On November 8, 2014, the Papua New Guinea (PNG) cricket team created history, when they registered a triumph in their first ever One-Day International (ODI), outclassing a much stronger Hong Kong side at Townsville, Australia. Interestingly, nine cricketers of that victorious PNG team, which took the field on that day, belong from the same village.
This coastal village on the outskirts of PNG’s capital, Port Moresby has already earned a reputation for itself for being one of the cricketing hubs in the Pacific region. If you ever visit this place in the daytime, the endless number of cricket matches on the main road will give a feel of the cricket-obsessed sub-continent.
Street-cricket is not just a sport here, it is a way of life.
Over here, majority of the houses are made of corrugated iron, lifted above the sea by stilts. On the shore, the village rises into the nearby hills, where the houses can be reached only by narrow pathways. Basic needs like electricity and fresh running water are hard to find. But despite all these difficulties, it is the passion of cricket which has bound the community of 20,000 odd Motuan (Native inhabitants of PNG) population together.
“They just play on the road, and if you hit one house, you could be out. If you hit that house, it’s six. They have their own markings on the road, sometimes games are played with back-to-back to stumps. They’re just cricket-mad in the village – they grow up in it, they raise money to buy their own uniforms,” Greg Campbell, the former Australia Test player and ex-CEO of Cricket PNG once mentioned, in an interview with ESPNCricinfo.
The British missionaries first introduced the sport in late 1800s and since then cricket has become an integral part of Hanuabada’s culture. The village is also the birthplace of a localised version of the game for tribals — Lil Lik Kriket — and according to local experts, after this innovation, the game really blossomed in this part of the world. In the present day, with their homemade wooden bats and softballs, kids at Hanuabada continue to carry forward their cricketing heritage.
Meanwhile, along with its cricket culture, the other important reason behind the secret of Hanuabada producing a bulk of the national cricketers is its geographic location. Having being situated on the outskirts of the capital city, the kids of this village can afford to avail the infrastructure of Cricket PNG to brush up their skills. The children from the other distant parts of PNG, on the other hand, are not so fortunate because of lack of proper transport link to Port Moresby.
However, the locals at Hanuabada do not buy that argument. They believe, coastal people are more skilful and athletic than those in the highlands and that is why they tend to do better in sports that demand strength and aggression.
In the book ‘An Ocean of Cricket’, authors Adam Cassidy and Barrie Cassidy have described the spontaneity of playing cricket amongst the locals of Hanuabada quite aptly.
“Everyday scenes in the village would not be out of place in cricket-obsessed India. Some parents start walking their children to Hanuabada at 5.30 in the morning to join in an organised competition starting at 6.30am. Many kids arrive by canoe. Before land transport improved, in the 1950s and ’60s, some groups travelled more than a day and a half from the village of Hula, 100 kilometres away. Hula too provides representatives in the national team, despite its small population. The tiny islands offshore, where cricket was introduced as an alternative to tribal fighting, provide teams as well.
“As many as 50 teams line up to play in one of the three matches each day. Several matches are played at once in the tight confines of the main road. Well-struck pull shots often have fielders plunging into the ocean to retrieve the ball. Some kids use plastic bats and stumps, but others still make do with planks of wood and soft drink crates.
“Spectators sit on concrete blocks and wooden boxes at the edge of the road and chase the ball for the players when they belt it over or through the surrounding huts. National vice-captain and wicketkeeper Jack Vare says the umpires have a lot of discretion when calling the runs. If you hit a house and cause damage, it can be ruled out, but if you manage to clear it, then it’s a six without question.”
Isn’t it quite fascinating that a British sport has had such deep impact on the traditional Motuan life?
In the last few years, PNG national team has shown a lot of improvement at the international level. Currently, they are regarded one of the stronger Associates and the Barramundis are in the race for a spot in the 2019 World cup in 2020 World T20. Along with the entire cricket fraternity of PNG, it is indeed a success story for Hanuabada too, which continues to enjoy strong representation in the national team. Truly, the soul of PNG cricket can be found in this tiny little village.