PNG's incredible village

Plus notes on Scotland's amazing win over Bangladesh

The World Cup has started. And that means the latest nation has joined, Papua New Guinea.

PNG caught fire as a team at a perfect time. They weren't considered a lock for this World Cup, but they played an incredible form of cricket in the qualifiers. They are a magic team to watch. 

They combine incredible flair with some incredibly textbook cricket. Like for example, Simon Atai was at the non-striker's end during their disastrous three-wicket over. He was backing up as far as you can with his bat in the crease, squatting ready to sprint, but also making sure he couldn't be mankadded; it was like a perfect coaching manual. 

You will hear them being referred to as a family a lot. And compared to other cricket teams they certainly feel more like a family than a collection of athletes. In Dubai for the qualifiers, I have never seen a team travel around together so closely.  

When you get to the top level of professional sports, you find that not everyone enjoys the sport they are good at. At that level people are often there because they are physically gifted and they follow the money. Below that, it's mostly because people love the game. It's clear this is a team of cricket lovers. 

PNG wear proper cricket caps on the field. Like the sort you'd see on first class cricketers around the world. They are a new team but old at heart. 

But they're good too, this game was not a perfect example of that. When you start off by having your number four scoring your first ever World Cup run, it's a horrible way to begin. 

Ofcourse they came back, in part through Charles CJ Amini. And it's worth focusing on Amini. He is a top-quality lefty batter, you could see from his innings not only his skill, but the way he thinks through the knock. As a number four, he's been a slow scorer, but over the last few years he's taken a big step forward. And when he was at the crease was the only time PNG were ahead of the match.  

He can bowl legspin too, averaging 22 with a 6.3 Econ as well. He's not a spectacular leggie, but he's good. Accurate and clever, always trying to work you out. He would walk into this team with either bat or ball. 

And as good as he is for these skills. He's a better fielder. He's probably one of the best ten - or at least 20 - fielders in the world. The TV commentators almost completely ignored the PNG new ball bowlers - who struggled a little - to focus on Amini's fielding. 

The entire team is good. Their team nickname is the Barramundi, which I have always thought is the tastiest fish. Well, their fielding is almost that good.  

In Dubai, I would watch their fielding training. I mean, that's Colin Bland level fielding. They were all throwing at a stump from a distance of 25-30 metres, and they hit it so many times that it was pointless doing the drill. They'd have been better off having a laser stump, as they had to stop so often to reset it.

Even in this loss to Oman, as their batting was two guys, and their bowling was ropey, they still looked incredible in the field (although they dropped one sitter). In associate cricket, people are terrified of their ring skills. Preston Mommsen said on commentary he thinks they are worth 10-20 runs in the field. And I would honestly watch Kipling Doriga wicket keep on a supercut for hours. But Amini is something else. 

A few years back, I met Amini and asked who his agent was because I assumed he was like a T20 franchise player grown in a lab. But he didn't have one, he was shocked that I thought he should be on the T20 circuit.  

But none of that is even the most amazing thing about him. This is a new team, but with a long history in the game. And the Amini family more so than others. There is even a ground in PNG called Amini park. 

That is because Amini's grandfather, father, mother, aunty and brother all played cricket for PNG. This is a cricket family, inside a cricket nation that most of us never even knew we had.  

And the family thing runs deep. Today their top scorer was Assad Vala, and both he and his wife have played for PNG.  

Vala is one of the few players in this team not from Hanuabada Village, just near Port Moresby. Hanuabada means big (or biggest) village. A remarkable cricket-loving space that most fans don't know exists. 

Thanks to the English scene, village cricket is a negative phrase. "That's so village". 

But this team has taken the love from that one little place, and turned it into a World Cup, they field like one living organism, and they love this sport. Their sport. 

When village is said about PNG, it's not a slur, but a badge of honour. Now PNG are a World Cup cricket team, they started poorly, and finished worse, but they are here. They are a family and cricket's biggest village team. 

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Notes on Bangladesh v Scotland 

Scotland are much better players of spin than this match showed. I saw a lot of people online saying they should use their feet more, but sweeping is their thing. If anything, I thought they got themselves in a bit of a hole at the top when Coetzer and Cross got stuck. 7 runs from 18 balls from two of your top three is hard to overcome. 

Scotland had Tom Sole batting around number seven for the qualifiers, being a gun in the field and bowling some Johan Botha style offspin. Sadly, he got called for an illegal action in that series and he's a difficult player to cover. And so at the last minute for this tournament, Scotland went with Chris Greaves. Who is a leg-spinning all rounder, who can field. To say he hasn't played much before would be an understatement. 

What a remarkable effort for what is really a club cricketer who has played some A cricket with Scotland and the odd second XI match in county cricket. He overcame the Scotland collapse and gave them a chance. 

Quick shout out for Mark Watt as well. He was let go by Derbyshire a couple of years back, and it seemed like a mistake then, and now. He's such a clever cricketer. You could see that in his batting, partnering up with Greaves. But also his bowling. He really doesn't spin it much at all, but changes every ball through crease positioning and pace. Against left-handers he sometimes bowls wrist spin when needed. And this:

He's so smart and thinks like a spoiler every delivery, and because he is strong, people find him difficult to get away.

It's a first outing from Bangladesh, and it was hard to tell if they were just trying to shake some rust off, or if they thought they had Scotland gone a couple of times so geared back. They were - rightfully - surprised by Greaves. And they also wouldn't have planned much for Watt. But even so, they allowed Scotland to put on way too many runs from 57/6.

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What was Shakib's innings? The chase got to nine an over, and he still never woke up. He was unlucky to be dismissed from a half-tracker, but after Bangladesh had lost two early wickets, their slow down was way over the top. They needed seven an over, allowing it to be nine an over by the eighth is such a bizarre way to make this chase. 

I never felt the chase was away from Bangladesh until very late , but I can't really understand how they allowed it to balloon so many times. Bangladesh's top order is a concern, with or without Tamim Iqbal. 

This is a remarkable win for Scotland. This is their first great win in a world cup. And I don't think we've ever had a team with this long and proud a cricket community whose had to wait this long for their first World Cup win.