Little needed to restore first-class standard, 1974

A century in the Fiji islands

Philip Snow

Mr. Snow captained Leicestershire 2nd XI, 1936-38. He is a former Administrator in the Colonial Service, Founder of the Fiji Cricket Association, author of Cricket in the Fiji Islands and other works on the South Pacific, Permanent Representative of Fiji on the International Cricket Conference since 1965, and Honorary Life Member of M.C.C.

Diametrically opposite England on the globe is Fiji, the farthest point to which cricket could penetrate. The Navy carried it 100 years ago. This sounds as though gunboats made Fiji British. Far from it, the chiefs asked Queen Victoria to take over Fiji. H.M.S. Pearl, on February 21, 1874, played the Archipelago's then capital, Levuka, losing heavily. It was the first match -- just before the independent kingdom became a Colony.

England has seldom seen Royal cricketers. A midshipman on H.M.S. Bacchante's 1881 circumnavigation, Prince George (later King George V), played against Levuka. His score significantly is not remembered. Next day he was demoted to Bacchante's 2nd XI against H.M.S. Cleopatra; the Press reported that his score did not greatly affect the total. When the Prince of Wales visited Levuka in 1970 for Fiji's Independence, he was shown the ground so little productive of regal runs: the Press described him as not unamused.

Levuka had been preoccupied with commerce. With the British Administration's establishment there was incentive to contemplate British culture (not overmuch thought was given to this in a South Seas port, its public houses cluttering up the tiny beach) and recreation. Fijians saw Europeans playing: they soon wanted to participate. Hon. Jocelyn Amherst (Harrow XI) and Sir Edward Wallington (Sherborne XI and Wiltshire, an Oxford Blue, coach of an England captain in Lionel Tennyson, and latterly Queen Mary's Treasurer), both of them Aides-de-Camp to Sir William des Voeux, Governor 1878-86, encouraged them.

Quick-footed, exceptionally muscular, piercingly sharp of eye, their forte has been to hit everything as hard and often as possible, to catch with maximum élan, to bowl as swiftly as arms allow single-mindedly at the centre stump, to throw with utmost verve. Their throwing and bowling accuracy were evolutions from their spear throwing, the speed and directness of which meant the difference between life and death in their cannibal wars. Their dress--shirt and sulu (knee-length, side-split skirt) -- contrasting with bronze, rugged, cheerful faces, their sinew, bulging calves, bootlessness, provide a spectacle unique in the cricket world, seen by only two countries, New Zealand and Australia. The larger the crowd, the greater the panache, the radiation of zest. Fijians reserve briskness of tempo for their games as a contrast to their everyday existence.

For organising Fijians, European administrators have been essential. Sir Basil Thomson (later Governor of Dartmoor and Head of Scotland Yard) and A. B. Joske (later Brewster) of Polish origin (whose widow survives at 101 in Bath), had to resist Fijian attempts to overlay the game's laws with tribal ideas for improving them, such as the crack bowler after an over resuming promptly at the other end and chiefs' inclinations to leave fielding to commoners.

J. S. Udal, Attorney-General 1890-1900, who had played for M.C.C. (invited to go with W. G. Grace's 1873 team to Australia, he declined as he was qualifying for the Bar) and, like Wallington, for Dorset and the West of England, was influential enough to have an excellent ground made at Albert Park in the new capital, Suva. J. McC. Blackham's 1893 Australian team for England was prevented by a measles outbreak on their ship from playing Suva.

Udal, at 43 still useful, decided in 1895 to take a team the 1,000 miles to New Zealand. It consisted of six other Europeans (Sir William Allardyce, selected, could not go -- he had played against Lillywhite's All England XI for the North of Scotland) and six Fijian chiefs. Ratu (Chief) Wilikonisoni Tuivanuavou bowled with distinct speed and success. J. C. Collins carried his bat for a century -- only one of 16 occasions in New Zealand's history. Playing against the leading New Zealand exponents (F. Wilding, the world's outstanding tennis player, made their only century), Fiji won 4, drew 2, lost 2.

