Following the announcement that the Ministry of Youth and Sports will fund the construction of a new cricket pitch on Ono-i-Lau, we spoke to Mesake Cama, coach of the Ono-i-Lau side, about what cricket means to him and his people.
A born and bred island cricketer, Mesake first tried his hand at cricket aged 12. He was home schooled, so in between lessons he would find whatever he could – usually a lemon as a ball and a coconut branch as a bat – to play the only sport that kids in the Lau islands grown up playing.
In 1974 Mesake left Ono-i-Lau and made the 400-kilometre journey by boat to attend secondary school at Ratu Sukuna Memorial School (RSMS) in Suva. Despite only being in form three, and with his family and familiar surroundings being so far away they were in fact closer to Tonga than the mainland of Viti Levu, Meskae was named captain of the RSMS senior cricket side.
“The first match was against the QVS team,” Mesake recalled, referring to the prestigious Queen Victoria School, know for their sporting excellence. “That’s when I realized…I really loved cricket.”
From there Mesake continued to strive and hone his skills, both as a right-handed batman and a pace bowler. The pinnacle of his career was when the all-rounder was selected in the Fiji side to contest the 1986 International Cricket Council (ICC) Mini World Cup in England, which was contested by nations including Bermuda, the Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, and eventual winners who ended up going through to the 1987 ICC World Cup, Zimbabwe.
After retiring from cricket as a player, Mesake returned to Ono-i-Lau to pass on his love of the game to his children. He succeeded in this with his 22-year-old son, Noa Acawei, being selected a member of the Fiji side that travelled to Botswana earlier this year.
However Mesake didn’t just keep his cricketing skills and passion within his own bloodlines – he now runs cricket clinics with the children of Ono-i-Lau’s two primary schools, and as well as still playing for his village team, Lovomi, he also coaches the Ono-i-Lau representative side.
“We have four villages and four cricket clubs (on the island),” Mesake explained. “The villages play against each other and from there we pick a team to represent Ono-i-Lau at the qualifiers and Easter Tournament.”
Mesake is confident that the young children he is teaching the game to at school have talent, and thinks that with the right facilities and support, some of them could go on to represent Fiji.
“Cricket is a good game for the kids to play because it’s not like rugby…with the difficulties and injuries…those things don’t happen (in cricket),” he explained. “That’s why I pick cricket…it’s a safe game and fun for the kids. Plus, it’s in my family.”
Mesake said that the funding for the new pitch by the Ministry of Youth and Sports is a big boost for the cricketers of Ono-i-Lau.
“That’s the only thing they need, the pitch,” he said. “Then we have to teach the kids the basics so that they can have the knowledge to be able to play cricket for Fiji.”
Mesake also added that he believes cricketers from the Lau islands in particular can help Fiji climb back up the ICC rankings.
“They have to pick lots of cricketers from the islands,” he reiterated, “not only Viti Levu. There are lots of good cricketers out there you know, especially on Ono, Moce and Lakeba.”
Construction materials for Ono-i-Lau’s new pitch left Suva this afternoon, with construction expected to begin next week.