Barramundis are known for their tenacity when caught in fishing nets. This fish species is commonly found in the coastal areas of the Indo-West Pacific region, especially Papua New Guinea.
However, some Barramundis are 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 excellent field skills, Australia’s T20 World Cup would have been like a graduation from the big boys club – PNG’s first foray into a grand ICC event. But this time they have fallen into the net as a result of 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 last name he bears. To the outside world, it may not ring a bell, but in the island nation of PNG, being an Amini means the cricket connection is anything but natural.
Amini’s father, Charles Sr, is a former deputy captain of the national side; his mother Kune was the first PNG captain from 2006-2009; his older brother Chris led the 2012-2014 national team and his other brother Colin skippered the U-19 team at the 2008 World Cup, which was won by Virat Kohli-led India. Even his grandfather Brian had run PNG. The national cricket ground in the capital Port Moresby is called Amini Park.
Still, the youngest Amini would have fared a lot better than his decorated family by playing a senior World Cup – which would have started this weekend in Geelong. But now he has little choice but to wait. “Yes, it is clearly disappointing,” said Amini, the leg-spinning all-rounder who has played 15 ODIs and 23 T20Is.
Last October, PNG qualified after an almost unlikely victory over Kenya. After missing the biggest margins in 2013 and 2015, it was PNG cricket’s big moment, their turn to be among the top 16 teams.
“The whole team consists of full-time, contracted players. That’s our job now and we love it. If it doesn’t work out, I think tough decisions will be made, with a few lost contracts and the like, ”says Amini.
Affiliate members rely heavily on ICC’s scholarships to make ends meet. Under the revised 2017 ICC revenue sharing model, 92 associate members share only 14% of the governing body’s funding. To put that in perspective, the BCCI alone makes 22.8%.
“Every game PNG plays is financially important to us,” said Joe Dawes, PNG head coach and former India bowling coach. “Because so much of our funding comes from results. One game could mean the difference of half a million dollars in funding to us. “
“We would use a dozen balls in training in India and not even think about it,” added Dawes. “Here we wouldn’t be using that in two months.”
Of the 16 teams that qualified for Australia, PNG were the only ones to have never played at this level. For a country that picked up cricket thanks to the Christian missionaries in the 1900s, the qualification itself was a major achievement.
“We’ve had fierce rivalry between cricket clubs that drew huge crowds in the 1970s,” said Amini. “But those numbers have steadily declined over time, even though the quality of cricket has increased since then.”
To keep the cricket flag, the National Cup – a 50-over tournament – was played in July, an event essential to their qualifying campaign for the 2023 World Cup on the subcontinent in India.
Had it not been for a pandemic, Amini and his fellow PNG players would have attended their first World Cup campaign in Australia. But now they can only train in the shade and wait for the darkness to disappear.
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