PREVIEW: The ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2018 kicks off with the fixture between the United Arab Emirates, a team with quite a few players who were part of the teams’ ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 campaign, and Papua New Guinea, all natural ability and enthusiasm, hoping to make the cut for the very first time.
There’s a lot of quality in the UAE side, who also played the 1996 World Cup. In Rohan Mustafa, the captain, and Ashfaq Ahmed, there’s solidity at the top of the batting order, which is further bolstered by the presence of Chirag Suri, Rameez Shahzad and, not to forget Shaiman Anwar.
PNG warmed up for the qualifiers with decent if not successful outings against Scotland first and then Zimbabwe, the hosts and one of the favourites. In the game against Scotland, Assad Vala, the captain, got a 39 and Sese Bau, one of the team’s old hands, scored a 76-ball 53 as PNG scored 196. Scotland went past the target convincingly enough with Matt Cross scoring an unbeaten 101 but more than one PNG bowler was impressively restrictive. Alei Nao, the right-arm medium-pacer, and Charles Amini, the leg-spinner, conceded runs at under five an over, while Vala, who bowls off-spin, gave away just 23 runs from eight overs.
Then, against Zimbabwe, Vani Morea scored a good 58 from the top of the order as PNG scored 195 against a full-strength Zimbabwe attack before the Zimbabweans knocked off the runs for victory.
If everything comes together for PNG the way Joe Dawes, the coach, must be hoping, they can be a threat, especially with their excellent fielding abilities. But UAE, despite the iffy build-up to the tournament, will back their chances of starting with a win.