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CWCL2 – USA v PNG preview: Hosts look to continue unbeaten run in Florida, Barramundis desperate for first points after five CWCL2 defeats

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Two games done, two games won – this couldn’t be a better start for the American campaign in League 2. Another two games to go, and the confidence level is high. It’s needless to say that heading into this contest, they clearly hold the upper hand at the moment.

After a rather comfortable triumph over Namibia, USA will look to continue their winning streak. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t areas where improvement is needed. The opening pair of Xavier Marshall and Jaskaran Malhotra average 12.50 so far – in addition, the middle and lower order had to propel the side to a decent total in the last encounter against Papua New Guinea. Both will look to string together a larger contribution this time, in order to decrease the pressure on the middle order.

The last time around, Papua New Guinea were tasked with a stiff chase in 23 overs, due to the rain. Despite coming up short, they gave the hosts a good run for their money. But at the same time, it was an impressive death bowling effort from Saurabh Netravalkar and Rusty Theron, who both held their nerve well.

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Papua New Guinea will indeed have lots to gain, should they beat USA. After five consecutive defeats, it’s time for a turnaround. And they definitely have the player resources to do it. The seam trio of Nosaina Pokana, Norman Vanua, and Chad Soper have shown some skill and potency with the new ball. Jason Kila bowled a frugal 10-over spell against the USA, taking three wickets in the process. Though they didn’t click last game, Tony Ura and Lega Siaka are able top-order batsmen that can shine on their days. This tournament may go on for two and a half years, but every game – each side will play 36 ODIS – is an opportunity in itself.

Jaskaran Malhotra catches the dangerous JJ Smit from the leg spin of Timil Patel (ICC/Peter Della Penna)

Players to watch out for.

Jaskaran Malhotra, the aggressive USA wicketkeeper batsman, is often known to get the team off to a quick start. But in recent times, his quest for consistency has yet to pay dividends. During the Division 2 tournament in Namibia earlier this year, he scored 66 runs in 5 innings, averaging 13.20. Considering the fact that he’s been in the team for just under two years, there’s no doubt that the expectations have risen. He’s been quite tidy and agile behind the stumps, but runs are currency, especially if you’re opening.

Despite grim returns for the team during Round 1 in Scotland, PNG opening batsman Tony Ura has been a bit of a bright spot for Papua New Guinea. A clean striker when he gets going, Ura can be both the aggressor as well as the innings-builder, depending on the situation. Plus he brings to the table over eight years of experience. He missed out on a chance to impress last time, but the fine margins will surely play a role in his urge to rectify.

Likely playing XIs

USA

1 Xavier Marshall, 2 Jaskaran Malhotra (wk), 3 Steven Taylor (vc), 4 Monank Patel, 5 Aaron Jones, 6 Timil Patel, 7 Nisarg Patel, 8 Karima Gore, 9 Elmore Hutchinson, 10 Rusty Theron / Jessy Singh, 11 Saurabh Netravalkar (c)

Rusty Theron, the newly trusted death-overs bowler, missed out on the game against Namibia because of a minor injury. It’s likely he’ll recover in time, and he probably will come in for Jessy Singh, who bowled just three overs against Namibia. Otherwise, there’s no need for other switches. The opening pair has struggled, but it’s important to provide the extra backing at this juncture.

PNG

1 Tony Ora, 2 Norman Vanua, 3 Assad Vala (c), 4 Lega Siaka, 5 Chris Amini, 6 Kiplin Doriga (wk), 7 Gaudi Toka, 8 Jason Kila, 9 Alei Nao, 10 Nosaina Pokana, 11 Chad Soper

It’s only been one game, and it wouldn’t be fair to make any abrupt changes, especially given that it was a decent all-round performance that came up agonisingly short. Expect the same playing XI for the visitors.

Weather & conditions

Thursday is expected to be a sunny day for the most part. The pitch is expected to be slow and favour spin as the game progresses, like it has in the past two ODIs.

Parting thoughts?

Before this round of CWC League 2, the last time around the two teams met was in April. PNG handed the Americans a convincing defeat in Namibia, during the third-place playoff. Pokana and Vanua were the destroyers-in-chief, bowling out USA for 164. Lega Siaka shepherded the easy chase, and PNG scored an easy 5-wicket win. Oh, and that’s not all… that was the ODI debut for the entire USA team (well, apart from Xavier Marshall, who played for the West Indies before).

Both teams seem to be quite well matched, at the end of the day. Who will race ahead?

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