For Papua New Guinea, a Long Trip to Cricket’s Big Stage

For Papua New Guinea, even advancing out of the preliminary rounds to the main field will be viewed as an achievement, especially after a lead-up to the tournament that was littered with obstacles.

In a bid to acclimatize to playing conditions at the World Cup and dust off some of the rust from the team’s extended pandemic layoff, Campbell recently organized a monthlong trip to Muscat for matches against Oman, Scotland, the United States and Nepal. The effort to forge a much-needed competitive edge was soon complicated, though, by off-the-field news: In the middle of the camp, three members of the Barramundis, as the team is known, learned that family members back home had died. Days later, an approaching tropical storm forced them to briefly abandon their belongings in their hotel at a coastal resort.

“We had two mottos when we left PNG,” said Campbell, a former Australian cricketer. “One is Back the Barras. The other was No Excuses. Everyone is in the same boat with Covid-19. We have to face what is thrown at us.”

When the tournament begins, Papua New Guinea will be severely tested. The top two teams from a group consisting of the Barramundis, Oman, Scotland and Bangladesh will join two from a second preliminary group — Ireland, Namibia, Sri Lanka and the Netherlands — in the main round of the competition. It is there where eight of cricket’s more traditional powerhouses await, and where Papua New Guinea’s players want to go.

“I don’t like using the word expectations, because if you have too many, there is pressure to live up to them,” said Charles Amini, Papua New Guinea’s key all-rounder whose brothers, father, mother and grandfather have all played for the country’s national teams. “No one will see us as realistic qualifiers for the main round, which is a good thing, so hopefully we can turn some heads.”

Papua New Guinea lost all 12 matches in the lead up to the curtain raiser against Oman on Sunday, so it would be easy to argue that its cricketers are suffering from a case of misplaced confidence. But alarm bells aren’t ringing for the players or for Campbell. He credits the relaxed frame of mind within the squad to the “island mentality” that permeates Papua New Guinea’s nine million inhabitants.

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