Papua New Guinea gearing up for full-fledged camps as cricket returns

Over the last couple of years, the associate nation has taken a giant leap and as the cricketing world eyes some sort of normalcy, even Papua New Guinea hopes tell its own story.

“The players have been training in small groups for five-six weeks and now they start as full squads and that’s something we are excited about,” Joe Dawes — who has previously worked with the Indian team as its bowling coach — said.   -  K. Bhagya Prakash

Over the last couple of years, the associate nation has taken a giant leap and as the cricketing world eyes some sort of normalcy, even Papua New Guinea hopes to hang in there and tell its own story — of chasing dreams and eyeing more glory!

The state of emergency in Papua New Guinea was lifted a few weeks ago, even though the Pacific nation reported yet another case of COVID-19 recently, taking its total tally to nine.

However, with life crawling back to normal, the sporting fraternity is looking confident. While so far most of the training activities were restricted to indoors, the Papua New Guinea cricket team took a step forward, organising a proper training camp for players ahead of its long domestic season, which is scheduled to get underway in July.

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Last year, the PNG Barramundis — as the senior men’s cricket team is known — qualified for the 2020 T20 World Cup, scheduled to be held in Australia later this year. But with the International Cricket Council yet to take a call on the future of the tournament, there is no clarity on whether the Barramundis will be living their dreams, this year.

But that hasn’t stopped them from getting into the groove. Though head coach Joe Dawes (in pic)admits that it would be a little hard as they are yet to hear from the ICC on whether there will be enough international games this year, he is confident that the boys will get back in shape over the next few weeks.

“We are waiting for the ICC, hopefully we will get to play some international cricket. We would set our goals for domestic cricket and get ready for what’s going to be a very busy year (in 2021),” Dawes told Sportstar.

The men’s and women’s teams have spent the past few months keeping fit in isolation and sharing their workout videos with the coaches and support staff. But as they gear up for full-fledged camps, Dawes is excited. “The players have been training in small groups for five-six weeks and now they start as full squads and that’s something we are excited about,” Dawes — who has previously worked with the Indian team as its bowling coach — said.

After becoming an associate member in 1979, Cricket PNG achieved its second biggest milestone on the cricketing world when it was granted One Day International (ODI) status in March 2014, after the Barramundis finishing fourth in the ICC 50-over World Cup Qualifiers in New Zealand. And since then, the success story has been quite phenomenal.

But when the camp gets underway, the PNG board wants to maintain all the safety protocols. “We will have to function in a new way with COVID-19 in the background. We will have temperature checks daily, sanitising and maintaining social distancing as much as we can. Our priority is going to be the safety of our players and staff,” Dawes said.

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The players and the stakeholders were looking forward to the T20 World Cup this year, but in case the tournament is postponed, it would certainly be a major blow for the side. “We are waiting for a decision by the ICC. We all know that it will be postponed. But whether it will be by six months or 12 months — that’s something we have to see. It will be a disappointment no doubt, but we will take this opportunity to ensure that we are better prepared for the World Cup when it comes along,” the seasoned coach stated.

Even Cricket PNG Chief Executive Officer and former Australia Test cricketer, Greg Campbell, is hopeful that things will slowly fall in place. “After we qualified for the T20 World Cup in October last year, some of the players went on to play club cricket in Australia, while some stayed back home. The coach put them on a strength and conditioning camp and then COVID-19 hit us. We haven’t had a lot of cricket,” Campbell said.

The team was scheduled to travel to Darwin to play a few T20 games against the Northern Territory team and the Hobart Hurricanes. “Now they have cancelled that after what happened in Cricket Australia recently,” Campbell, who is the uncle of Australian cricket legend, Ricky Ponting, said.

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For now, the association will look to organise domestic tournaments for the next two-three months and then assess the situation. “If there is no World Cup, we will consider taking the boys to Australia — provided the COVID restrictions are lifted — to play club cricket. We are planning everything,” Campbell, who featured in four Tests and 12 ODIs for Australia, said.

“This has definitely halted a bit of our momentum. When we qualified for the World Cup, there was huge interest here and even abroad from sponsors, wanting to get on board. That’s my job to ensure that we are still around that. Once the ICC makes a decision, we can plan our way forward,” he said. “The momentum will again be back for us. When the World Cup does happen, it will be a big story that a country like PNG has qualified for the first time…”