In Richard Grainger's latest look at cricket around the world he asked a series of questions to Cricket Fiji's Marketing and Communications manager Laura Mackintosh to view how the game is developing in this rugby mad nation.
How was cricket first established in Fiji?
With Fiji being settled by the British cricket first came here in Colonial times. However it was when Fiji's first Prime Minister, Ratu Mara, returned to his home island of Lakeba in the Lau group when there was a resurgence of cricket once again in the 1960s.
Ratu Mara had studied in New Zealand and England and so had learnt about and played the game there, and brought his love of it back to his home village of Tubou.
With Tubou being the chiefly village on the most chiefly island (Lakeba) in the southern Lau group, cricket then became associated as a chiefly (i.e. prestigious) game. This is why now approximately 80 percent of players who play for Fiji still come originally from the Lau islands.
What kind of structure is in place for the game of cricket in Fiji?
We have 11 cricket associations who are all members of Cricket Fiji. To an extent they are responsible for the development of the game in their own areas and creating association competitions, but they can also ask for assistance from Cricket Fiji (we are based in Suva).
We have a team of development officers who are mainly based in Suva, but also in the West (Nadi and Lautoka) and out in the Lau islands. Additionally our development officers in Suva
regularly cover other regions on Viti Levu (the main island of Fiji) or get sent on week-long outreach programs to more remote locations.
The development officers run clinics in schools during PE class, and also organise inter-school competitions. Our High Performance team then talent-IDs any participants with potential to join our Junior High Performance squad.
The Suva Cricket League (run by the Suva Cricket Association) is the biggest competition, which this year had 15 teams over two divisions. However all associations run their own competitions, although out on the islands these may only be the same two teams that play each other every week, as the population of the village out there range from 1000 to 200 people.
The associations then pick a representative team to play at our annual Easter Tournament, which is essentially our national championships. However for the first time this
year we had qualifiers for the Easter Tournament from two pools - the Lau Group pool and the Viti Levu pool - to try and increase the standard of the competition.
What is different about Fiji compared to any other nation that plays cricket in the Pacific is that the majority of cricketers come from the Lau group, which is 300km from the capital Suva (one of the islands is actually closer to Tonga than mainland Fiji) and the only way to get to Suva is by plane, which goes once a week, or by boat, which goes once a month.
So for example for our U17 tournament that is on at the moment, the boys who wanted to trial for that team had to get permission to come to Suva for about 2-3 months for their parents (missing schools obviously) to train and hopefully play for Fiji.
However, as out on the islands most villages only have a primary school, some boys with
a lot of potential get sent by their family to Suva once they reach high school, so they can train with our High Performance Unit.
Our national squad for the Senior Men's side was picked at the conclusion of the Easter Tournament, so those from the islands who want to be selected for the team will stay in Suva until the qualifiers at the end of the year.
How is the game of cricket viewed in Fiji by the Fijians themselves?
People on the main island, except for those already involved in cricket, barely know what it is. If they have heard of it, they don't understand it at all. All Fijians are crazy about rugby. However out in the Lau islands, cricket is a pillar of the community.
Is there a genuine appetite and passion for the game in the country?
Yes it is huge particularly in the Lau islands where one day a week, in most villages, the kids go to school but no work is to be done by the men and the only work for the women is to prepare lunch for the teams playing in the weekly cricket match. Also in the Lau islands the cricket pitch is always located right next to the church, which shows just how important cricket is to them, seeing as religion would be the most important part of any of those communities.
What are the aspirations for the game in Fiji in the future?
First thing is first for us, and that is to re-qualify for the World Cricket League in the EAP qualifiers at the end of this year. But obviously to continue to grow the game both from a recreation and development perspective (i.e. how many people know about cricket and play it for fun), and to raise our ICC rankings of the Senior Men's, Women's and U19 sides.
Is there a possibility of Fiji competing on the World stage at some point?
Yes, we were as high as the World Cricket League Division three back in 2007, so we
hope to reach those heights again, and even higher. But the first step is to re-qualify for Division six of the World Cricket League.