Cricket: Barramundis and Lewas 'make waves' for PNG on international stage

1:50 pm on 5 April 2024
The Barramundis, top, and Lewas cricket teams.

The Barramundis, top, and Lewas cricket teams. Photo: Cricket PNG

The recent performances of the Papua New Guinea (PNG) national men's and women's teams have put Papua New Guinea cricket on the world map.

The Barramundis men's team are ranked 19th in the T20 International Cricket Council (ICC) rankings while the Lewas are ranked 11th.

Cricket PNG chief executive Richard Done said the sport is growing popularity locally and making "some waves" because of the achievements by both the Barramundis and the Lewas over the past there years at least.

He said the game has been in PNG for over 100 years and despite the fact that rugby league is the national sport in the country, Cricket PNG are happy with the growth locally.

"Rugby league is by far the biggest sport here but you know as cricket is on the international stage, we are really trying to make some waves and we are also trying to grow the game domestically," he told RNZ Pacific.

Barramundis head coach Tatenda Taibu is preparing his side for the T20 World Cup in the West Indies in June.

Taibu said they are confident of causing some upsets.

"The players believe that we can go to the next stage," he said.

"The players look forward to it and are really positive about getting results, especially against teams that are ranked higher than us."

The Barramundis played 14 matches across Asia this year in preparation for the world meet, while the Lewas won the Pacific Cup title in Auckland earlier this year, defeating the New Zealand Maori team in the final.

They have also created history by winning their first-ever T20 game against a full ICC member in Zimbabwe, who they defeated by one run in a Super Over last week, but went on to lose the three-match series by 2-1.

RNZ Pacific spoke with Done and Taibu.

RNZP: We have seen some wonderful performances from both your national teams in the past three years. How big is cricket in Papua New Guinea?

Richard Done (RD): Well, cricket, I think that many people wouldn't know is a very old sport in Papua New Guinea. It was brought here by the missionaries many years ago. There's been some great stories that have come out of PNG cricket and it's been up to 100 years very strong history here. The game has gone up and down in terms of popularity. Rugby league is by far the biggest sport here but as cricket is on the international stage, we're really trying to make some waves and we are also trying to grow the game domestically. As an indication of size, we have around 139,000 kids went through our schools program last year. Late last year, we were able to grow from around 10 to 165 teams in what we call our Malolo Holiday cricket competition, all under-13s and under-18s and thirty percent of those numbers are girls. So, there's a lot of growth and there's a lot of hope for the future.

RNZP: Your current local competition, where do you have those and what's the numbers like for clubs and what competitions are happening?

RD: Again, we are growing in the formal side of cricket. We have competitions across the country, the main center being Port Moresby, but central going down the coast, we have another 15 to 20 villages that have their own competitions and we have formed them into regions. We also have a lot of cricket in Lae in the north of the country, but also there are some areas like Milne Bay down in the end of Papua New Guinea that is showing a lot of potential for growth. There's a town, Gura down there, that we introduced back into cricket last year, who now have an eight-team competition running in the village. We also have some big clubs up in highlands, which is a very much heartland of rugby league. But we have a number of development officers and regional managers up the area. And also, we are seeing some growth out in New Britain, where we have a very strong schools program, but also some regional competition starting up. The numbers never sound really impressive but we are looking at around about 200 to 250 teams across the country playing regular competition cricket.

RNZP: How is the support from corporate companies and sponsors? That always seems to be one of the biggest problems in the islands for minor sports.

RD: It is getting better. We have our major sponsor of the Barramundis, Kumul Petroleum, and we also have second tier sponsors in Santos Foundation, who run a social impact and we have BSP, which is a major sponsor of our schools' program. We also have a number of other minor sponsors who really support as well. What we are looking for now is to increase that corporate support. We have been very fortunate to have Isuzu as the brand for our T20 Smash, which is the competition that is happening at the moment over six weeks. We are gradually getting some inroads into the corporate world of Papua New Guinea.

Around 139,000 kids went through our schools program in 2023.

