Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Debutants PNG have nothing to lose. Captain Assad Vala will be key figure for PNG.
Captain Assad Vala will be key figure for PNG.
It has been almost two years since Norman Vanua struck a counter-attacking half-century for Papua New Guinea in their final group game at the T20 WC Global Qualifier, dragging his side back from the brink to set up the win that would seal their place at the T20 WC 2021, the Barramundis' first at a top-tier ICC tournament. Five days later they would see off Namibia to claim a place in the Qualifier final. They have not won a game since. PNG were the first to team secure qualification to this World Cup, but their defeat to the Netherlands in the Qualifier curtain-call would be their last game of international cricket for almost two years. A protracted period of enforced idleness followed, Papua New Guinea has been hit harder by the pandemic than almost any country in the World, and several members of the squad have themselves suffered recent bereavement.
In such circumstances, the extension of PNG's ODI losing streak is perhaps unsurprising. Yet having been in Oman since early September with more time to acclimatise to the conditions than any of their rivals bar the hosts, their recent form in the shorter format, a traditional strength, is a genuine concern. Successive defeats to Scotland, Namibia, Ireland and Sri Lanka in the lead-in to the tournament suggest a lack of not just form but also confidence. Skipper Asad Vala remains the only reliable source of runs in the top order and once-typical lower-order batting fightbacks have been conspicuously absent.
Vala aside, the experienced heads in the batting order have been in intermittent form at best. Sese Bau had chipped in 20s here and there, Tony Ura has at times shown hints of a return to form, but Lega Siaka's only significant score on tour came against Namibia where he contributed 33 chasing an impossible 250. The magnitude of that target likewise underlines the vulnerability of a varied attack of part-timers that nonetheless lacks genuine strike bowlers, where Vala himself is often pressed into service as the front-line spinner.
The arguable exception comes in the form of the left arm seam duo Nosaina Pokana and Kabua Morea, the former the Barramundi's lead wicket-taker in League 2 thus far and the latter the stand-out on the T20 leg of this tour. Vala's own ability to hold up an end is key to an attack that relies on regular rotation through the middle overs, while Charle Amini's legspin has been incisive at times. In Norman Vanua PNG also have a cool head at the death whether with bat or ball in hand, yet a side that proves adaptable and disconcerting to face at Associate level takes on the aspect of a jumbled jack-of-all-trades side when exposed.
That is not to say that the Barramundis are entirely out of their depth at the tournament. They remain, when they have their collective tails up, among the best fielding sides in world cricket at any level. When on-song PNG's collection of bits-and-pieces cricketers can become a formidable unit. They indeed looked to be holding their own against Sri Lanka through much of both innings of their warm-up, only to lose control at the back end of both. Having been waiting on a white ball win since 2019, PNG are undoubted underdogs ahead of the tournament. But then that's how they started the Qualifier.
Dangerman: Asad Vala, the PNG captain, is the rock upon which the team is built. By a distance their most dependable run-scorer and providing much-needed control with the ball, Vala becomes a genuine danger when set and in the company of a partner likewise established at the crease. Finding such a partner has been difficult of late, however.
Rising Star: Kabua Vagi Morea, having fought his way back into the senior squad this tour for the first time since 2014, has been one of the few bright points of what has been a disappointing trip thus far for PNG. His five-wicket haul against Oman in their final League 2 match was not enough to break PNG's ODI losing streak but did show a hunger that resurfaced against Sri Lanka, where Morea's four wickets were the only ones claimed by any PNG bowler.
Key Question: Tony Ura, like an engine either stuttering into life or about to flame out altogether, has begun punctuating his long run of failures with the occasional score. He remains, despite a horrid run going back to the Qualifier, the one bat in the Barramundis' stable capable of taking opposition attacks entirely apart. Should he hit his stride in this tournament PNG could rapidly shed the label of rank outsiders.
Strengths: Traditionally Papua New Guinea have been one of those rare outfits able to create wickets purely through their fielding, and as a ground fielding unit they remain one of the strongest in World Cricket. The batting, while mercurial, is deep and PNG are capable of staging remarkable counter-attacking reversals down the order.
Weaknesses: A lack of genuine specialists in any bowling discipline, combined with a top-order that, bar Vala, is in patchy form at best, leaves PNG vulnerable to being brushed aside by disciplined teams. Add to the weight of an ever-extending losing streak, and the Barramundis will need to stage a significant turnaround if they are to spring any surprises.
Past Highs and Lows: Another tournament debutant, undoubtedly the remarkable come-from-behind victory over Kenya that secured them their place at the tournament is a high-point in PNG's T20 history, much like their jail-breaking exploits at WCL Division 2 earlier the same year that saw them scrape into the second tier of ODI competition. They have come close in the past, unfortunate to run into a resurgent Afghanistan in their eliminator at the previous Qualifier, and losing out to Hong Kong at the final hurdle in 2013. A run to the Super 12s at their first tournament would be an unmatched achievement, but not an impossible one by any means.
Oman vs PNG – Al Amerat Cricket Stadium – 14:00, Sunday, October 17
PNG vs Scotland – Al Amerat Cricket Stadium – 14:00, Tuesday, October 19
PNG vs Bangladesh – Al Amerat Cricket Stadium – 14:00, Thursday, October 21