Meet the Barramundis: Who are the heroes of Papua New Guinea cricket?
Papua New Guinea turned a few heads last year by qualifying for the 2020 T20 World Cup with relative ease, 48 yeas after they played their first official game played against Australia in 1972.
The islanders became an ICC member a year later in 1973, putting more of an emphasis on home grown talent.
While they picked up a gold medal in the 1991 and 2003 South Pacific games and participated fairly competitively in tournaments around that time, it was the 2011 World Cup Qualifiers where they started to motor, almost making the finals before missing out narrowly in 2013 and 2015 for the T20 World Cups of following years. Their biggest scalps in this time were an ODI win on their first attempt against Hong Kong in 2014 and a huge win in 2015 against Ireland in the nation's first ever T20I match, meaning they were one of the only nations to win their first ever ODI and T20I matches.
It was 2019 onto 2020 that made history for the men in yellow, red and black, and hence it is a pretty good time to have a look at the latest inductees of the T20 World Cup scheduled to be held at Australia later this year.
To start of the introduction, we have Tony Ura, who is undoubtedly Papua New Guinea's best batsman, and if the island nation qualify to the main stage of the T20 World Cup, he is a genuine contender to be top scorer for his team. Taking on much of the responsibility for his side, Ura is fantastic to watch when he is at his best. He averages 37.27 in his T20I career at a strike rate of 140.96. A total of 671 runs has seen Ura hit four fifties and a stunning century in 2019, when he smashed 107 not out from just 60 balls against the Philippines.
His most famous innings was in the ODI format against Ireland in 2018, where he hammered 151 from 142 balls despite his team being bowled out for 235; meaning Ura scored 64% of his team's runs single handedly as team-mates didn't manage anything over 25.
32-year old all-rounder Assad Vala is the Papua New Guinea captain and his contributions and leadership are a huge reason behind their success. The former Brisbane Heat pick shares new ball duties with Nosaina Pokana and his off-spin has picked up 20 wickets at an average of just 12.45. He has an economy is 5.55, which is hugely impressive considering he bowls mostly in the powerplay. His promotion to open the batting with Tony Ura took PNG's batting to the next level, allowing the rest of the team to assume comfortable batting positions.
At number three and four are two polar opposites; cricketers made for different situations entirely. Former Melbourne Renegades trialist and squad member Lega Siaka is a dynamic player, well capable of turning the momentum of an innings, while Sese Bau is the man Papua New Guinea look to for stabilising the innings.
Siaka grabbed eyeballs when he was selected for the Australian cricket board's President's XI against England in 2015, playing alongside the likes of Glenn Maxwell, Pat Cummins and Jason Behrendorff, exciting the crowd with a quickfire 27 and a good catch to dismiss Moeen Ali. Siaka hasn't really shown his A-game in the T20 format, but some excellent ODI performances, including a century, saw him become the first player ever from his nation to ton in the ODI format.
Bau on the other hand is a classy operator, who's gritty batting is absolutely invaluable to his side.
Charles 'CJ' Amini has plenty of sporting heritage in his family. His grand-father Brian, father Charles and brother Chris have all captained Papua New Guinea in the past, with Brian and Charles captaining the senior sides and Chris an Under 19 captain. Amini's mother Kune led the women's side while aunt Cheryl represented the women's national team as well. The Papua New Guinea national stadium is Amini Park, named after his family.
The Sydney Sixers recuit would want to become the family's most recognised player at the 2020 T20 World Cup though, as his all-round skills could see him reach impressive heights for his country. A brave batsman who has an average of 26.92 in 27 appearances, Amini is a big hitter with a great fondness for depositing the ball over the rope. Having said that it is his leg-spin that makes him such a crucial addition to the squad. He is the first choice for his side in this discipline, ahead of part-time Lega Siaka.
Kiplin Doriga is exactly the keeper Papua New Guinea needed when he came into the T20 team in early 2019. A finisher of good ability, Doriga can fill any batting role necessary. His keeping skills are also very admirable and more importantly, he can keep it cool under pressure. Don't expect to see too many big mistakes from him, you are more likely to see moments of brilliance like this.
What can you say about Norman Vanua? If it isn't Ura's batting taking the headlines, you can just about guarantee it's the fast-bowling all-rounder who comes away as the team's hero. Vanua has hit almost double the amount of sixes than fours in the T20 format, with 23 big ones coming since his debut in 2015.
His bowling is even more valuable to Papua New Guinea though, going at just 6.18 in 25 T20I matches.Vanua has 35 wickets with a best of 5/17 and fantastic 14.42 average, not to mention his glorious hat-trick at the qualifier last year against Bermuda.
Jason Kila is the primary spinner in the Papua New Guinea team, despite captain Assad Vala regularly taking new ball duty. Kila usually comes to bowl in the middle overs to restrict the opposition. With an average of 33 in his 12 matches played, Kila will back himself to better those figures in the T20 World Cup.
The floater of the Papua New Guinea team in every respect is Riley Hekure. He has batted as high as six and as low as ten, and sometimes does not bowl in T20 matches, but the youngster usually keeps it very tight when he is called upon with the ball.
While he usually bowls a couple of overs at the most, his figures look good in terms of economy, only going for 7.65 in mostly death overs.
Damien Ravu had a dream debut at the World T20 Qualifier in 2019. Ravu had played many ODI games since his debut in 2017, having never picked up a wicket in eight appearances.
Therefore, it came as quite a shock when in 2019 his T20 run saw him brutalise batting line-ups, picking up 24 wickets at an average of a barely believable 9.20, his economy at just 5.24, with a best of 5/15.
The first bowler running in for Papua New Guinea's campaign in 2020 will be Nosaina Pokana. He has been more of an ODI sensation in 2019, with 20 wickets at an average of just 14.25, but has been given consistent opportunities to take top-order wickets in the shortest format, managing 19 over his 5-year T20 career with a good looking average of 17.26 and a very good economy of 5.77.
A couple of batsmen are in the mix for what will likely be only one spot in the squad for later this year. Simon Atai was the back-up batsman and keeper of choice at last year's qualifier and the 20-year-old didn't get an opportunity to make his mark due to the consistency of the first choice batsmen. The 29-year-old keeper-batsman Steven Eno has recently made T20I appearances for Papua New Guinea, he will be in the content for the position as well.
As far as the bowling is concerned, last year's T20 World Cup qualifier saw a spinner and two pacers take the remaining squad spots. Off-spinning all-rounder Hiri Hiri, who has played an excellent hand in ODI matches for the nation, will comfortably make the squad as a third choice spinner.
With the spin option sorted the pacers in contention for the squad will be John Reva and Chad Soper. Reva made his T20I debut in 2015 against Ireland and has since picked up seven wickets in nine matches at an average of 21.14, with a good economy rate of 6.99, meaning he is a reliable back up to the pacers on the bench.
Chad Soper definitely the first choice replacement given the 28-year-old has picked up 14 wickets with an impressive average of just 10.92; meaning he may take Riley Hekure's spot in the XI come October, if Papua New Guinea are confident with their batting.
So what exactly can we expect from PNG at the 2020 T20 World Cup? Three words; franticness, effort and spirit. The batsmen will be dashing while the bowlers will give as much effort as anyone in the competition. The fielding will be remarkable, challenging any of the top teams. One thing for sure is Papua New Guinea will bring plenty of excitement to the 2020 event and there will never be a dull moment while they are on the field.Published 08 Feb 2020, 12:53 IST