PNG earn respect at the World Cup qualifier
Papua New Guinea have been the feel good story of the Cricket World Cup qualifying tournament and the side's coach believes they will continue to surprise. ntsGin the future.nte
When the 10-team event began in New Zealand just under three weeks ago, PNG were expected to find the going tough and jostle for the minor placings.
The Barramundis surprised even themselves, topping their group in pool play after winning three of their four games.
They were the top seed for the Super Six stage after carrying over two wins, but losses to the United Arab Emirates, Scotland and Hong Kong dented their World Cup aspirations.
PNG were still able to smile, finishing fourth overall, which should lead to increased funding and potentially ODI status down the track.
Over the past two yearsntsG,nte PNG have improved significantly, finishing third in division two of the ICC World Cricket League and ntsGfinishingnte eighth out of 16 teams at the Twenty20 World Cup qualifying tournament last November.
PNG proved they belong at the T20 qualifier, beating associate cricket stronghold Ireland in a warmntsG-nteup game and also securing victories against Kenya, the Netherlands and Namibia during the event proper.
PNG's coach, former Queensland and South Australian wicketkeeperntsG,nte Peter AndersonntsTnte, ntsGbelievednte said the side was making steady progress.
Their young squad has been boosted by the addition of 37-year-old former English wicketkeeper and 2005 Ashes winner Geraint JonesntsTnte, who was born in PNG and spent the first six years of his life in the country.
Jones has played for PNG for the past two years after undergoing a four-year standntsG-nte down period to become eligible.
He is not the only former international to be lending a hand, with former Zimbabwe legspinner and Auckland coach Paul StrangntsTnte acting as specialist coach.
Anderson said PNG's inexperience meant they often followed up a strong performancentsG,nte with a poor one, which he had tried to address.
''That's our biggest issue being consistent. We can play three wonderful games and beat the top [associate] countries and then we have that annus horribilis game where we go back and play like club cricketers.''
PNG have won the past three East Asia Pacific championships, but Anderson said the only way for the team to get better was to test themselves against stronger opposition.
''We were the big bullies in the backyard and now we're on a new street and we've got bigger boys on the street.
"We're going to cop a few hidings and it's going to be frustrating at times, but I feel that we're moving in the right direction.''
Jones said the PNG side should be proud of the way they played during the World Cup qualifying tournament in New Zealand and was excited by the potential of the squad.
''To be competing at this level is a fantastic effort, where the guys have come from and the circumstances.
''When you look at the cricket back in PNG, this is a wonderful group and if they can stay together for the next five yearsntsG,nte they'll do some great things.''
Interest in cricket is growing in PNG, with 70 fulltime staff now employed among six regions in the country.
Jones said the ntsGsport nte game was mainly played in ntsGthe capital,nte Port MoresbyntsTntentsG,nte and in the coastal areas. There was a schools programme operating, but there was a large dropoff once they completed their studies.
''The actual numbers we've got to choose from is quite small. They're all homegrown players. To be competing with homegrown players is outstanding.'' Jones said.
Both Anderson and Jones admitted the standard of wickets in PNG was a disadvantage. PNG Cricket's major ground, Amini ParkntsTnte in Port Moresby, was undergoing an upgrade with a third grass wicket block being created.
''Yes, it is very difficult,'' Anderson said.
''We need decent wickets to produce decent cricketers. It's no-one's fault. It comes back to finances and soils.''