Bright and sunny for Samoan cricket

Tony Munro

These are exciting times for cricket in Samoa. The sport is booming - the number of teams competing in primary and secondary schools have trebled, the under-15 team just did well at the regional titles in Jakarta and 14 teams just played in the national village championships.

And starting tomorrow, Samoa take on seven national teams from the Near East and the Pacific on home turf for the East Asia-Pacific (EAP) Trophy.

For the first time, Twenty20, the format most resembling Kilikiti - the traditional Pacific Islands version of the game - has been included in the regional championships, alongside the usual 50-over format.

It's the format the Samoans have been tipped to excel in - their star batsman, Ben Mailata, was raised on Kilikiti and the transferable skills such as hitting hard and long perfectly suit this mode.

According to Matt Walter, a Samoa International Cricket Association official, the team has kept the big picture in sight - winning the Second Division of the 50-over event at the EAP Trophy against Tonga, the Cook Islands, Indonesia and Vanuatu, and with it a place in the ICC World Cricket League Division 8.

Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Japan will face off in the First Division of the 50-over event. Following which, all eight teams will be thrown in together for the Twenty20 bash, in two groups of four.

Samoa will field some familiar faces - the experienced Geoff Clarke, former New Zealand Test and ODI player Murphy Su'a and allrounder Sipialano Tua. Officials also hope the young seamers Fa'asao Mulivai (aged 24), Tiafala Alatasi and Totoa Sauniatu (21), as well as the batting duo of Mailata and Pritchard Pritchard, will step up.

Like their rugby union and league national team brethren, the side, also includes some New Zealand-based players, whom Walter is quick to point out are not 'ring-ins'. "These boys have been travelling to Samoa for years to help cricket and compete in local tournaments," Walter said. "As far as everyone is concerned this is not a squad - this is a family and everyone is happy to see these boys come across and help out here."

Samoa plays its first matches in the Twenty20 event on Friday, taking on Indonesia in the morning and Fiji in the afternoon. Vanuatu is the other team in the group.