Hidden Pacific: Battling for a brighter future

By Simon Day

The Herald and World Vision want to raise $100,000 for the urgent water and sanitation needs in the Hanuabada village of Port Moresby, and World Vision wants your long-term support for ongoing work in the Pacific. Cricket fanatic and World Vision staff member Simon Day spoke to former Black Cap Dipak Patel, about the sport's potential in Hanuabada.

Endless games of backyard cricket are played on the road that runs through the centre of Hanuabada village, the indigenous community on the coast of Papua New Guinea's capital, Port Moresby.

Cars weave around the children playing with plastic green bats. The houses are the boundaries, it's six runs if you smash the ball into one of the traditional stilted homes perched above the water.

Beneath the local church, in front of a big crowd, the community's pastors are playing the deacons in a game all are taking very seriously.

"It is refreshing to see a community bound together in cricket. It keeps the community together and they take great pride in enjoying the success of their players," says Dipak Patel, former New Zealand all-rounder, now Papua New Guinea's national coach.

Patel debuted for New Zealand in 1987, and played for the Black Caps for 10 years.

After his playing career he coached regional and representative teams around New Zealand.

Just as he felt his chance to coach at international level was fading, he was was approached in 2014 to coach the Papua New Guinea.

After initial skepticism, when Patel flew to Port Moresby he was so impressed by the cricket he saw he took the job.

"The talent is phenomenal."

And the majority of the talent comes from Hanuabada. Around 75 per cent of the national team - The Barramundis - are from there, an incredible representation for a village with an estimated population of 20,000 in a country of more than seven million.

Papua New Guinea national cricket team. Supplied / World Vision
Papua New Guinea national cricket team. Supplied / World Vision

Hanuabada has been the home of the indigenous Motu people for thousands of years.
Drawn to the coast's abundant fishing, the traditional houses are perched on stilts above water. Now cricket has become a deep part of the village's culture.

"Sport is a major part of their upbringing. It is just a pleasure to watch, the pleasure they get out of playing sport, and the way the community gets behind their people," says Patel.

On a scorching tropical day, shaded beneath a green gazebo, Patel is guest of honour at the Hanuabada junior cricket prize-giving.

Though it was missionaries that introduced the sport to Hanuabada in the 1800s, the kids on the street are shaped by the rawer, faster, modern version of the game.

"Some of the things they do with a bat and ball in hand is extraordinary. This is not something I could teach to a Kiwi kid. They are so athletic and talented," says Patel.

Currently ranked 14th in the world, Patel has coached Papua New Guinea to the verge of the next level of international cricket.

They missed out on a spot at both the last World Cup and T20 World Cup by one victory. But Patel is concerned that without greater investment in the sport The Barramundis will flounder.

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There is only one proper cricket ground in PNG, and most players grow up playing on the roads and in the alleyways of Hanuabada. There are few opportunities to carve the extraordinary raw talent on the streets into pure cricketers. And Patel is frustrated that this potential going unrealised.

"Why is it in this stage, in this modern era that there isn't more done to help this country reach its potential? It is a global game. You only have to look at the FIFA [football[ World Cup. They are looking at extending it to 42 teams, and cricket is going the opposite way."

Though cricket flourishes in Hanuabada, the traditional Motuan way of life is under threat. As the capital grows around the village it's losing its land.

And poor infrastructure has caused huge amounts of inorganic and human waste to build up around the village and become a dangerous health risk. Beneath the stilted homes, mountains of rubbish are metres deep.

Human waste is emptied directly into the water from hanging toilets. And this is where children spend their days swimming.

I watch a young boy fearlessly wade into the mud and rubbish that pollutes the villages once sandy shorelines to retrieve a cricket ball.

Norman Vanua, an all-rounder with the national team, moved to Hanuabada - his mother's home village - when he was 8. Now 23, and playing cricket for his country, he is a hero to the kids playing on the streets.

He believes cricket has the potential to be a powerful voice for change. The sport is already perceived as a ticket to opportunity. Accelerating urbanisation has made work hard to find in Port Moresby.

And without access to their traditional land once used to feed their families, and an ocean that provided protein is increasingly polluted, life is not as simple as it once was.

"Now people see cricket in the village as an opportunity to travel the world, and explore cultures completely different to our culture. It is changing lives in Hanuabada. It is a pathway to get out of the village life and experience new pathways," says Vanua.

Now he wants to use his status in the village, and the place cricket holds in the culture, to educate young people on the importance of the Motuan way of life.

"We can teach them proper ways of disposing rubbish, and how to care for each other in other ways. We need to enlighten them on how the environment should be cared for. It can change the way we think about living," he says.

Vanua is concerned that his culture is dying, and he won't let that happen.

"I strongly believe we can bring it back to the way it was back when our grandparents were children. We just need to change the culture."

•"World Vision is auctioning three signed official test jerseys donated by the Black Caps to raise money for The Hidden Pacific campaign. Please visit here.

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- Herald on Sunday

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