With Papua New Guinea about to take on Bangladesh at the T20 World Cup later today, it is a good time to revisit the first meeting between the two countries. Almost four decades earlier, in the English summer of 1982, the two teams were part of the 60-over ICC Trophy, as the World Cup Qualifier was then known. Sixteen ICC Associate members battled it out across the Midlands for a solitary spot at the 1983 World Cup.
Each of the two groups featured eight teams, with the top two from each proceeding to the semifinals. Group A was led by Zimbabwe, while Papua New Guinea edged past Canada to finish second. Bermuda ended up on top of Group B, followed by Bangladesh. The semifinals saw Zimbabwe trounce Bangladesh by eight wickets and Bermuda register an equally convincing six-wicket win over Papua New Guinea.
Though their World Cup dream was over, the third place was still up for grabs for Bangladesh and Papua New Guinea. They duly squared off for the third-place playoff at the Bournville Cricket Ground on 9th July 1982, a day before the final in which Zimbabwe would beat Bermuda by five wickets to qualify for the World Cup. Bangladesh were captained by wicketkeeper Shafiqul Haque, while PNG had Api Leka at the helm.
The Bangladeshi opening pair of Yousuf Rahman and Nazam Shirazi dominated the PNG bowlers, and their huge stand of 170 seemed to have put their team on course for a match-winning total. While Shirazi fell for 52, Rahman went on to score 115. Both batsmen were victims of La’a Aukopi, who also scalped Gazi Ashraf – who would become Bangladesh’s first ODI captain in 1985-86 – and Raqibul Hasan soon after.
Bangladesh had suddenly collapsed to 208/5 and failed to recover as the innings went on. There were as many as four run-outs, which did not help their cause. Aukopi added the wicket of Tanjeeb Ahsan to finish with remarkable figures of 11-3-14-5 before the innings terminated at 224 in 57.5 overs. Thanks in particular to Aukopi, Papua New Guinea had produced a stirring comeback to take all ten wickets for just 54 runs.
Openers Tau Ao (39) and Nigel Agonia launched the chase with an assured stand of 50, but the Bangladeshi bowlers kept striking regularly thereafter, with off-spinner Anwarul Amin and leg-spinner Omar Khaled taking two wickets apiece. At 114/5, Papua New Guinea were in danger of letting the match slip away. Skipper Leka joined William Maha at this crucial stage, and the duo set about reconstructing the innings.
By the time Maha was out to Ashraf’s off-spin for an anchoring 60, his sixth-wicket stand with Leka had raised an invaluable 90 runs. Ashraf also removed Raki Ila for zero, which reduced the score to 204/7. However, Leka held the fort till the end, staying unbeaten on 41. The captain and Vele Amini collected the remaining runs to steer Papua New Guinea to a memorable three-wicket win with three overs to spare.
The next time Papua New Guinea played Bangladesh was in 1996-97, in the semifinal of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) Trophy at Kuala Lumpur. Bangladesh were by now a force to reckon with on the Associate scene, and it showed in their performance as they won by seven wickets. Another 25 years later, it remains to be seen whether the Barramundis can upstage the Tigers in their first ever face-off in T20 cricket.