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An ODI triumph years in the making for PNG

Tony Ura and Chris Amini embrace after securing Papua New Guinea's nine-wicket win ICC/Cricket Europe

Chris Amini didn't need to say anything. As the Papua New Guinea captain struggled to fight back tears in an on-camera interview following Papua New Guinea's two-match maiden ODI series sweep over Hong Kong, his emotions conveyed what a historic moment this was in the island nation's rich but relatively little-known cricket history.

PNG didn't arrive on this stage overnight. As Tim Wigmore and Gideon Haigh have detailed, painstaking efforts have been made on and off the field over the last several years to get PNG to Tony Ireland Stadium in Townsville.

Former Australia international Andy Bichel played a central role in that. Back in 2011, he told ESPNcricinfo about the amount of pride he had in helping to change the culture of cricket in Papua New Guinea as director of cricket. Bichel and former CEO Bill Leane pushed for the first turf wickets to be installed in the country at Amini Park in 2010. It's no accident that PNG has shown dramatic improvement in the time since by playing regularly on turf wickets as opposed to the artificial surfaces that were standard year round within the country beforehand.

Bichel also did a lot to erase the "30 runs and two wickets" mindset and promoted an intense performance-driven attitude toward selection. As Bichel said at the time, "I can't have a whole team of people who get 30 and two wickets and a catch, because that just doesn't happen. It doesn't win you a game of cricket. If they get five wickets and a 100, all of a sudden you start to win games of cricket."

Off field changes proved to be just as vital. More attention was paid to educating players about post-training recovery methods like ice baths as well as the value of proper nutrition rather than just filling up on fast food before and after practice. Demonstrating class whenever anyone donned the red PNG blazer was another priority. At the conclusion of the post-tournament awards banquet at the 2011 U-19 World Cup Qualifier in Ireland, Bichel memorably led the PNG team across the room before leaving for the night to have each one of his players shake hands and congratulate the tournament champion team from Scotland.

The seeds were sown for the PNG cricket culture to move forward. There have been some bumps along the way on the field, but Papua New Guinea has shown a capacity to bounce back, learn and improve.

At the 2012 World T20 Qualifier, PNG lost a close match to Canada by six runs despite having seven wickets in hand at the end of their chase. They entered a match with Bermuda needing a win to have any chance of making it to the knockout stage. PNG had 15 to defend off the final over only to see longtime captain Rarua Dikana concede three consecutive sixes to Bermuda's Janeiro Tucker to give away the match.

A year later, they moved past the difficulty of that loss to reach the knockout stage of the World T20 Qualifier and beat Namibia in their first play-off game to move within one win of reaching the 2014 World T20 in Bangladesh. They had Hong Kong pegged back at 19 for 4 before losing steam in the face of a gritty counterattack from Babar Hayat and would eventually collapse in the second innings to fall short of going to Bangladesh.

After stumbling just short of a berth in the World T20 and gaining T20I status, PNG secured ODI status at the World Cup Qualifier in New Zealand. They were spearheaded by 21-year-old Lega Siaka, who wasn't even in the squad for the T20 Qualifier but arrived in New Zealand to strike two centuries and a fifty.

At every stage along the way, PNG's habit has been to take one step back and two steps forward.

Another two steps forward were taken in Townsville, Australia this weekend. It is fitting that diminutive Siaka will have his named etched in history as PNG's first ODI centurion. The six he hooked off fast bowler Tanwir Afzal in the seventh over of Sunday's chase sent a message that Siaka and PNG are shaping up to be the next Associate mouse that roars.

PNG's fighting spirit is evident in so many ways and is what makes them such an entertaining team to watch. This weekend may have been the first time for a lot of viewers to get a genuine glimpse of PNG's cricket, but they have a longstanding reputation as a team full of energy and hustle. The majority of their players at U-19 and men's level would give MS Dhoni and David Warner a run for their money in a sprint between the wickets. In the field, PNG erupts at the fall of a wicket, particularly for a run-out.

The passion carries over to the end of the match in PNG's victory song. The enthusiasm is infectious, the singing and rhythmic clapping never failing to bring a smile to everyone's faces, even for newcomers to the squad like recently appointed head coach Dipak Patel. Perhaps the only other team at Associate level to exhibit as much joyful camaraderie as PNG is Nepal. It's no coincidence that both nations have experienced a renaissance over the last five years and team unity is one of the many reasons why.

In cricket's new age where the scales are tipped heavily in favour of Full Members, from administrative support to revenue distribution by the ICC, Papua New Guinea provide a glimmer of hope for anyone who thinks that the only Associates with a prayer of even competing for a spot in the 2019 World Cup are Ireland and Afghanistan.

There was a bittersweet tinge amid the scenes of happiness at Tony Ireland Stadium when Amini choked up on camera as he spoke of how his grandfather, a pioneer in PNG cricket, had died nine years ago and how special it would have been if he were still alive to soak up the moment today. They had become the first country to win their first two ODIs. If will not be surprising if many more victories are to come.