Around 139,000 kids went through our schools program in 2023. Photo: Cricket PNG

RNZP: How is your pathway program going?

RD: There were a number of pathways up till probably the beginning of COVID. COVID obviously affected everybody and our pathway deteriorated during that time. We are in the process of redeveloping those pathways and one of the big moves was Malolo cricket, where from the under-13s to under-18s we have now got 165 teams across the country. We are hoping to build that in the July to September period to closer to 250 to 300. In terms of the junior pathways, we are very strong. We have also introduced this year to having our national championships for the women and the men, both at 40 over and T20 level. We are not playing 50 over nationally but that is more or less to save some pressure on grounds and resources. But as part of that we are now introducing regional championships. We have divided the country into six main regions and we are trying to develop our pathways within those regions. So the kids have a clear pathway to what it is like to get to the top of the game with the aim of them playing underage and senior national championships

RNZP: Do you have a lot of competitions for your national teams?

RD: Unfortunately, right at the moment, we are not part of the Pacific Games as cricket. But through your interview here, we can put our case forward to say that cricket should be part of it as has been in the past. We came to New Zealand with our Lewas side in January and they won the Pacific Cup defeating Zealand Maori side in the final, which was a great result for us it was their first win over what you could call a full member national of team. They have recently continued that success where they just finished a series in Zimbabwe where for the first time ever we have beaten an ICC full member in Zimbabwe in official game of cricket. So they are making progress. Our Lewas are 11th in the world out of 80 odd countries ranked in T20 cricket. We also have ODI (one day internationals) status for that team. We are trying to play the minimum number of games that will allow us to be ranked on the main table. Off course, the big story for us this year is the Barramundi men's team who go to the World Cup in the West Indies. We have got West Indies, interestingly we have got New Zealand, we have also got Afghanistan and Uganda in that group. So now we're planning on upsetting a couple of those teams and trying to move forward to the next stage of the tournament. But we are certainly going there to compete. Really exciting for our senior teams. The under-19 teams, we have our under-19 women's playing in the East Asian Pacific qualifier and the winner of that tournament goes directly to the ICC under-19 World Cup next. We have our boys who are playing in the division two this time round, for various reasons, but they have to qualify through that. They then move on to the immediate qualifier for the under-19 boys World Cup next year. We have had the Barramundis on tour, we have now got the Lewas completing their tour as well in preparation for what's coming up.

Cricket PNG runs competitions across the country.

Cricket PNG runs competitions across the country. Photo: Cricket PNG

Barramundis coach Taibu says the team is excited about the World Cup co-hosted by the West Indies and the US from 1-29 June.

RNZP: How is the team's preparations and what are you looking at as you build up?

Tatenda Taibue (TT) : The preparations have been going good, the team has been paying well over the last couple of years, thanks to the coaches who were coaching them before. I have taken over a team that has been playing well which also helped. But the preparations have been great.We went to India, we went to Chennai, then from Chennai we went to Oman then Hong Kong and played with Hong Kong and Nepal and then we finished up our tour in Malaysia. So we did a total of 14 games in a month and a half, which is great preparation when you are going to the world cup.

RNZP: How do you see your chances at the World Cup?

TT: The Board and everyone in the office as well as the players believe that we can go to the next stage. The players look forward to it and are really positive about getting results especially against teams that are ranked higher than us. At the moment, you see the boys on the field building and bowling, it is really exciting. Once we pick a few things on the betting I think we will be a well-rounded team to play good cricket and create something.

RNZP: Are there any major changes to the player make-up in your squad?

TT: There aren't any major changes but obviously players that are coming from the under-19 team that have jumped in from that group. So we have got two youngsters that have come through into the group of boys that have been playing for a while so I am really happy that the changing room is full of experience

RNZP: How do you see your pool matches and what do you expect?

TT: Our first match will be against the West Indies, then we have got Uganda, after that we have Afghanistan and end with New Zealand. We expect every game to be a tough game because we know it is 20 of the best [cricket playing] countries in the world.