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A walk to remember: Papua New Guinea makes it to the T20 World Cup in Australia next year

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There were moments throughout the Netherlands-Scotland match of this ongoing ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Qualifier 2019 which made the Papua New Guinea (PNG) players anxious. You don’t often see players from other teams waiting to watch other games at the ground. Yes, teams do follow the games when their future depends on it but hardly do you see teams wait at the ground.

But Papua New Guinea did and it was worth the wait. All the anxiousness and nervousness converted into ecstasy. The equation was for Netherlands to chase down 131 with 7.3 overs to spare. And when that did not happen, the PNG players burst into ecstasy. The reaction, the celebrations and the joy on the faces of the PNG players and the support staff that were present in the stands were second to none.

They had obtained a direct qualification for the T20 World Cup to be held in Australia next year. It is their first-ever entry into an ICC World Cup (any format). Those celebrations exactly showed how much the qualification meant to them. There was first-pumping, high-fives, hugs, roars of delight and in the end, tears of joy as well.

This was after they had one of the most dramatic turnarounds in the history of the game. Earlier in the day, PNG were absolutely reeling at 19/6. Only one other team in the history of the sport (international cricket) has come back and won a game from a worse situation. That was a couple of centuries back when England bounced back from 17/6 to win in 1887 against Australia in Sydney, that too in a Test match. (Courtesy: Twitter/@SampathStats).

From 19/6 to 118 to bowling out Kenya for 73, PNG completed one of the best turnarounds in international cricket. And eventually, they earned a direct entry into the 2020 edition of the Men’s T20 World Cup. All this in the space of a few hours.

When the T20 World Cup Qualifiers started, there wouldn’t have been a single person who would’ve anticipated Papua New Guinea’s direct qualification. Yes, they did stand a chance of qualifying. A top-four finish in Group A was more or less expected. But finishing at the top spot? No, not when the likes of Scotland (who beat England in an ODI last year) and Netherlands are present in the same group.

But it’s been a tournament of surprises and Papua New Guinea have given one of the biggest. Mind you, this hasn’t been a tournament where one or two players have stolen the limelight and PNG have made it this far.

It’s been a collective team effort. PNG don’t have even one player featuring in the top five run-getters list of this tournament. But they have two in the top ten. Skipper Assad Vala (184 runs at 36.80) and Tony Ura (177 runs at 35.40) are at 8 and 9 respectively. They have just one bowler at the fifth slot in the most wickets list for the tournament. But they have three in the top 15 and one more at 16. Damien Ravu leads the PNG charts with 10 wickets. But skipper Vala and Nosaina Pokana are not too far behind with nine wickets each and Norman Vanua has eight. Hence, it’s been a collective effort.

And it’s been a tournament where they’ve dominated and decimated teams. Right from the first game, they’ve been putting out clinical all-round performances. The bowlers did it in a couple of games, the batsmen did it in a couple of games. Their only loss came midway through the tournament. They failed to chase down 147 against Scotland when nine runs were needed in the final over.

But apart from that, they beat everybody else. They annihilated Bermuda first when they bowled them out for a mere 89 before chasing it down in a little over 10 overs. It was the batsmen’s turn to set it up in the next game against Namibia. They racked up 197 and the Namibians were no match to them. Then came the blip against the Scots before they caused a minor upset against the Netherlands. First, the bowlers restricted them to 126 before the batters tackled the Dutch bowlers to take PNG home with an over to spare. Singapore were brushed aside with ease as the batsmen once again put up a big score (180) and the bowlers did the job once again.

That was before the magical game (turnaround) against Kenya happened where Norman Vanua came in at No. 8 and scored a fifty helping his side score a respectable 118 before taking two wickets and setting up PNG’s 43-run win. This win helped them top the group and eventually earned them a direct ticket to Australia next year.

In fact, Australia could well be termed as Papua New Guinea’s second home. Australia has helped the budding cricketing nation quite a bit with funding, facilities and all sorts of things. In fact, Papua New Guinea have played quite a bit of cricket in Australia as well. And now, they will be making their World Cup debut in Australia.

Reminiscent of how Ian Bishop had described Carlos Braithwaite and West Indies’ winning moment in the 2016 World T20, here, let me remind you, “Remember the name (nation) Papua New Guinea!” In the coming days, months and years, you will most likely hear a lot more about them. You will hear a lot more about players like Assad Vala, Tony Ura, Charles Amini, Sese Bau, Damien Ravu, Norman Vanua and many more.

It’s been a remarkable tournament so far for Papua New Guinea. There may be a possibility of two more games in this T20 World Cup Qualifiers for them. They may or may not lift the title. But it has been a wonderful story for all of Papua New Guinea and their fans all around the world. Former West Indies cricket and current commentator Ian Bishop nailed it on the head with his tweet when he said,

 




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