A historic win on home soil for the Barramundis

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    The Papua New Guinea national team, popularly known as the Barramundis, bounced back from defeat in style to win the second World Cricket League match against Scotland at Amini Park in Port Moresby last Sunday.

    Having gone down by 101 runs in the first game, they had the satisfaction of recording their maiden ODI win on home soil in only their second attempt.

    The Papua New Guinea bowlers produced a much-improved performance compared to the first game and maintained their stranglehold throughout the innings after Scotland elected to bat. The Scot openers were off to a flying start, racing to 46 in the eighth over, but Lega Siaka’s run-out of captain Kyle Coetzer provided the hosts with the much-needed breakthrough.

    Scotland’s middle order could not capitalise on the good start and the score soon slid to 80/4. Leg-spinning all-rounder Mahuru Dai played a stellar role in stymieing the innings, returning excellent figures of 2/19 from his full quota of ten overs. Except for Matthew Cross, who scored a solid 91, no other batsman crossed 22 as Scotland were bowled out for a modest 203 in 49.2 overs.

    Besides Dai, the pace duo of Norman Vanua and John Reva collected took wickets each as well. Papua New Guinea were given a sound start in reply, with Tony Ura and Vani Morea mixing caution with aggression in adding 44 for the first wicket. Though both batsmen fell in the space of four balls, captain Assad Vala held the innings together with a controlled knock of 49.

    When Vala was dismissed, Papua New Guinea were 130/5 in the 34th over and the game seemed to be well-balanced. However, Dai, who had come in at 115/4, was keen on impressing with the bat too after his miserly bowling display. He took the game away from the Scots with an attacking, unbeaten 63 off just 54 balls, studded with ten fours. He was given company by wicketkeeper Dogodo Bau at the other end.

    Dai and Bau shared an unbroken 74 for the sixth wicket, which enabled Papua New Guinea to reach the target with two overs to spare. With this five-wicket win, the Barramundis are now placed second in the eight-team World Cricket League and are almost on the verge of booking a spot in the World Cup qualifiers to be held in 2018. Not surprisingly, Dai was named man of the match for his all-round show.

    This victory was significant as it was Papua New Guinea’s first official ODI success at home. Amini Park, located in the capital city of Port Moresby, has long been the headquarters of Papua New Guinea cricket. Named after the Aminis, the most illustrious cricketing family in the country, the venue was granted international status by the International Cricket Council (ICC) last month.

    Amini Park hosted its first list A match in May 2016, when the Barramundis faced Kenya. The first first-class match at the ground followed in October 2016, with Namibia being the opponents this time. The first international side to play here was an Australia XI in 1971-72. Then in 1975-76, Clive Lloyd’s West Indians paid a visit ahead of their tour of Australia.

    Given Papua New Guinea’s unquestionable talent, here’s hoping that this is the first of many international wins for the Barramundis at their home of cricket. Thanks to the myopia of the ICC, it is highly unlikely that Papua New Guinea will qualify for the 2019 World Cup, as only the top two from next year’s ten-team World Cup qualifier will earn a berth in the tournament proper.

    Thus it becomes all the more important for Papua New Guinea to keep playing regular international fixtures. Teams visiting Australia can easily hop over to Port Moresby and play an ODI or two. Last month the astute Jason Gillespie, who is the interim coach of the national side, had called for Papua New Guinea’s inclusion in Australia’s domestic 50-over competition. Are the administrators listening?

    Cricket in Papua New Guinea has taken giant strides in the past five years, and the Barramundis have the potential to become a strong contender for Test status in the next decade. The home win against Scotland is yet another step in the right direction. As one of the few fully indigenous associate teams, Papua New Guinea needs all the support encouragement possible to further their cricketing ambitions.

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