In 1905, en route to England, Australia, including V. T. Trumper, R. A. Duff, C. Hill, M. A. Noble, W. W. Armstrong, F. Laver and A. Cotter, met Fiji who, batting 18 (including H. S. de Maus, New Zealand's best all-rounder a decade earlier) scored 91 to Australia's 212. Trumper, feeling unwell, hit the biggest six made on Albert Park.

Greatly daring, Mbau Island (no larger than Lord's in acreage, with a male adult population of 60) in 1908 toured Australia, 2,000 miles away. Pre-eminent as players were its two highest chiefs, both grandsons of King Ebenezer Thakombau (the only King before Cession) -- Ratu Penaia Kandavulevu and his cousin, Ratu Pope E. S. Thakombau, acknowledged in Australia as of State standard. Winning 5, drawing 16, losing 5 (opponents including New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria), Fijians' intrinsic skill needs no further underlining. It was sufficient inducement for S. E. Gregory's 1912 team from England to Australia (including C. Kellaway and E. R. Mayne) and Australia's 1913 team to Canada under A. Diamond (including C. G. MacArtney, W. Bardsley, J. N. Crawford, H. L. Collins and A. A. Mailey) to play in the Islands. As the opposition was only Suva (not Fiji and including merely one Fijian), not unexpectedly they were comfortably beaten. Austin Diamond, New South Wales' leading batsman and second in Australia's 1907 averages, had worked in Fiji for the Sugar Company.

In parenthesis, just months before the First War and his own death, Rupert Brooke, a steady slow bowler in the Rugby XI, reported: "I played cricket! The Fijians play a good deal, very wildly and without great regard for the rules, but they have good eyes."

Those 1912-13 visits to Fiji have been followed by only one more match by any country's fully representative team -- the West Indies in 1955. V. Y. Richardson's team to Canada (including D. G. Bradman, S. J. McCabe, Mailey, and L. O'B. Fleetwood-Smith and A. F. Kippax) and D. R. Jardine's 1933 team returning from Australia were to have played in Suva had it not rained torrentially. Sitting next to Bradman in 1953 at a lunch for his birthday in a Lord's box, I was told by Sir Donald that he recalled the fastest Fijian bowler (Turanga) asking if he might feel his biceps and, on doing so, letting the interpreter know that he could not credit Bradman's reputation as the world's best batsman.

In 1924, a New Zealand team including J. S. Hiddleston, arguably then that country's best current batsman, made the first tour of Fiji, playing two matches against Fiji -- not representative since the only Fijians encountered were Mbau. With such omissions Fiji, not unnaturally, lost easily. 5 wins, 3 draws, no losses (but a fright given them by Mbau) conveys a misleading result for the New Zealand side.

Another New Zealand team, the Maorilanders, captained by H. B. Massey, a Test player, made a similar tour in 1936. Two matches against Fiji were played -- 1 lost, 1 won. Five Fijians were included to approach true representation: in one match the only hundred to date against a team touring Fiji was the achievement of Ratu Sir Edward Thakombau, great-grandson of King Thakombau, son of King George II of Tonga, now Fiji's Deputy Prime Minister, who had played for Auckland.

In 1938, when appointed to Fiji, I was astonished to find Europeans and part - Europeans playing separately from Fijians and Indians. This anomaly I determined to alter as soon as I could. I 1939, when elected Secretary of the Suva Cricket Club I had this European organisation changed to the Suva Cricket Association, so constituting the first multi-racial sporting organisation of any kind in Fiji. Immediately, the most cosmopolitan side, the Central Medical Samoan and containing three Tongans, two British Samoans, one Rotuman, three Gilbertese, an Ellice Islander, two Solomon Islanders and five Fijians (the team's fastest bowler, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, played for Otago and became Fiji's Prime Minister on Independence 30 years later) defeated everyone.

Sir Julien Cahn only had to see the Fijians for a few minutes in 1939 before negotiating with me for an English tour. This was frustrated by the War, and then his death.

