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The quick cricketer: a Samoan sprinter's obsession with bat and ball

A commitment to inclusion has helped cricket grow in the Pacific.
A commitment to inclusion has helped cricket grow in the Pacific.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

For many people in Samoa, cricket has long been an exotic game most likely encountered on television. But that is changing rapidly as the game grows across the Pacific, both at the elite level and as a tool for inclusion and inspiration. Sprinter Sili Ah Ching is one who has caught the bat and ball bug.

He has much in common with Usain Bolt.

They are islanders who own gold medals for winning sprint races on the global stage and they both harbour a deep love for the game of cricket.

But while Usain Bolt's home is Jamaica in the Caribbean, Sili Ah Ching's is Samoa in the South Pacific.

Sili in slips; sport has helped him develop social skills.
Sili in slips; sport has helped him develop social skills.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

Sili, who has been diagnosed with autism, took gold in the 100 and 200 metres at the 2015 Special Olympics in Los Angeles. His first time away from Samoa, it was a revelation.

"Samoa is not the only place, there are other places in the world," he says.

"Participation in sport has been really good to me. I can meet other people and this is very important to me."

- Sili Ah Ching

Perhaps it has also helped him contextualise cricket, the 'palagi' or European people's game he fell in love with as a little boy growing up in Talimatau, Faleata.

Sili wanted to play cricket from the time he first saw it on television as a child.
Sili wanted to play cricket from the time he first saw it on television as a child.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

"I remember seeing bowling and hitting and running on the TV when I was little boy," he recalls, via an interpreter.

"I knew I wanted to play then and many years later I got the chance."

Across Samoa and the Pacific, more people are getting the chance to sample cricket, especially women and people with a disability, in part because of the Australian Aid-funded Pacific Sports Partnerships. A 2014 study into cricket in Samoa, published in the journal Cosmopolitan Civil Societies, found that inclusiveness is a hallmark of its development programs, quoting one Samoan International Cricket Association member as saying:

"Cricket just has the ability to transcend all gender, all hierarchical barriers. So even if someone has a disability they can still play cricket. Male and females - we have broken down those barriers allowing both to be able to play equally together. Also from any age - you can have a five-year-old boy bowling to a reverend and it can still be fun, or a reverend bowling to a five-year-old boy."

Sili talks cricket with teacher Toeta Alo Fiamalo Pulu.
Sili talks cricket with teacher Toeta Alo Fiamalo Pulu.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

Teachers like Toeta Alo Fiamalo Pulu, better known as 'Malo', concur. Sport is a vital tool for teaching and gaining the co-operation of students.

"If we make sports on a Friday every week, the students usually participate from the beginning of the week," he grins, knowingly.

"Even if we are teaching in the classroom and we are finding the solutions to problems in different subjects, we usually use sports. It is a teaching method and a strategy for them to learn something."

- Toeta Alo Fiamalo Pulu

Sport is so beloved that cricket is making major inroads in Samoa because of 'FOMO', or fear of missing out. Malo's students don't like the idea that any sport exists they haven't tried.

"These students are sportspeople. They really like sport," Malo says, trying to capture the magnitude of the fascination.

"They really focus on the day we are talking about, preparing for the game.

"They watch TV and there are cricket games on the overseas news.

"They say to me or use sign language: 'When are we going to make a game with other schools?'."

Sili dances down the pitch for a Samoan slog.
Sili dances down the pitch for a Samoan slog.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

As one who shares this sporting obsession, naturally, athletics gold is not enough for Sili. Like Bolt, he harbours dreams of cricket greatness.

"Now I wish to play for the name of Samoa," he proudly declares.

If nothing else, he will be lightning between the wickets.

This story was produced by ABC International Development as part of the Pacific Sports Partnerships funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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