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PNG cricketers bring passion and pride

PNG Cricket team
New T20 World Cup side, Papua New Guinea, bring back traditional cricket caps back to the game. Picture: ICC

They say peace-loving Christian missionaries first warmed Papua New Guineans to cricket only to stop tribal fighting between warring villagers.

The men put down their weapon of choice and instead picked up crudely carved bats that settled down simmering tensions.

The closest impression of the modern game, dating back to the last decade of the 19th century can be witnessed off the east coast of the Papuan mainland.

The rudimentary version is more about coming together for matrilineal family clans of the Trobriand Islands to celebrate the yam harvest.

Like when the national team went into battle at this year’s Twenty20 World Cup, they were not only more cordial than the established tribal origins but united as the one Papua New Guinea.

While the nature of cricket is to march out the best eleven players onto the oval between the right balance, ideally of, batters and bowlers, strikers and accumulators, seamers and spinners, and a wicketkeeper to marshal the fielding side together, the Barramundis are first and foremost family.

“They will be talking about how they’re pretty much like a family,” veteran ESPNcricinfo writer and Australian filmmaker, Jarrod Kimber, said during Papua New Guinea’s World Cup debut appearance.

“Compared to others, they are certainly closer than most international cricket teams.

“During the (World Cup) qualifiers in Dubai, they seem to travel as one 15-man unit at all times when they were eating or sleeping, or in the swimming pool – they always seem to be together.”

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The very talk of family stirs up the name Amini that has been on the lips of selectors for generations.

That Papuan cricketing family would rival the famous Chappells of decades ago.

Charles Amini, an extraordinary third-generation talent, was the first of his family to reach a World Cup, but still is second in his childhood bedroom to his older brother, Chris, to represent their only homeland.

Amini’s grandfather, Brian, was the first captain of a Papua New Guinea international side in 1975 after leading the newcomers in the year of their independence against Clive Lloyd’s touring West Indians.

This version of Amini is a top-quality left-handed batter that has changed his runscoring methods to suit the shortest format of the game while producing undoubtedly the best quality of legspin that PNG has among their bowling armoury.

He produces all disciplines so well that the 29-year-old would be selected on just one of his evident skills rather than collectively both.

That’s not even to mention the opinion that the allrounder is best fielder outside of Test cricket.

“To have a cricketer with that much skill in every facet of the game, it is very rare that they happen on their own,” Kimber said.

“In Amini’s case, that is not what happened.

“His grandfather, father, mother, I think his aunties, and his brother all played for Papua New Guinea.

“Sadly, his mother has just passed away, but people have been talking about this incredible cricket family and it’s such an important cricket family to PNG that they have an oval named after them.”

PNG cricket between its early raw village existence and today has thrived most among the Motuan people that live along the southern parts of the nation.

The fact that Papua New Guinea’s reputation on the world stage continues to grow comes down to the one village on the outskirts of Port Moresby.

Most of the T20 squad at this year’s tournament first honed their skills in Hanuabada.

Cricket is a way of life in the capital’s biggest village where thousands of children play street matches every day as fledgling Aussies once did of a different era.

That village is attributed to be the reason why they ever had a national team from just one tiny and isolated part of the bigger cricketing world.

“It’s an incredible story even to be here,” Kimber said.

“To think they have taken cricket loving from one small region of Papua New Guinea and brought it all the way to a World Cup, it’s a gift to cricket.

“The term of village is quite well known in cricket, of course, especially in terms of England, talking about village teams.

“It usually means you’re not very good in cricket, but that’s not the case with Papua New Guinea.

“To them, village is not a slur; it’s an honest reflection of where they have come from.

“What a journey they have made in such a short period of time.”

PNG was swept aside in three initial qualifying fixtures against Oman, Scotland and Bangladesh, but the rookies took pride entering the final 20 T20 nations ranked atop of the East Asia-Pacific region.

Reaching the deserts of Dubai was not quite the dream they had after neighbouring Australia’s turn to host the tournament for the first time was cancelled in the wake of the 2020 Covid-19 outbreak.

But for a fleeting glance 12 months later, the players embraced the opportunity for what it was.

“They kinda swept up everyone when they made it to this tournament – it was an incredible moment,” Kimber said.

“When you watch them and they’re playing really good, they’re just a captivating team.

“There’s so much skill, energy and excitement about the way they play.

“They can also have a lot of flair but be incredibly, I don’t know, dogmatic with sort of cricket fundamentals.”

Batter Simon Atai was one example of that.

He seen several times backing up at the non-striker’s end with his bat barely peeking over the popping crease, while his body position was stretched so far forward while still squatting towards the end he intended to run after the release the ball.

It was akin to a baseballer stealing a base and went against all conventions of cricket, but not any of the rules.

“He ensured he could not be Mankad, but he was taking every single centimetre on offer to be closer to the other end,” Kimber said.

“That’s sort of how they play cricket – it’s a weird thing to explain.”

PNG arguably brought back a love of the sport that many of the top professionals treat more akin to a comfortable living.

There was nothing predisposed about their cricket, right down to the romantic old-fashioned caps that are cast aside in the game that did not exist before the turn of this century.

The rings of colour around the scalp’s material resemble more of a private school cap in a cricketing nation that barely has a link to old-school values.

“They’re like a new team but old at heart,” Kimber said.

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