Former Fijian player, coach and Development Officer, Seci Sekinini, talks about his life in terms of cricket, and the main roadblocks for Fijian cricket. However, despite cricket being a minor sport at home, he believes there is still the potential for up-and-comers to make an impact on the international stage.
Matching the right athlete to the right sport is essential says former Fiji cricket player and coach, Seci Sekinini. But he’s not just talking about cricket. And in this modern-day landscape where children are offered up an array of after-school sports and activities, and enticed to try and be the best at all of them, it becoming more and more apparent that this is what elite sport in Fiji is crying out for.
Seci may have been around the sporting game for a while, but there is something to be said for experience. Representing Fiji he toured to India, New Zealand and England, and played world-class sides at home including Pakistan, India and the famed Marylebone Cricket Club. Seci also completed his coaching qualifications in Australia and New Zealand, and went on to coach the Fiji side when he finished playing, up until 2007.
With a resume and passport like Seci’s, to some it’s difficult to understand why so many Fijian children grow up wanting to be a ‘Jack of all trades’, when, by simply excelling at one sport, this could be their one-way ticket to the jet-setting lifestyle of an international athlete so many dream of. But on the other hand, with Fiji often portrayed as a one-sport, rugby-worshipping town by the mass media, it is with little wonder that many Fijian children grow up thinking that to make it as an athlete means to make it as a rugby player. But when he was growing up, Seci embraced many of the so-called ‘minor sports’ with pride, and it was this open-mindedness that propelled the boy from Moce into the international sporting area.
Being born in Moce, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the first sporting gear Seci came across was cricket bats, balls and pads lying around his family’s village home. But a move to Taveuni and then Viti Levu, meaning that Seci commenced his primary schooling in Suva, meant he didn’t come across cricket again until he stared secondary school at Lelean Memorial School.
Seci openly admits that despite dabbling in cricket during his high school years, once he left school and started working, he ‘fell in love with rugby’. But it was thanks to the seasonal sports system – where rugby was played in winter, followed by cricket and athletics in the summer – that he managed to pick up cricket again, thereby playing and excelling at more than one sport, but not at the one time so that his commitments to one sport did not overshadow the other.
And thank goodness for that. Because apart from his brief fling with rugby, Seci has spent his life living and breathing cricket.
At first, his favourite part of the ‘global game’ was being out in the field. An unusual answer, with most cricketers preferring to star front and centre with either the bat or ball, but as Seci puts it, “my love for the game…came from running around and chasing that ball.” However as no one is picked in a first XI due to their finesse in the field, Seci began to build his craft as a left-arm fast bowler.
It’s wasn’t until a club team from Hyderabad in India visited Fiji – a team laced with Indian national players at the time – that Seci took up spin bowling.
“I said to one of the players ‘I like they way you bowl, how much time do you spend on that’,” Seci explained, ‘and he said, “well I started bowling when I was 12, learning how to bowl spin bowling…my coach used to get be to bowl to a 50 cent, a 20 cent, a 10 cent and a 5 cent piece on the ground and hit it with the ball…and that’s (still) how I practice.’”
Despite the precision and arduousness of this training method, Seci thought he would like to give it a go. “I started bowling slower balls, practicing the grip…(and) I started taking wickets,” Seci said. “In those days we were playing on matting on grass, and it takes a lot of bite, so we were making fools of batsmen, taking a lot of wickets…and so I went on to play for Suva (representative side).”
Seci played for Samabula Cricket Club in Suva from 1968 until 1975, when he decided to go back to his roots and establish the Moce Cricket Club in Suva – a club for people from the cricket-mad Lau island of Moce who were living and working in Suva. He built them up until they were the dominant force in the Suva Cricket League, and then returned back to his original cricketing home of Samabula. Torn between his Lau and Viti Levu alliances, he went back and forth a bit between the two as the years went on, helping each club whenever they went through a re-build phase, until the political events of 1987 – with Samabula Cricket Club being the only multi-racial club in Suva at the time – caused many of it’s members to migrate, so the club disbanded. Not to be disheartened by this turn of events, instead Seci used this as an opportunity to start a new initiative for cricket in Fiji.
Perhaps even ahead of his time, Seci started the Suva Development Club. Stemming from his then role as a Development Officer at Cricket Fiji, Seci brought together the best budding young cricketers in Suva at the time, trained them and got them to play as a team in the Suva club competition. Similar to the initiative current Cricket Fiji High Performance Manager, Joe Rika, has reinstated, Seci’s original idea was like a primitive Junior High Performance Program, for kids who wanted to take their cricket more seriously than just a hit in the park once a week.
Seci still believes that this elite program approach is the surest way to keep athletes with exceptional abilities in their respective sports. But he cites several major, yet avoidable, roadblocks that are holding back many so-called ‘minor’ Fijian sports, like cricket.
“I think the commitment to the game is not the same as it was in our days,” Seci explains. “In our days we wanted to play because of the love of the game. I don’t see that so much now…”
For all sports, Seci says it’s the range of activities on offer for modern-day children that makes it difficult for them to commit, but for cricket in particular, the popularity of the shortened codes means that young cricketers don’t learn the patience that is so sought after in the game’s traditional form. Both international Twenty20 cricket and traditional village cricket, as is played in the outer islands of Fiji, encourage big hitting and no blocking – otherwise it is ‘boring’ for the onlookers.
“They want explosive – come in for a short time and bang, bang, bang, bang, bang,” said Seci of the upcoming breed of Fijian cricketers. “It was hard enough keeping them there all day, from 10 o’clock until 6 o’clock in the afternoon, when we were playing cricket…but now kids come in for 20 overs…(and) you can’t keep them. You’ve (got to) tell the batsman ‘stay there until the cows come home’.”
Seci continued on comparing the vast difference of the sporting landscape in Fiji now to how it was 40-odd years ago.
“Today the kids have got so many other sports (to choose from)…so they don’t know which sports to do,” Seci continued, saying that sporting federations shouldn’t just identify kids who would be good at their sport, but rather identify which sport would best suit the individual child. “That’s what’s happening now – mass production. We’ve got to get the right person…you might have the action that is correct for cricket, (but) there’s no point trying t to play if your heart is not in it. You’ve got to tell the kid, ‘yes, your action is good for this…but I think you will excel in this because your head is right for that’.
Additionally Seci pointed out that just because someone has an athletic build, it doesn’t mean that they will naturally have the talent to excel at any sport they choose.
“Just because somebody’s fast and they can run, doesn’t mean they’ll be a good winger for rugby…if he can’t catch the ball but he can run fast…well there’s no use running without the ball. So like in cricket, he might be a big boy who can hit, but there’s no use hitting the wind…you have to hit the ball. You have to have the right mind on the right body for the right purpose.”