In this War, New Zealanders were in Fiji in quantity waiting to push back the Japanese and playing cricket meanwhile. P. E. Whitelaw, joint holder of the world's third wicket record, and N. Gallichan, the Test match slow left-hand bowler, achieved little; D. S. Wilson, who played in Tests on his return, and C. C. Burke, who toured Australia and England, were more successful. The New Zealand Forces, including Burke, were heavily defeated by a weakened Fiji Representative Team in 1942 (which included for the first time an Indian in top-level Fijian cricket). Amenayasi Turanga, who had politely doubted Bradman's prowess, took six for 16 in the first innings. Of Voce's build, he had his fast left-hander's bounce aimed at the batsman's shoulder. A gold-miner, he has accidentally electrocuted a fortnight later. One of the half-dozen best Fijians of all time, he was a ferocious hitter, once scoring 106 in twenty-eight minutes on a concrete pitch.

In 1946, with the backing of the leading chief, Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, I was able to found the Fiji Cricket Association. Now fully representative Fiji teams could be established and Districts, whose Associations I had set up between 1940 and 1946, guided into regular competition.

The immediate result of the Fiji Association's foundation was organisation of a tour of New Zealand in 1948, the first truly representative Fijian one (and the second of any kind to go there in 53 years). Although there had been tests of ability against New Zealanders in Fiji conditions, Fijian prospects overseas were a risky estimate: I recall my cold feet when interviewed on deck as to our chances by the New Zealand Press arriving at dawn with Auckland's metropolitan skyline so daunting for us straight from the bush.

Starting on the right feet (mostly bare: there were 11 Fijians, with six Europeans and part-Europeans), we played all the first-class Provinces and leading Test players, W. A. Hadlee, W. M. Wallace, B. Sutcliffe, G. O. Rabone and many who were to extend England in Tests immediately afterwards. In three-day matches against the first-class Provinces Fiji won 2 and lost 3 (2 very narrowly). In the two-day matches Fiji won 4, drew 7, lost 0, and lost a one-day match. H. J. Apted, a left-hander with W. Watson's elegance, the youngest at 23, scored nearly 1,000 runs in 22 innings with an average of 46. Ilikena Lasarusa Talembulamainavaleniveivakambulaimainakulalakembalau (mercifully for New Zealand and his tremendously-in-demand autograph, known as I. L. Bula), exceeded 1,000 runs with soaring straight drives of real majesty, and M. J. Fenn, bowling slow inswingers with only one offside fielder, took 100 wickets in 700 overs -- remarkable performances.

Viliame Mataika, with arm-touching-ear action, bowled Tate-like whipbacks to help us defeat Wellington early in the tour, but never played after his stretched-out bare foot had been jammed by a somnabulist traveller in a train corridor door. Ratu Sir George Thakombau, great grandson of King Thakombau, son of Ratu Pope Thakombau and now Fiji's first Governor-General since Independence, who was my Vice-captain, had a bare toe broken by a yorker half-way through the tour: it was unfortunate that Ratu Sir Edward Kamisese Mara was in mid-course at Oxford where injury deprived him of a Blue. His father once hit me for the highest six I have ever seen--vanishing into the sky to descend vertically into a 70-foot coconut palm's crown.

When I left Fiji in 1952, New Zealand was pressing for a repetition of the 1948 tour. Fijians, supreme guerilla fighters volunteering for the Malayan campaign, included Petero Kumbunavanua, reserve wicket-keeper in my 1948 New Zealand touring team. Selected with two other Fijians and Ratu Sir Edward Thakombau to play for Negri Sembilan State against Perak in 1952, Petero added to cricket's rare ornithological connection. Fielding at square leg and disturbed by swallows swooping on flies, he snatched one from the air and put it in his sulu pocket.

