PNG hoping to be 'third time lucky' at T20 Qualifier
In their first two trips to the World T20 Qualifier, Papua New Guinea experienced more than their fair share of heartache.
In 2012, it was the Americas representatives who tormented them. Canada held off a late charge from Geraint Jones and Mahuru Dai in defense of 167 to win by six runs. Five days later against Bermuda, captain Rarua Dikana had the ball in his hand tasked with protecting 15 runs off the final over with Bermuda five down but he gave up three straight sixes to Janeiro Tucker. It meant PNG finished in fourth place in Group A, one spot out of the playoff positions.
In 2013, PNG made it to the playoffs and defeated Namibia in their first knockout game to come within one more win of a berth at the 2014 World T20 in Bangladesh. In their way stood Hong Kong, a team they had defeated in the previous year's qualifier by six wickets chasing down a total of 131 with a ball to spare. Hong Kong was pinned down in the rematch at 19 for 4 and only managed 139, but with a ticket to Bangladesh in their grasp, PNG stumbled to 108.
The memories of those heartaches are now serving as fuel for inspiration at the qualifier for the pacific island nation. PNG captain Jack Vare says that this time around he's hoping the team's fortunes will change to get them over the hump and into next year's World Twenty20 in India.
"We have missed out in the last two tournaments in Dubai," Vare told ESPNcricinfo ahead of PNG's first match of the tournament on Sunday against Jersey. "Everyone is growing arms and legs. There's a lot of experience in this time. Third time lucky I guess but everyone is confident that we will do well in this competition."
PNG's build-up to this tournament included a magnificent four-day win over the Netherlands on their Intercontinental Cup debut, with Assad Vala and Dai spearheading the pursuit of a fourth innings target of 305. Though they lost the subsequent WCL Championship fixtures against the Dutch, PNG eased into T20 mode with four games against a pair of County second XIs. In one match, PNG racked up 268 for 3 versus Gloucestershire's 2nds, a reminder of their potent top order featuring Lega Siaka and Tony Ura.
"I think the biggest challenge we go through is from playing longer forms to shorter formats," Vare said. "Most people know we play a lot of shorter formats but we are trying our best to develop all forms of the game. Playing in our first four-day game and to win that was a big experience for us and a special day."
PNG's players have also accumulated experience playing in the Australian Country Cricket Championships as well as the South Australia Premier League. Getting access to better facilities and opponents within the Australasia region has helped lift up their skills and their confidence levels.
"Playing in the competition in the South Australian Premier League gives us more experience and more exposed to the outside cricket world what's happening," Vare said. "Everyone has been doing well. We've been on the road for 18 months in preparation for this tournament. I'm more confident. I've got a good side, more mature side coming into this tournament."
PNG is the final team to play their first match of the tournament and on tap for them on Sunday at Bready is Jersey. Coach Dipak Patel and other members of the PNG squad were in attendance to see Jersey's triumph by nine-wickets over Hong Kong on Saturday, a fresh reminder not to underestimate any opposition. Vare says the team is well-prepared and not about to be caught off guard whoever stands in front of them.
"There's no doubt teams will come and compete hard but we'll focus on the job at hand," Vare said. "We won't look ahead too much. We'll take every game as it comes and concentrate on our roles as individuals and as a group. That's our major important thing to do playing top teams. We won't take any team lightly."
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna