After qualifying for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Qualifier 2019, Papua New Guinea’s Norman Vanua has spoken of the time when such heights were a distant dream in a country with just a fledgling interest in cricket.
Vanua can’t help but smile as he remembers his days as a junior player, when the whole team shared just five bats. Now, the sport has picked up quite nicely across the country. The national players have their own sponsors, the facilities have improved multi-fold, and representing PNG at a World Cup is a realistic dream.
“[Facilities were] a big issue back then,” says Vanua, when asked of his initiation to cricket. “We’ve done tours where we had four or five bats in a team, in the junior set-up. As the years went by, cricket developed quickly in PNG, and it just went on from there.
“The village I grew up in, I’ve lived there for about 17 years now … it’s a fun village. It is just cricket-mad. Cars have to stop so that the kids can bowl and run through. My family has always played cricket in local compounds. And I was always engaged in sport – football, rugby – but my mum didn’t want me to play any contact sport. So cricket’s always been there.”
The sport has been on the rise in PNG since 1973, when they were awarded Associate membership. Gradually, cricket became popular in different parts of the oceanic country, and now, it is a heavyweight of the EAP region.
That has a lot to do with how much the facilities and access in the country have improved. Some of the players had to travel up to three hours from different villages to train at the centre. But now, everyone lives in and around the city.
The players get picked up from their quarters – “taking public transport with all the cricket gear would have been a safety risk” – and it’s a far cry from the days when they didn’t know cricket was played on turf pitches.
“There’s actually been a really big shift. We never had turf wickets back then. Most of us didn’t even know we played cricket on turf,” said Vanua. “We were thinking it’s just cement patches on which you bowl! But yeah, we got turf wickets about eight-nine years ago, and now we’ve great facilities. It’s been really good.”
Most of us didn’t even know we played cricket on turf. We thought it’s just cement patches on which you bowl!
Cricket Australia has played its part in aiding them. “[They] do a good job for us. We train in good facilities at the Allan Border Academy. We played at the Adelaide Oval or MCG, we regularly go down to play in their local competition – it’s sort of like a good boost for us. It helps us greatly to see where we can take our cricket to.”
All of which has boosted confidence ahead of the T20WC Qualifier later this year. It’s not the first time they’re involved at this stage – they've come close to qualifying before, in 2015, but were undone by Afghanistan in the playoffs. They have another chance to make it count this year, and having won three out of their last four games, they are buzzing.
“We are not overconfident, but we just believe in what we do in training," Vanua said. "We are just a bunch of fun-loving boys who grew up playing cricket, and that has never changed. We keep our energy high in the field and even off the field.
"I'm very hopeful that we actually make a World Cup. We are working really hard, and are hoping that within the next 10 years, we make at least one or two World Cups. Then you get hold of the experience and you can bring it back. It just boosts your level of confidence and skill-set. As we always say, we never die, we just keep coming hard.
“[If we make it] It would be the first time we’d qualify for the World Cup – so that would be pretty big. And I guess that would lead to more sponsors, players will get more exposure to the international scenes.”
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