In 1954 P. T. Raddock (5 ft. high, he had been my 1948 wicket-keeper) with Ratu Mara, 6 ft. 5 ins. high as Vice-captain, took to New Zealand the next team -- 9 Fijians, 6 Europeans and part-Europeans. They won 1, lost 3 three-day matches, won 5, lost 3 two-day matches, and won the two one-day matches. The 1948 team's performance promised first-class status for this team before the tour began. W. W. Apted, brother of H. J. Apted (who also had a good tour), was the outstanding batsman, finishing 4th in the New Zealand averages. Bula, so evocative of Gimblett, joined the select list of those with 8 sixes in an innings when scoring 102 v Canterbury. But during this tour, unlike the 1948 tour, all the leading New Zealand players were absent (touring South Africa).

A singular accomplishment was the defeat in 1956 by Suva (not Fiji) of the West Indies captained by D. Atkinson and including J. D. Goddard, G. St. A. Sobers, S. Ramadhin and A. L. Valentine. Suva's captain, Ratu Mara, opened the bowling. He told me, with the self-deprecatory touch which Fijians have in common with Europeans, that after about 30 runs had been scored quickly off him he had had a blinding flash of insight and took himself off. His replacement and the other opening bowler dismissed West Indies for 63, when to pass Suva's 91 had seemed easy.

In 1959 a modest tour was made to New South Wales Country Districts. Only one team of calibre was met: a New South Wales XI, including R. Benaud (captain), K. R. Miller, N. C. O'Neill and A. K. Davidson, was defeated in a one-day match, the Fijian fielding delighting the Sydney ground. Representing no advance on the 1908 tour by Mbau, the tour was marked by the first overseas selection of a Fiji Indian. Indians outnumber Fijians and are more prepared to take on administration than Fijians but have far to go to attain Fijians' playing standards.

Two further tours of New Zealand followed, one in 1961-62 containing 10 Fijians and 5 Europeans and part-Europeans. Astonishingly, no three-day matches were played. Nine two-day matches were lost, 8 won, 3 drawn; one one-day match lost, 1 drawn. The second, in 1967-68, managed by Josua Rambukawangga, Fiji's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom (a useful Mbauan), consisted of 11 Fijians, 3 Europeans and part-Europeans, and 2 Indians. It also played no three-day matches, won 4, lost 7 and drew 2 two-day matches, and won all 8 one-day matches.

H. J. Apted and Bula have been omnipresent in every tour since the War. Walter Hadlee considered Bula's inclusion (within the Rules as Fiji was not then playing first-class cricket and its players were therefore eligible to play for the nearest Test-playing country) for New Zealand's 1949 tour of England. After consulting me, Hadlee thought that Bula's modest knowledge of English might have led to homesickness in a long tour far away from home.

Bula holds Fiji's highest score, 246, beating the 214 not out and 196 in a fortnight of a remarkable all-rounder, Viliame Tuinaceva Longavatu who should have been seen overseas (he took 9 for 0 in 1.4 overs in 1933 in a high-grade match. I took his son, Isoa Longavatu, to New Zealand as the team's fast bowler; he had taken 10 wickets for 8 in 1941--the best of Fiji's seven instances of 10 wickets in an innings). The most remarkable bowling feat in Fiji's history was at Lomaloma in the Lau Archipelago (half-way between Fiji and the Kingdom of Tonga): Saiasi Vuanisokiki took 8 wickets for 0 in an 8-ball over against H.M.S. Leith. A fast left-hander in Turanga's class, he would have been taken by me to New Zealand in 1948 but for an injury.

As remarkable in its way, more recently, has been 40 off 7 balls in an 8-ball over in a top-standard match scored by Nathanieli Uluiviti who had played for Auckland.

Fiji's cricket centenary, which is adding a rare connection of the game with philately by three stamps marking the event, runs parallel to a near-century of British Administration from the Islands' Cession in 1874. Independence in 1970, with Fiji becoming a Dominion in the commonwealth, was a gentle evolution from that auspicious start of the Archipelago having been given to Queen Victoria, contrasting with the usual 19th century process of colonization by conquest.

