision of the ICC to reduce the number of teams in the 2019 World Cup to ten. As it is, promising Associates are being kept away from the possibility of Test cricket. With this ridiculous curtailment of teams, even ODI cricket will be of little significance for these nations. If at all the ICC really care for the growth of the game, this decision has to be changed at the earliest. It would be disastrous if cricket in countries like PNG is shrivelled – the ICC would do well to keep in mind the unfortunate case of Kenyan cricket.
However, in all likelihood, growth of cricket in Papua New Guinea is here to stay. It is the fastest growing sport in the country and the national team is ranked 16th in the world today. What they will need in the next four years is a regular diet of fixtures against international teams.
Here’s hoping that the wins over Hong Kong are a sign of brighter things to come from the Barramundis.