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Feature

Crowd-funding campaign raises funds for new kit and tour payments for Vanuatu women

Vanuatu women will become the first cricket team - male or female - from the country to play in a World Cup qualifier, in Abu Dhabi next week

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
19-Apr-2024
The Vanuatu Women players celebrate a wicket

Vanuatu women's cricket gear is mostly all donated, either by companies or international players  •  Vanuatu Cricket Association

When the Vanuatu women's team walk out to play in their distinctive emerald green kit, with characteristic red and yellow hibiscus flowers - mirroring the colours of their country's flag - they would normally also be sporting playing gear that is donated, borrowed or shared amongst the squad. But no more.
The plan ahead of next week's T20 World Cup Qualifier, which will be played in Abu Dhabi, was that the players would use part of their tour bonus to purchase their own equipment. Now, thanks to a crowd-funding campaign that raised 750,000 Vatu (the equivalent of USD 6,317 or AUD 9,865), not only will each member of the squad team receive their full tour payments, but they will also have a new player-grade kit; a bat, two pairs of gloves, pads and thigh guard.
"I have been blown away by the interest, over the last week especially," Tim Cutler, CEO of Vanuatu Cricket Association, told ESPNcricinfo from Australia, from where the squad will depart to the UAE. "I had thought of crowd-funding previously but might've discounted or de-prioritised it. It is definitely worth investigating more broadly. Honestly, I'm overwhelmed by the response."
The idea to start a public fundraiser was led by VCA operations manager Jamal Vira and marketing manager Hermione Vira and in part, likened to Iceland's efforts in the recent past to raise £3000 to fund their national team. It was also driven by need. Vanuatu is a small country with a population of just over 300,000 and an economy driven by agriculture, tourism and a golden visa scheme. The VCA receives just under USD 500,000 from the ICC annually, which pays for "everything," according to Cutler.
That includes staff across four regions of the country, all the equipment used in schools and junior cricket, the upkeep of five owned or leased grounds and the running of all cricket programs from community participation to High Performance squads and international tours. It also pays for the 14 contracted men's and four contracted women's players, who now benefit from a scheme in Australia that allows them to work seasonally while playing and training there. Eight of the women's squad of 15 that will participate in the T20 Qualifiers have spent the last six months earning money by picking fruit in Australia.
Their cricket gear is mostly all donated, either by companies or international players. "Bat repair Peter Duffy donates dozens of repaired player bats to Vanuatu every year," Cutler said. "And for example, Hannah Darlington left one of her bats behind after the Indigenous Tour to Vanuatu in May 2023. Beyond that, usually, the VCA purchases the gear for the players to use."
But the team members have never before each had their own set of equipment. Now, a decade since they made their official international debut at an ICC East Asia Pacific (EAP) trophy in Japan in 2014, everyone in the touring group will have a tangible piece of memorabilia from a landmark tournament and gear they can use for future events.
This is the first time a cricket team from Vanuatu - male or female - will play in a World Cup qualifier. Their men's team finished third (out of four teams) at the EAP qualifier last July which was won by Papua New Guinea, who will play at the men's T20 World Cup. The Vanuatu women's team fared much better and secured their spots at the World Cup qualifier after winning all six matches in the East Asia Pacific Region Qualifier last September, including beating Papua New Guinea for the first time. The victory was significant not only because PNG are the dominant team in that area but because they are 11th on the ICC's T20I rankings and Vanuatu are 30th. That means they will be the lowest-ranked team at the Qualifiers and understand they will compete "very much as underdogs," Cutler said.
But, having seen the power of their fundraising campaign and the interest the sport is generating in their country, their global standing is just a number. "Our women are the country's highest-ranked sporting team - something I know they take a lot of pride in - and I fully expect them to surprise a lot of people in Abu Dhabi. We have a few players who I think are talented enough to play in any franchise league in the world, and knowing how close the team is, I am very excited to see them out there in front of the world."
Vanuatu have been drawn to play against Ireland, Zimbabwe, Netherlands and the UAE in Group B of the 10-team event. Group A includes Sri Lanka, Scotland, Thailand, Uganda and the USA. Each team will play the others in their group, with the top two advancing to the semi-finals. The two finalists will qualify for the T20 World Cup, which will be held in Bangladesh later this year.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent for South Africa and women's cricket