Former Italy international Carl Sandri has begun his new role as Papua New Guinea coach in absentia, as a recent spike of Covid cases in the country has prevented him from traveling into the country from Australia.
Sandri replaced the much-admired fellow Australian Joe Dawes in March, who departed for a new role outside of cricket after three years in charge of the Barramundis, having overseen one of the side’s most successful periods. Dawes was part of the selection process for his successor, with Sandri coming out on top after an ‘extensive search.’ Cricket PNG CEO Greg Campbell said that stepping down was a ‘hard decision’ for Dawes, and Sandri extended his thanks for a smooth transition and assistance in building relationships with players in the absence of physical meetings.
Sandri, born in Melbourne and with stints in the second XIs for Victoria and Worcestershire, qualified for Italy through ancestry and represented the nation in several tournaments between 2012 and 2017. A spin-bowling allrounder, he also played for the Sydney Thunder in the 2013 Big Bash League. His knowledge of the Associate world was a factor in his selection, said Campbell.
‘The privilege of leading such a passionate program was a big draw card for me to get involved’, Sandri said about the position. He has first-hand experience of the passion of the players, as he featured in an Italy XI that played against PNG in 2012, even taking the wicket of current captain Assad Vala with his off-spin. ‘He couldn’t handle it’, Sandri joked about the incident.
Sandri was even given the opportunity to play alongside some of the Barramundis this month, as Joe Slater withdrew from a T20 tournament in Queensland due to injury. The Flint Tropics incorporated a group of Australian-based PNG players into their side for the Great Barrier Reef T20 Bash for Cash in Mackay, including bowler Chad Soper and assistant coach Nathan Reardon. With the team a bowler short, Sandri decided to step in, and performed admirably, taking 7 wickets across three matches. ‘Cricket has been scarce for the Barras, so it was an opportunity to see some of the boys play.’
Despite having kept the virus at bay for a number of months, a recent spike in Covid-19 cases in Papua New Guinea has caused a new nationwide lockdown, putting Sandri in a position where he must begin coaching duties remotely.
Players within the country are back under lockdown and must continue training from their own homes as group sessions are not currently permitted. ‘Everyone’s been very accepting of it and everyone’s got on with it, both the players and the staff’, Sandri said. ‘With the world cup coming up, there’s no better motivation for everyone to stay training.’ Cricket PNG has also invested in technology to assist with live streaming of domestic games, which will also be used for training sessions, allowing Sandri to view and coach from afar.
The lockdown has also put any domestic cricket on hold, but if the restrictions are lifted, the tournaments may have a restructure in order to best prepare the national team for the World T20. Like many Associate nations, the PNG players are very short of match practice and will try to get as much as possible in before heading to India. ‘Match practice has to be the focus of our preparation’, Sandri said. ‘With the cameras we’ve now got, it will allow for better access for everyone if these restrictions keep up and I can’t be there’.
Speaking about the challenge of coaching from afar, Sandri praised the players and the high performance staff in PNG, with all of the players keeping active in several WhatsApp groups, mostly of strength and conditioning routines from their own homes. ‘Everyone’s been very accepting of it and everyone’s got on with it, both the players and the staff… with the World Cup coming up, there’s no better motivation for everyone to stay training’.
Sandri hopes to join up with his new squad as soon as possible, but until travel restrictions ease he will have to continue being an online coach. After the Great Barrier Reef T20 in Mackay, Sandri praised the facilities there, which many Papua New Guinea sides have used as a base in the past and stated they would be working towards bringing the men’s team over to Queensland to prepare for the T20 World Cup.
With all Cricket World Cup League 2 fixtures currently postponed, the T20 World Cup later this year is the team’s next major fixture. But after a rough start to the 50-over competition, where they currently sit at the bottom of the table without a win in eight games, they will be itching to get started on those matches again too.
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