Increased opportunities for South Pacific nations to get regular international cricket competition over recent years has seen a significant rise in playing standards.
New Zealand Cricket's umpiring manager Brian Aldridge has just returned from the South Pacific Games held in Suva, Fiji where he was tournament referee and a mentor to umpires taking part in the event. Teams from New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Samoa, the Cook Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji took part. Tonga was not represented due to the fact their Olympic committee were unable to sanction attendance because there are competing cricket associations in the country.
PNG won the tournament, when taking a two-run win over Fiji in a final that was delayed for three days due to rain. That rain caused Fiji captain Neil Maxwell to miss the match as he had to return to work in Australia.
"The standard of cricket played by the teams varied and when PNG played New Caledonia they scored 520 by batting first and then bowled New Caledonia out for 40. PNG would be the equivalent of a Hawke Cup side competing in the elimination stages of the event in New Zealand, while New Caledonia would struggle in fourth grade club level," Aldridge said.
However, Aldridge, who has seen both Pacifica Cup tournaments played, said there had been an "amazing" improvement in standards by all teams. From his own point of view he thought umpiring standards were also improving and that was important because as playing standards improved players were entitled to think umpiring standards were on the up.
Games in the tournament were of 40 overs duration on composite pitches, which was 10 overs more than most of the countries played in their domestic competition matches. But one of the outcomes of this tournament was that teams were going to play more regular 50-over matches.
Behaviour standards had been reasonable and while there were no code of conduct citings, Aldridge had occasion to get a message onto the field that one side should tone down its approach. From that point, he said that once the players improved their standards, so also did the umpires.
The other aspect of the tournament that impressed Aldridge was the throwback to amateur sport for competitors in the Games overall. They were quartered at the University of the South Pacific in Suva in bunk bedding with mattresses, no blankets and cold showers. He didn't think it would be something appreciated by more mainstream cricketers around the more privileged Test-playing nations.