Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter
ZIMBABWE Under-19 cricket team captain Liam Roche has emphasised the need for a positive start when they open their campaign against Group B rank outsiders Papua New Guinea at the ICC Cricket World Cup, which gets underway today in New Zealand.
Roche yesterday told The Herald that Papua New Guinea, who are the lowest ranked in the group that also comprises heavyweights India and Australia, are not to be taken lightly.
The organisers will be hoping that the wet weather conditions will ameliorate to allow for matches to go ahead after incessant rains in Christchurch, where Zimbabwe are based, forced the abandonment of several practice matches in the last three days.
Roche, who was yesterday handed the responsibility of conducting the pre-match meeting, said his teammates are geared up for the tournament.
“This game is as important as any other game in the group and yes it is a must win game.
“The boys are 100 percent ready to go out to battle for our country and can’t wait to get the tournament underway. This is what we have worked for the past two years and now it’s here for the taking,” said Roche.
Zimbabwe have been to every World Cup because they qualify automatically along with the other nine Full Members. Roche is aware they have to respect PNG, who go through a rigorous procedure for one of the six tickets that are available through qualification.
PNG have qualified for their eighth World Cup after finishing undefeated in the East Asia Pacific Qualifier 2017 played in Samoa.
Zimbabwe and PNG have met four times at the youth cricket World Cup with Zimbabwe winning on three occasions.
Stephen Mangongo’s charges would not want to repeat the disappointment of the 2012 tournament when Zimbabwe suffered a shock 12-run defeat in a 13th place semi-final play off to PNG in Brisbane, Australia.
PNG’s last appearance in the World Cup came in 2014 in the United Arab Emirates.
“PNG have made the top 16 teams for a reason and we shall not underestimate them at any point. However, what happened in the past is in the past and we shall focus on the task at hand right now,” Roche said.
Zimbabwe are still the favourites to win the match and they will be looking for big performances from their key players such as vice-captain Milton Shumba, who already has First Class experience under his belt, wicketkeeper Gregory Dollar, Tinashe Nenhunzvi, Taun Harrison, Alistair Frost and all-rounder Wesley Madhevere.
Captain Roche, who warmed up to the tournament with an unbeaten 108 in one of the international practice matches against Kenya last year, is another prospect to look forward to in the Zimbabwe squad.
But the stage is not new to Madhevere and Shumba, who are returning to the Under-19 World Cup after making it to the previous edition in Bangladesh as 15-year-olds.
“Always good to have experience in any team, gives a sense of direction especially for the new boys and most of all builds confidence for each and every squad member to go out there and give it their all.
“We are as ready as can be,” said Roche.
Both sides come into this tournament on the back of warm-up losses, but they were contrasting in nature, with PNG losing to West Indies by seven wickets and with more than 25 overs to spare, while Zimbabwe pushed New Zealand hard, eventually succumbing by 52 runs.
Prior to that, PNG came through their qualifying tournament unbeaten, while Zimbabwe lost seven of their nine Under-19 ODIs in 2017.
Cricket Papua New Guinea’s chief executive Greg Campbell told Radio New Zealand that his young side had definitely targeted the Zimbabwe game as a possible win and then hope for the best in the other two group matches.
Campbell said Zimbabwe have to deal with the most pressure in the group.
“They’re probably under more pressure than us, India and Australia. They are coming in to play an Associate Member who have performed quite reasonable so we are looking forward to it,” said Campbell.
Zimbabwe: Liam Roche (c), Gregory Dollar, Donald Mlambo, Tanunurwa Makoni, Jayden Schadendorf, Milton Shumba, Alistair Frost, Dion Myers, Nkosilatu Nunu, Jonathan Conolly, Wesley Madhevere, Kieran Robinson, Robert Chimhinya, Tinashe Nenhunzi, Taun Harrison.
PNG: Vagi Karaho (c), Sema Kamea, Eisa Eka, James Tau, Tau Toa Nou, Nou Rarua, Igo Mahuru, Simon Atai, Leke Morea, Kevau Tau, Heagi Toua, Daure Aiga, Ovia Sam, Sinaka Arua, Boge Arua.