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T20 World Cup: Papua New Guinea’s ‘village cricketers’ prepare to take on the world in first major tournament

The i 10/15/2021 Tim Sigsworth

When Charles Amini steps on to the field at Oman’s Al Amerat Cricket Ground on Saturday, he will be making history in more ways than one.

His grandfather, father, mother, aunt and brother all captained Papua New Guinea’s cricket team, and the national stadium in the capital, Port Moresby, even bears his family’s surname.

But no Amini – and indeed no Papua New Guinean – has ever played in a major international tournament before.

“We’re just village cricketers on the big stage,” Amini tells i. “We don’t get as much exposure, we don’t play as much international cricket and no one plays any franchise cricket.

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“All we have is heart, belief and a team bond: we all play together and train together every single day and that’ll be the key.”

Captain Assad Vala, the country’s highest ODI run scorer and second-highest T20I run scorer who hails from the same village as Amini, will lead out a highly versatile, tightly-knit team which features no fewer than eight all-rounders.

His opening partnership with Tony Ura, who tops the national T20I run charts, is as powerful as it is reliable, with other explosive batsmen like Lega Siaka and Norman Vanua also threatening further down the order.

Vanua is also one of the few fast bowlers in the squad, with Vala and Amini offering spin and Kabua Morea medium pace in a fairly varied bowling line up.

But it is in the field where Vala’s men are most prolific. Amini and Siaka both have a penchant for acrobatic catches, and this is supplemented by an efficient ball-gathering operation which sees opponent batsmen regularly doubting whether a quick one or two is actually as wise a move as they would hope.

Papua New Guinea’s group stage fixtures

  • Oman – 11am BST, Sun 17 Oct
  • Scotland – 11am BST, Tue 19 Oct
  • Bangladesh – 11am BST, Thu 21 Oct

That Papua New Guinea have even reached the T20 World Cup is remarkable. The country has never appeared at the tournament or the Cricket World Cup before and only received ODI status in 2014.

Rugby league is the dominant national sport, but it is cricket which has blossomed in recent years following the emergence of a golden generation whose success has captured the national imagination.

“The support that we’ve been given has been unreal. When we got back from the Qualifiers in 2019, it was really weird,” says Amini. “I didn’t expect so many people to be following us!

“Just us being here at the World Cup is already going to inspire the next generation, regardless of whether we win, draw or lose.”

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Covid-19 has prevented the side from capitalising on this newfound support by taking a large travelling contingent, as near-neighbours Australia were replaced as tournament hosts by Oman and the UAE.

But this will take nothing away from the scale of Papua New Guinea’s achievement – one which is certainly a far cry from the start of Amini’s career when players would play on synthetic matting and share bats and pads.

“We’ve always spoken about our journey, how long and how far we’ve come,” he explains.

“The dream is making it to the Super 12 and then playing those Test teams and measuring where we are and how much more we can improve.

“Playing against guys that you see on TV all the time, I just can’t imagine. Bowling to Virat Kohli or facing Rabada, it would just be a dream.”

T20 World Cup: group stage preview

Group A

Ireland

Led by all-format captain Andrew Bilbirnie, this will be Ireland’s sixth successive T20 World Cup. They have only progressed beyond the group stage once, in 2009.

Namibia

Like Papua New Guinea, Namibia are also making their T20 World Cup debut in what is only their second major international tournament.

Look out for their self-declared batting “bomb squad” of captain Gerhard Erasmus, David Wiese and JJ Smit.

Netherlands

The Netherlands made it to the Super 10 at the 2014 World Cup and will be looking to repeat the feat this year with a squad including Northamptonshire’s Brandon Glover, veteran batsman Stephan Myburgh and former South African international Roelof van der Merwe.

Sri Lanka

Group A favourites Sri Lanka, captained by Dasun Shanaka, will be keen to avoid an ignominious early exit and make it through to the Super 12.

They will be without talismanic round-arm bowler Lasith Malinga, who retired from cricket last month.

Group B

Bangladesh

Bangladesh are the favourites in Group B after series wins over Australia in August and New Zealand in September, but have not been beyond the group stage before.

Their squad is a mixture of experience and potential, with the likes of Soumya Sarkar and Shakib Al Hasan mixing with Shamim Hossain and Afif Hossain, both 21.

Oman

Joint hosts Oman made their T20 World Cup debut in 2016, defeating Ireland in their first match. Their squad contains considerable quality – led by captain Zeeshan Maqsood – but finding consistency will determine whether they have a tournament to remember.

Scotland

Progressing past the group stage for the first time is the goal for Scotland in this tournament.

Led by Kyle Coetzer, a veteran of three T20 World Cups, and with the aid of Jonathan Trott as batting consultant, the Scottish side includes a plethora of experienced talent, including Richie Berrington, Calum Macleod and Safyaan Sharif.

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