Street slogger Sakavai becomes PNG cricket crusader

From street hustler to cricket crusader, the "Ponting of Pari" is using the game that has given him purpose to invest in the children of his village - and many others.

Sakavai Gebai never dared to dream he could make a buck from cricket, but he always knew he could make a few cents.

Some of his earliest memories are of swinging a cut-off mango branch at a ball fashioned from scrunched-up newspaper and sticky tape.

The player who scored the most runs would win a coin.

"Most of the time, I would win the money because most of the time, I'd hit the mango tree," he says, cockily.

"If I hit the ball to a mango or a coconut tree and it got stuck, I would run till I had 100 runs."

More than a decade later, the "Ricky Ponting of Pari" is back in his home village on the outskirts of the Papua New Guinea capital, Port Moresby, to bring structure to street cricket as the National Capital District's Regional Cricket Manager.

There is very little infrastructure in Pari and one small primary school is trying to educate more than 600 children, but the cricket oval occupies one of the best patches of land around.

The mango tree branch, newspaper and sticky tape are gone, replaced by proper bats, balls and a team of coaches with a program that connects good health to the hook shot and inclusion to the inswinger.

More than 200,000 PNG school children will be exposed to an Australian aid-supported cricket program in 2018.

As a junior national representative with ambitions to make the PNG national squad, Sakavai didn't have access to school clinics.

He learned the game from copying the likes of Shane Warne and Ricky Ponting on TV broadcasts from Australia.

Nevertheless, he believes cricket grew him as a person, not just a player.

"It's a mind game, not a contact sport," the 22-year-old says.

"Cricket is the game I love in my heart and I teach the small ones to be like me."

When a cricket homecoming was offered he took it and now, at just 20, he is responsible for spreading the cricket gospel across PNG as the Regional Cricket Coordinator.

"When the opportunity came up, I took it to heart," he says.

"It was emotional for me. I started playing as soon as my hands were strong enough to pick up a bat.

"What cricket has done for me I can do for other children around this great country - to learn what I have learned and to give them the experience of playing in school or in the village and finally wearing the black, red and gold for your country.

"It is so great to do something every day that gets kids smiling. You get that feeling inside."

Perhaps it feels similar to scoring a century with a mango tree branch and claiming a coin or two.

Whatever it is, it has convinced these cricket crusaders that they have a message worth spreading, and they might just unearth the next PNG Ponting in the process.