PNG have always dominated regional cricket in the Pacific, winning such tournaments almost continuously. On one memorable occasion, they defeated the perennially feeble New Caledonia by 510 runs in a one-day match. And yet, this domination at a local level has never translated to the global stage, and despite only ever missing out on a single World Cup Qualifier (in 2009 when they were forced out of the tournament by a rapidly climbing Afghanistan) but never making it to the final tournament, However, an eighth place finish in the recent World Twenty20 Qualifier, and the improvement under Andy Bichel's stewardship, show that a global tournament cannot be far away.
Papua New Guinea have a bright cricketing future.
There are a few outstanding players in the Papua New Guinea team: Chris Kent, a 21-year-old batsman and leg-spinner dominated at under-19 level; Hitolo Areni, an experienced seamer with wicket-taking ability; Tony Ura, a hard-hitting 'keeper-batsman, and Vani Morea, another young talent who if anything has over-taken Chris Kent on the promising batsmen list. at least one of these stars will tend to produce enough to keep their side in the game.
Andy Bichel has spoken in the past of a "twenty and two wickets" mentality where several of the players will hit a quick twenty or thirty and take a couple of wickets, and feel that their job is done. This probably stems from the dominance they enjoy at regional level, when a few twenties and thirties are probably enough to see off comparatively feeble opposition. This mentality will have to be dispelled before PNG can hope to play in the World Twenty20 (or similar).
The best known Papua New Guinean cricketer is Geraint Jones, who returned to the place of his birth in 2012 after giving up on his extinct England career. However, he did not particularly stand out in the last Qualifier, and it remains to be seen if he will even play this time around. He was also barely able to buy a run in the FriendsLife Twenty20 for Kent this year, and at 37 years of age, he is not the future of cricket in PNG.
Cricket PNG have worked hard to implement an elite domestic structure to ensure that their best players all play each other. The Hebou Shield consists of a selection of teams from around PNG, each of which also includes top players from elsewhere in the East Asia-Pacific region.
PNG's biggest issue may be trying to get competitive cricket regularly. Their domination over all other teams in the vicinity means that they have to go further afield for competitive games, which isn't an option on an Associate budget. One solution they have found is a tournament against indigenous teams from Australia and New Zealand, which should be both competitive and local.
Throughout Associate cricket, you will find enchanting stories. Rags-to-riches tales, like the Afghan journey; inspirational tales like those of Don Mugisha, the Rwandan whose cricket board launched an online campaign for reconstructive dental surgery that neither he nor they could afford; tales of players like the New Zealand Croatia side giving something back to the land of their ancestors.
Associate cricket is about far more than just the cricket. There are a number of bigger stories that put the game right back into perspective. And it is also a place where every single player plays because they love playing cricket. One day, hopefully, the Associate and Affiliate members will get the opportunities and recognition they deserve.