Exciting news for Papua New Guinea cricket fans is the news that they have qualified for the World T20, to be held in Australia in October and November 2020, the first time they have ever qualified for the tournament.
To put this into perspective, the World T20 is to have 16 teams, 6 of them having to go through a “first round”, and 4 of them yet to be determined. Papua New Guinea, alongside fellow qualifier Ireland, are effectively in 11th and 12th positions, which is test level. With Zimbabwe missing out on the tournament after briefly losing test and international status (which they have subsequently regained), Papua New Guinea, the small nation to the north of Australia, are effectively test level.
It wasn’t an easy thing for PNG either: they defeated a number of nations on the cusp of test status, including Netherlands, Kenya and Namibia, their only loss coming to another team vying for test status in Scotland. They also beat low-ranked Singapore as well, but Singapore were meant to be at about the same level as PNG – the other four teams in their group were meant to be far ahead of them. Even Bermuda, who finished bottom of the ladder in the group, once qualified for their own World Cup, albeit the ODI version. To defeat four teams who had previously made it to the ODI World Cup, including Kenya, who in 1999 made it all the way to the semi-finals, was a huge achievement.
In their last match, they faced off against Kenya, who had to win to make it to the finals of the playoffs, and were reduced to 6/19 before coming back to register 118 runs, thanks to all-rounder Norman Vanua, who scored 54 valuable runs batting at number 8, then came back to open the bowling and took 2 valuable wickets.
To put it all into perspective, consider that Kenya are currently ranked 17th in the world in T20 internationals – and that is after these wonderful results – and only 16 teams qualify for the World T20. Ireland, ranked 14th, have qualified with them, while 13th-ranked UAE, 15th-ranked Oman, 16th-ranked Scotland, 18th-Netherlands, 19th-Namibia and 20th-Hong Kong are fighting it out for the 4 remaining spots, and, if they had not qualified first, then PNG would not have been expected to have made it through the knockout phase intact.
This also marks a third nation in Oceania, alongside Australia and New Zealand, in the World T20, and potentially could lead to a kind of tri-nation Oceanic Cup, similar to the Asia Cup tournaments.
The first round of the World T20 will see two groups of four fight it out for the last four spots in the tournament proper, with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, as teams ranked 9th and 10th in the world, already there, joined by Ireland and Papua New Guinea plus 4 more teams, and hence qualification for the main leg of the World T20 is not yet guaranteed, but if they can beat these teams at the qualifier then perhaps they could beat them at the World T20 proper and then qualification is assured.
Even if they do drop out at the First Round stage, this will still be a big achievement, as they will be at the world stage in nearby Australia playing against one of the big teams, in either Sri Lanka or Bangladesh, and it is close enough that some supporters might even travel there.
Exciting news indeed, and a great celebration for Papua New Guinea, which could be a positive impact for Australia and New Zealand cricket as well, and for cricket generally.