One game can make all the difference

Barramundis are famous for their tenacity when caught in fishing nets. This species of fish is commonly found in the coastal areas of the Indo-West Pacific region, especially in Papua New Guinea.

Some Barramundis, however, have been known to be tenacious on land as well. This type belongs to the Papua New Guinea cricket team, which shares its nickname with the prized fish. Known for their superb fielding abilities, the T20 World Cup in Australia would have been a graduation of sorts into the big boys’ club–PNG’s maiden foray into a marquee ICC event. But this time, they have been caught in the net due to a global pandemic.

One such proud barramundi is Charles Amini Jr. The T20 World Cup would have been all the more special for him, because of the surname he carries. For the outside world it may not ring a bell, but in the island nation of PNG, being an Amini means the cricket-connection is all but natural.

Amini’s father, Charles Sr, is a former vice-captain of the national side; his mother Kune was PNG’s first women’s captain from 2006-2009; his elder brother Chris led the national team from 2012-2014 and his other brother Colin was the skipper of the U-19 team at the 2008 World Cup, which was won by the Virat Kohli-led India. Even his grandfather Brian had led PNG. The national cricket ground in capital Port Moresby is called Amini Park.

Yet, the youngest Amini would’ve gone one better than his decorated family by playing a senior World Cup–which would have begun this weekend in Geelong. But now, he can do little else but wait. “Yes, it obviously is disappointing,” Amini, the leg-spinning allrounder who has played 15 ODIs and 23 T20Is, says.

Last October, PNG qualified after a near-improbable win over Kenya. After missing out by the closest of margins in 2013 and 2015, this was PNG cricket’s big moment, their turn to be among the 16 best teams.

“The whole team consists of full-time, contracted players. That’s our job now and we love it. If things don’t work out, I think there will be some tough decisions to be made, with a few losing contracts and such,” Amini says.

The associate members rely heavily on ICC’s grants to make ends meet. According to the revised ICC revenue-sharing model of 2017, 92 associate members share just 14% of the governing body’s funding. To put that in perspective, the BCCI alone makes 22.8 %.

“Every game that PNG gets to play is important for us financially,” says Joe Dawes, head coach of PNG and India’s former bowling coach. “Because so much of our funding comes from results. One game for us could mean the difference of half a million dollars in funding.”

“We would use a dozen balls at training in India and not even think about it,” adds Dawes. “Here, we wouldn’t use that in two months.”

Among the 16 teams that qualified for Australia, PNG were the only ones who have never played at this level. For a nation that picked up cricket thanks to the Christian missionaries in the 1900s, qualification itself was a big achievement.

“We have had fierce rivalries between cricket clubs that used to draw massive crowds back in the 70s,” says Amini. “But those numbers have steadily decreased over time, even if the quality of cricket has since increased.”

To keep the cricket flag flying, the National Cup–a 50-over tournament–was played in July, an event that is essential to their qualifying campaign for the 2023 World Cup in the subcontinent in India.

Had there been no pandemic, Amini and his fellow PNG players would’ve been at their maiden World Cup campaign in Australia. But now all they can do is train in the shadows, and wait for the darkness to lift.


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