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Peni Vuniwaqa's tumultuous journey into Fiji cricket history

From acing an age-group trial after an uncomfortable three-day boat journey, this talented allrounder has come a long way to play for a Fiji Under-19 side that will debut in big-stage cricket on Wednesday

Fiji's cricketers line up for their national anthem, Fiji v Guernsey, World Cricket League Division Six, Kuala Lumpur, September 18 2011

Roughly nine out of ten cricketers who have played for Fiji are from Lau Island, where the game is part of the island's culture  •  ICC/Peter Lim

Where Peni Vuniwaqa comes from, one of 60 tiny islands in the southern Pacific, not playing cricket is frowned upon. According to a rough estimate, nine out of ten cricketers who have played for Fiji are from Lau Island, where the game is part of the island's culture.
Vuniwaqa hails from one of the island villages in Lau, which is 156.8 nautical miles (291 km) from Fiji's main island, Viti Levu. Since there is no direct boat to the Lau archipelago, it takes about three days for a one-way trip to the country's capital Suva.
Two years ago, Vuniwaqa heard of an age-group trial in the capital and was desperate to make it in time. His parents however were reluctant to let him go. They thought that Vuniwaqa wouldn't make the cut, and there was also the concern of letting their 16-year-old take on a treacherous journey. Apparently, Vuniwaqa had to sleep in the toilet one of those nights on the boat. But he made it to Suva in time, and aced the trial. He let everyone know in Fiji's cricket circles that he is an asset. He bats in the middle order, bowls seam and according to his coach Shane Jurgensen is a "gun fielder".
Vuniwaqa picked up cricket from his village in Lau where cricket supercedes rugby as the primary sport, unlike the rest of country. Vuniwaqa preferred cricket over rugby because of low chances of injury in the sport. His parents are now ecstatic that he got into the Under-19 team to play in the World Cup. And their son is one of the important members of the team that is Fiji's first representative side at a major cricket event.
Vuniwaqa comes across a shy kid but is determined to do well. When asked if he knew that he could make it in the trials after travelling with such difficulty, he nods a yes. When asked if he wants to keep playing cricket beyond the Under-19s, the nod is rapid.
According to Henry Elder, Fiji's strength and conditioning coach, the island Vuniwaqa comes from is a sporting anomaly in Fiji. He says the interest in cricket was infused here by former Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.
Elder says someone like Vuniwaqa doesn't get to see much footage of cricket except when there's a major cricket series or tournament in Australia, England or New Zealand, which is sometimes broadcast in Fiji. When the side travelled to New Zealand last year to play in the 2015 East Asia Pacific Under-19 Trophy, many players were getting on an airplane for the first time.
Samuel Saunokonoko though was not one of them. He plays grade cricket in Auckland and is among five players in the side who are not from Fiji but have a Fijian connection through a parent. He took to the game by watching his father and elder brothers play.
Vuniwaqa and Saunokonoko are being overseen by Jurgensen, who is in charge of the entire cricketing spectrum in Fiji. The Under-19s seem to be his passion project, as he takes on a fatherly role apart from teaching them the nitty-gritty of playing on Bangladesh pitches. But he says, the main focus is to keep the fun element in all his training as Fijians like to do things with a smile. Against England on Wednesday, Fiji's Under-19 side will enter uncharted territory, though for someone like Vuniwaqa, that's the everyday reality of dealing with the Koro Sea.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84