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Thanks to Marica Vua, Fiji is being bowled over by cricket

Marica Vua is taking cricket back to her home village
Marica Vua is taking cricket back to her home village

ABC: Aaron Kearney

Growing up on the Coral Coast in Fiji, Marica Vua had never seen cricket. Now she is one of its stars, and wants to make sure every Fijian is introduced to the magic of the game she now loves.

The self-appointed bellringer clangs a piece of metal against a length of pipe to summon women of all ages from near and far to the grassy clearing in the middle of Galoa Village.

That sound means the first ball is about to be bowled and it'll take much more than weeks of torrential rain on the Coral Coast of Fiji to force a cancellation of this Island Cricket match.

Summoning players to the pitch
This makeshift bell summons players to the pitch.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

Within minutes, there's not only enough players to fill three teams but a supportive crowd of children, nursing mothers, and the odd, slightly self-conscious man, You could be forgiven for thinking this tradition is decades, if not hundreds of years old.

And at the centre of the action, taking the new ball, albeit a yellow and spongy rather than hard and red one, is Marica Vua.

The 24-year-old Fijian international medium pace bowler knows every blade of grass in this clearing, every house for miles around. She grew up here, but never saw this scene during her childhood.

Island Cricket was never a part of her life. Marica was 17 before she had even heard of cricket.

"All I can remember is playing netball and rugby and other sorts of sports," she says.

"There was this gentleman who came over to my school. I didn't take it seriously but he could see the potential that was in me and he started developing me from basic skills to coming to know the game very well."

Marica Vua playing cricket
Marica sends one down during the Island Cricket match in Galoa.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

That is an understatement, His instincts were impeccable. Marica has not only gone on to play international cricket, but is now a Cricket Fiji Development Officer and has been on exchange with Cricket Victoria in Australia.

"I immediately fell in love with cricket because I was a good netball player but there were a lot of girls in that sport," Marica says.

"I found out that a lot of girls weren’t interested in cricket and I could show off my talent and potential through that sport."

After driving an hour along the southern coast of Fiji and swapping the shorts she wore in Suva for the traditional sulu skirt that is considered more appropriate attire in her home village, Marica's cricket conversion has become a mission.

She runs schools development programs that ensure no little girl or boy on the Coral Coast these days will grow up without sampling the game.

The next generation of players watches on
The next generation of players watches on from a safe distance.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

But perhaps Marica's greatest contribution is the Australia Aid-funded Pacific Sports Partnerships Island Cricket program. The Galoa girl is taking women who might once have chased her out of the local hall for being too noisy, and giving them a precious gift. Island Cricket is a regular appointment for fun, exercise and community connection. It is transforming more than just the sporting culture.

"From the start of this program, most of them didn't know the game of cricket," Marica recalls.

"But once we started teaching it, they started loving it and we've seen some changes where ladies have decreased their weight and some older ladies, at the beginning they couldn't run and they have started running."

Cricket was once unknown here but has become a part of village life.
Cricket was once unknown here but has become a part of village life.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

"They all know some of the cricket rules and they are so interested. That is what I love."

They know the rules and they enforce them; raucously and hilariously. With some parts of the ground under 10 centimetres of water, this particular Island Cricket match soon descends into a melee of splashing, smiling and squealing. For a game so fiercely contested, there was no apparent winner.

In fact, everyone is winning. From the healthier, happier mothers to the toddlers and teenagers who have a new game in their life, and the sports mad girl from Galoa who found a wonderful life in cricket and then brought the game back home.

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

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