An allrounder who can trouble the batsmen with his leg-spinners and with bat in hand, can smash the ball a fair distance and at the same time, possess the ability to play innovative shots with minimum of fuss, Charles Jordan Amini or simply ‘CJ’ belongs to one of the most prominent cricketing families, where he is a third generation cricketer. His grandfather Brian, father Charles, mother Kune, Aunt Cheryl and his brothers Chris and Colin have at some point represented the Papua New Guinea (PNG) national team. In fact, his mother Kune and brother Chris have also led the PNG team, while his other brother Colin led PNG in the Under-19 World Cup in 2008.
CJ is currently Assad Vala’s deputy in the national team and we could very well see him lead the side one day in the near future. In a chat with Cricket.com, Amini talks about how it was to grow up in such a renowned household, his joy at qualifying for the T20 World Cup, his idol growing up, his stint in the Big Bash League (BBL) and much more. Here are the excerpts:
You come from a family of cricketers, where everyone from your grandfather to your aunt and brothers have played cricket professionally. How was it to grow up in such a household?
To be honest, cricket wasn’t the only sport we loved so it wasn’t all just cricket. My family is a mad sports fan family and we can watch anything. Whatever sport or season is on we will talk about it. Rugby league in Australia is on so we talk about that as we also have a tipping comp going on. The English Premier League is returning and we really excited about that now, we also play fantasy football so I’ve grown up loving every sport and was blessed to take up cricket and I love that fact that it has taken me places all around the world.
While cricket runs in your blood, was there any time you considered a career other than becoming a cricketer?
Before becoming full-time cricketers, no but during, yes. When I got injured in 2016, I wasn’t offered a contract so I went back to further my studies and did really well there topping my class in Information Technology. I was offered a scholarship to IBSU (Institute of Business Studies University) but never took it as the tour to Zimbabwe was on and I got selected again and missed the opportunity to obtain a degree which is my ultimate lifelong goal. A part of me regrets that decision but where that decision has taken me thus far is all part of God’s plan.
PNG play their home matches in Amini Park - a stadium named after your family. You too have played a few matches there. Do you sometimes get goosebumps playing at the venue?
Yes and no. Our local competition plays all its matches at Amini Park and so you get used to it. However playing for PNG is way different. Playing in front a packed crowd is amazing.
I got goosebumps when we played Kenya back in 2016 because I’d never experienced playing in front of a full house. It was unbelievable!
Is the next generation of the Amini family also interested in cricket? For instance, has your daughter shown any interest in the game so far? Does she watch cricket or maybe accompany you sometimes when you train?
Yes, my daughter loves cricket. She watches all my games both local and hosted International and she loves cheering! She attends all local trainings. I’ve got younger cousins who are into the game but it’s up to them if they want to play and take it seriously.
While there were enough people to look up to within the family, which cricketer did you idolise growing up and why?
I’d say my big brother Chris. He was such a great leader and always put his team first and it resulted when he lead us in gaining our ODI status for the first time ever in Australia 2014. I’ve learnt so much off him and I think that has helped me understand the game better at a younger age.
Leg-spin is considered to be one of the hardest to master in cricket. What made you take up this art?
I was living in Melbourne, Australia. At the age of 8 and my dad used to take me to watch Australia play at the MCG and I’d watch Shane a Warne bowl and how he’d bamboozle batsmen, I wanted to do something like that and get out batsmen for fun like how he did.
PNG have qualified for the T20 World Cup for the first ever time. How excited are you at the prospect of playing in such a big tournament?
I’ve never been this excited for anything like this ever. We keep reminding ourselves, this is the World Cup! Not any other completion, these are the best countries in the world competing to be the best. I’ve always wanted to play in one and now we have that chance.
Tell me about that crucial match against Kenya in the T20 World Cup Qualifier. What was the mood in the camp when PNG were reduced to 19/6? Did you honestly think that you could go on to win the match from there?
Yes, I did. We can bat to 11 so I thought if we could bat the 20 overs and score over 100 that would be good enough with our attack against their inexperienced team.
I didn’t want to watch the game when we were at that position but we had to keep supporting Norman (Vanua) and Sese (Bau). I was really nervous but our fighting spirit showed at the end.
Tell me about your stint in the Big Bash League a 6-7 ago with Sydney Sixers. How was your experience there? And how has that helped you in your cricketing career?
That was amazing. The way things were run and organized and training in those facilities at SCG was unreal. Everything was set up for the players to become better and I guess that’s why they produced players like Steve Smith and Mitchell Starc for example. I had a pleasure of training alongside them and bowling to them. They were young then and now they’re the best bowler and batsman of today’s game. The coach then was Trevor Bayliss who was the World Cup winning coach for England last year (2019). He was amazing. I had a net session with him and the way he picked up things was next level. Will never forget that experience.
I believe that you along with Norman Vanua were invited to train with the Adelaide Strikers in 2018. How different was that experience compared to your previous stint?
I guess I understood my game a lot better than when I was with the Sixers so I had plans when I bowled and batted where as I was still learning and didn’t know what to do at times. I was more open then so I was asking questions all the time and had good talks with Rashid Khan and he was very helpful with new deliveries and how he goes about his games.
How has your experience been with your coach Joe Dawes? Tell me about your relationship with him.
I love Joe. He’s awesome. His addition to the team is second to none. He’s brought in a new culture and has changed so many things in our skills training and strength and conditioning. He’s got us fitter than ever before. He lives with us here in PNG and that helps where we have access to him all the time if we want one-on-one sessions. He’s pretty straight up front with you. I’m pretty close to Joe and I can have decent conversations not only about cricket but life and personal issues and he’s a great listener and always there to help.
How was it to have someone like Jason Gillespie for a few months? Is there any particular advice that has helped you?
Dizzy is cool. Very laidback type of coach. I wasn’t in the team that time when he was coaching but when I was in Adelaide he was awesome. Didn’t really speak much to me about my game as I was working more with Michael Di Venuto.
Being the vice-captain of the team, how is your equation with current captain Assad Vala? Is he open to suggestions from you especially during matches?
Assad is always open to suggestions and he loves ideas from everyone. Assad and I get along very well and I’ve known him for a long time. We’re both trying to lead the new Barras in the right direction and do things we’ve never done before.
Barring the World Cups, PNG have very less chances of playing some of the full-member nations. Is that a worrying factor for you and everyone concerned with Cricket PNG?
For me, yes. I’d like every opportunity to play full member teams while we have the ODI status. Being so close to Australia and New Zealand, a game with them would give us so much experience. Even if it’s just countries touring New Zealand or Australia, they can stop by PNG to play 1 or 2 matches as part of their warm-up matches would be good enough.
Now that PNG have made it to the T20 World Cup, is playing the 50-over World Cup the next target for the team?
Yes, of course we would love to make the 50 over World Cup. We haven’t been as close in qualifying like our T20 tournaments but we are hoping to improve in the longer formats as it truly tests our skill mentally and physically.
PNG currently lies at the bottom of the table in the ICC Cricket World Cup League 2 having lost all eight games. What do you think went wrong and what are the areas you think you can improve?
To be honest, we could be lying 6 wins from 8. They were all close games and we were just not clinical enough to finish off those games. We just needed someone from both the batting and bowling department to stand up. If our batting failed our bowling did well and vice-versa. We just need both to click at the same time just like how we did at the T20 qualifiers and we should be better in the next round. There are always things to improve on and we showed a lot of positives in the 8 games. We’ve been training very hard and are ready for the next round of the World Cup League 2.