New Zealand cricket judges who have seen all Fijian sides rank the 1948 team as the best. Each team has given enjoyment to every part of New Zealand, but it has become recognised that the Fijian standard, if measured only by the lower category of opponents in subsequent tours, has not been maintained for three principal reasons. Firstly, Fijians of high standing who have been on tours, for example, Ratu Mara and the two Ratu Thakombaus, respectively Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Governor-General, have had their time heavily taken up under a preoccupation as never before, contrasted with their predecessors as high chiefs able to give time to coaching.

Secondly, Fiji's success at Rugby Football on tours beyond New Zealand and Australia to Wales, England and France have diverted attention from cricket. Thirdly, there has been insufficient progress in Fiji's improvement and, with a population doubled since 1948, increase of grounds. Beautiful and bad are not the right requisites for playing areas. Albert Park, Suva, so picturesque with its vivid colour captured in the painting in the Imperial Gallery at Lord's, is muddied-up by football and hockey, by every kind of event and festival, the huge crowds squelching the grass out by its roots in the deluges that Fiji keeps for main happenings. Like other cricket grounds in Fiji it is not, and cannot be, enclosed: income is only gained from private generosity. No sport, even football, with its undemanding outlay on equipment, can advance that way.

Other factors contribute to an uphill struggle: (1) Cricket is expensive for a country where, outside the half-dozen towns, villages are mere clusters of houses with roofs and walls of thatch shaped like haystacks: equipment is always scarce. (2) A serious obstacle lies in the distances between the 100 inhabited islands. (3) Then there is the division of island pitches between matting on either grass or concrete. (4) Coaching is a quintessential requirement. So much talent waits to be steered delicately by a discerning eye -- a coach without flair could extinguish the Fijian flame.

A fifth reason for Fiji's diminishing performances against New Zealand was recently explained to me by Bevan Congdon, the New Zealand captain, as being due to a sudden marked improvement in New Zealand standards.

In 1965 when the Imperial Cricket Conference became the International Cricket Conference, Fiji was the first country, with Ceylon and U.S. of America, to be admitted to the company of the Test-playing countries. England may yet see a Fiji side. One was arranged to come here in 1959 to play the Duke of Norfolk's XI, M.C.C. at Lord's and various Counties when it became apparent that Fiji's standard had suddenly slipped and local confidence declined: postponement was considered judicious. Little but a revival of coaching is needed to restore Fiji to its first-class standard. A World Cup, particularly if on a one-day basis to which Fijians are well suited, could see them participating after not too long.


1895New ZealandJ. S. UdalSir Henry Scott
1907/08AustraliaRatu Penaia KandavulevuRatu Pope E. S. Thakombau
1948New ZealandP. A. SnowRatu Sir George Thakombau
1954New ZealandP. T. RaddockRatu Sir Kamisese Mara
1959/60New South WalesN. M. UluvitiS. B. Snowsill
1961/62New ZealandS. B. SnowsillA. Dews
1967/68New ZealandN. M. UluivitiH. J. Apted


Visiting teamVisiting captainLocal captain
1893AustraliaJ. McC. Blackhamv. SuvaNot announced (no play)
1905AustraliaM. A. Noblev. FijiSir Henry Scott (Fiji lost)
1912AustraliaS. E. Gregoryv. SuvaH. B. Riley (Suva lost)
1913AustraliaA. Diamondv. SuvaH. B. Riley (Suva lost)
1924A New Zealand TeamW. L. D. Harviev. FijiH. B. Riley (tour)
1932AustraliaV. Y. Richardsonv. SuvaR. L. Lowell (no play)
1933EnglandD. R. Jardinev. FijiC. A. Adams (no play)
1935/36New Zealand MaorilandersH. B. Masseyv. FijiRatu Sir Edward Thakombau (tour)
1942New Zealand ForcesS. F. Lambertv. FijiP. A. Snow (Fiji won)
1956West IndiesD. Atkinsonv. SuvaRatu Sir Kamisese Mara (Suva won)

© John Wisden & Co