A COMBINED East Asia-Pacific combination side face a stern test at the annual Australian Country Cricket Championships which began yesterday in Albury.
The best rural players from South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and West Australia are their opponents along with, for the first time, first XI sides from the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory.
This year’s ICC East Asia Pacific (EAP) squad features a mixture of the best and the most promising players from the region rather than strictly an out-and-out best of.
Ten of the squad of 14 are aged 22 or under with PNG dominating with seven players.
While wins are the aim, providing experience to some of the up-and-coming regional stars on turf pitches against first class standard opposition is the priority.
It is the correct policy for the region with four of the countries seriously planning for the 2011 World Cup Qualifiers.
The EAP squad includes Andrew Mansale (Vanuatu), Chris Amini (PNG), Josefa Rika (Fiji), Vani Morea (PNG), Assad Vala (PNG), Masaomi Kobayashi (Japan), Jeremiah Nigani, Josaia Baba (Fiji), Trevor Langa (Vanuatu), Patrick Matautaava (Vanuatu), Pipi Raho (PNG), Sakaraia Lomani (Fiji), Loa Nou (PNG) and Willie Gavera (PNG)
PNG provide three promising quicks – Raho, Gavera and Nou – and in reserve they have Dikana and two very lively under-19 bowlers, Raymond Haoda and Timothy Mou Lomani from Fiji, who is a very good left arm fast medium bowler.
Vanuatu all-rounder Matautaava is also sharp and a savage hitter.
Amini and Baba can provide 120kph back-up.
Mansale is the only genuine spinner in the squad and arguably the number one batsman is Amini although Morea is also a contender for this title.
As with most teams in the region, batting can be a bit thin.
Having said that, Vala, Nigani, Rika and Langa have potential.
EAP will be hoping that the New South Wales pitches are well grassed and contain plenty of bounce.