T20 World Cup – How Papua New Guinea Got There

Papua New Guinea have a knack of ruining predictions, and did once more on their way to a T20 World Cup.

Papua New Guinea T20 World Cup
Papua New Guinea T20 World Cup

Just when Papua New Guinea are written off, the Barramundis seem to lift to another level, and it was no different in their qualifying campaign for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup.

After negotiating the Philippines and Vanuatu in East Asia-Pacific qualifying, attention turned to UAE, and the 16 team global qualifier. Placed in Group A along heavily-fancied sides like the Netherlands, Namibia and Scotland, many had Assad Vala’s men pencilled in for at least a fourth place group finish, and needing to win a sudden death fixture against a team coming from the semi-final playoff stage.

Fuelled by falling at the do-or-die stage during the qualifiers for the 2014 and 2016 tournaments, and perhaps inspired by their own exploits at World Cricket League 2 earlier in 2019, PNG set about avoiding the tricky road to World Cup qualification. 

Aiming for a top spot in the group to seal a place before knockout play, the Barramundis began in ideal fashion, with Norman Vanua taking a hat-trick in a 90 all out Bermuda bundling. PNG’s electric opening pair of Vala and Tony Ura knocked the target off within 11 overs, and the Barramundi blitz began with a boosted net run rate to boot.

As if the pair never left the middle, Vala and Ura combined again in a 125-run partnership against a rusty Namibia, taking the game away from the Eagles almost within the first ten overs. Setting Namibia an improbable 198 for victory, the Barramundis were clinical, claiming three wickets in the Powerplay, bowling out their foes for 116. 

Scotland, PNG’s next opponents on the campaign, were inches away from falling into the same hole. Batting first, Kyle Coetzer lost George Munsey and Calum MacLeod early, though the Scottish captain led from the front, making a solid fifty to glue his side’s innings together. Matty Cross’ 40* from 23 swung momentum in his team’s favour, though PNG fought in response to only lose by four runs, preserving the all-important net run rate that would prove to give them an all-important edge.

For all of the opening pair’s heavy lifting early in the tournament, the middle order found its feet as the tournament progressed, most notably through solid performances from CJ Amini and keeper-batter Kipling Doriga against Singapore.Then, after falling to 19/6 against Kenya, rearguard action from the lower order capable of contributing shone through, with Norman Vanua’s half-century the catalyst from a come-from-behind victory, hitting three fours and two sixes. Bowling Kenya out for 73, Vanua was a unanimous Player of the Match winner after also claiming 2/19.

With the Netherlands taking on Scotland in the final group game later in the day, the Barramundis played the waiting game to see if their qualification was assured. A Scotland victory would guarantee top spot and ultimately a ticket to the “Big Dance”, with only a large net run rate busting Dutch victory in the way.

Scotland provided enough respite, and the Barramundis watching on leapt for joy in the stands.

“To be able to finally qualify for one and participate in one of the World Cups is a dream come true for me, and speaking on behalf of all my teammates, it will be an honour for us,” Assad Vala told the ICC.

“It’s the pinnacle of cricket, being able to play against the best in the world.”

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