Dubai: The fledgling cricket team from Papua New Guinea knows they need some unprecedented performances to have any chance of earning a spot at the Twenty20 World Cup. They may have found just the help they need in former England wicketkeeper Geraint Jones, who has been recruited to play at this month's qualifying tournament.
Jones, who played 34 Tests and 49 one-day internationals and was part of the England team that won the 2005 Ashes, was born in Papua New Guinea and raised in Australia. He joined the PNG team just before the 16-team tournament, which runs until March 24.
"We see cricket live on television and Jones was playing for England. When he announced he was playing for Papua New Guinea, everyone was happy with his involvement," PNG manager Udu Vai said. "Back home, we sort of idolize players. With Geraint Jones being part of PNG, I'm sure he will have a good following back home."
Most of the teams in the ICC World T20 qualifying tournament have added foreign players to their line-ups.
PNG's decision to bolster their squad with foreign talent - they also selected Australian Chris Kent, whose mother was born in PNG - is part of a growing trend among developing cricket nations. Following the leads of football and to a lesser degree rugby, these countries see the addition of a few offshore recruits as a chance to win tournaments and move up the rankings.
Most of the teams in this qualifying tournament — except for the three African squads and Nepal — have recently or over the years added foreign players to their line-ups. Dutch captain Petter Borren grew up playing cricket in New Zealand while the star batsman for the United States, Sushil Nadkarni, is from India.
Italy, meanwhile, have added three foreign players for this tournament, including former Australian international Michael Di Venuto and allrounder Garath Berg, who was born in South Africa.
The International Cricket Council's chief executive Haroon Lorgat said he sees no problem with teams bringing in talent as long as they adhere to the governing body's regulations. The rules require that a player like Jones must not have played for another cricketing nation for at least four years and was either born in the country, is a national or has been a resident for at least 183 days. Other rules involve players having family from the country seeking their services.
"As long as those rules are adhered to, I think it's good for the game," Lorgat told The Associated Press. "It helps those countries to develop. You can see the amount of interest as a result of some of the big name players playing in this tournament. That helps the team itself and the event, so it has to be good for the game."
The players themselves think it's a chance to pass on their experience to younger players and possibly reach a World Cup for the first time.
"You are allowed to dream, aren't you?" said a boyish-looking Jones, who was dismissed without scoring in the team's opening loss to Afghanistan on Tuesday. "Getting to the World Cup with PNG would be incredible, something I didn't get to do with England."
Asked if his addition gives Papua New Guinea an unfair edge, Jones said the country was just taking advantage of the fact he was born there and encouraged other teams to scour the world for similar linkages.
"I don't know how many other international cricketers have been born in PNG," he said. "If you pass regulations and pass qualifications, other teams can't grumble. They just need to find some of their own."
Di Venuto, who plays domestic cricket in Australia and England, said his motivation was not so much the chance to play on a big stage but rather giving something back to the country of his grandparents. They left Italy in the 1950s for Australia and the chance for a "better life."
"The opportunity to play for Italy is exciting one for me," said Di Venuto, whose brother Peter played for Italy more than a decade ago.
"Italy is a very small cricketing nation, so if I can do something that can help Italian cricket in this tournament and in the future, that is a good thing for cricket."
Di Venuto and another Australian, Carl Sandri, were instrumental in Italy's nine-wicket victory over Oman on Tuesday. Sandri captured four early wickets for just nine runs while di Venuto (42) and Peter Petricola (39) combined in an unbroken 84-run stand as Italy raced to 90-1 in just 14 overs.
Not everyone welcomes the idea of "mercenaries" coming in for a critical tournament like this.
Uganda captain Davis Arinaitwe said he understood the motivation of teams to compete, but he was opposed to line-ups that are peppered with foreigners. Uganda, he said with big smile, was all Ugandan born and bred.
"It's not a good sign for cricket but I don't really blame the teams and it is legal," Arinaitwe said. "It's important to remember that cricket has gone so commercial that even the associate countries have figured they can take that kind of route, pick players up from all over the world, put them together to win a tournament and bring in more money to the association,"he said.
Arinaitwe and Nepal captain Paras Khadka said the opposition to foreigners on their teams also is a matter of national pride.
"We like to breed our own cricketers," Khadka said. "I don't think the people would like to see anyone other than our people playing for our country. For us being a country where people are so passionate about cricket, we would like to do well within our community."