Bengaluru, October 16: Their country reeling under the worst coronavirus (COVID-19) surge, debutants Papua New Guinea (PNG) will be eager to spread smiles across the faces of their countrymen when they take on co-hosts Oman in the opening first round match of the ICC T20 World Cup 2021.
The match to be held at Al Amerat Cricket Ground in Al Amarat, Oman, begins at 3.30pm IST.
Following two near-misses in their qualification attempts, PNG left nothing to chance in the 2019 ICC T20 World Cup Qualifier and were the first team to seal their spot.
A five-wicket win over Netherlands in the group stage proved decisive for them and though they lost the final, Assad Vala and Co were able to qualifying for their maiden ICC global tournament.
However, PNG head to the tournament on the back of a testing period. The country is suffering from what health authorities say is the worst surge in COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began with several squad members also suffering bereavement.
Having not played any international cricket for close to two years, the cricket team has struggled to find their rhythm. In the lead-up to the tournament, PNG have lost 12 straight games -- eight ODIs, two T20Is and two unofficial World Cup warm-up matches.
They would hope playing in Oman since early September and getting more time to acclimatise to the conditions will help recapture the form which saw them qualify for this tournament.
Skipper Vala's runs at number three spot will be pivotal for the side while the all-rounder's off-spin is also likely to play an important role in complementing the pace of Norman Vanua.
Vanua, also a hard-hitting batter, took a hat-trick against Bermuda in the 2019 Qualifiers and will be the skipper's go-to man in the death overs. Opener Tony Ura, meanwhile, has a T20I century to his name and remains the owner of his country's highest ODI score following a sublime 151 against Ireland in March 2018.
On the other hand, co-hosts Oman, who qualified with a victory over Ireland five years ago, will aim to exploit the home advantage. A combination of steady improvements and playing on home soil have given them reasons to believe that they can advance to the Super 12 stage.
Oman will rely on their top-order and seamers to win matches. They also boats of a versatile selection of slow bowling all-rounders. Aaqib Ilyas and Jatinder Singh make for a strong opening pair.
The bowling attack will be spearheaded by Bilal Khan, who has 51 T20I scalps to his name, and took four of them in the decisive Qualifier against Hong Kong to help his side defend 134 and book their spot in the main event. Pacer Kaleemullah has been effective with the new-ball across formats, while Fayyaz Butt is also in good form.
Oman: Zeeshan Maqsood (c), Aqib Ilyas, Jatinder Singh, Khawar Ali, Mohammad Nadeem, Ayaan Khan, Suraj Kumar, Sandeep Goud, Nester Dhamba, Kaleemullah, Bilal Khan, Naseem Khushi, Sufyan Mehmood, Fayyaz Butt, Khurram Nawaz Khan.
Papua New Guinea: Assad Vala (c), Charles Amini, Lega Siaka, Norman Vanua, Nosaina Pokana, Kipling Doriga, Tony Ura, Hiri Hiri, Gaudi Toka, Sese Bau, Damien Ravu, Kabua Vagi-Morea, Simon Atai, Jason Kila, Chad Soper, Jack Gardner.
(With inputs from PTI)