Fijians are underdogs for WCL 5
On paper at least, Fiji will go into the World Cricket League Division 5 tournament starting in Nepal on Saturday as the outsiders for a top two finish.
The loss to Nepali regional side Kathmandu over the weekend was a strong indicator that the Fijians may have a tough week ahead of them.
No player has a career batting average over 30 although all 14 squad members are more than capable of chipping in with handy runs. Whichever Fiji player comes in to bat last will almost certainly be the best number 11 in the tournament.
Young captain Joe Rika has the best career batting record with 532 runs at 28.00 and a top score of 106. The only other century maker in the squad is Joji Bulabalavu, who scored 150 in 1996 against what was back then a raw and inexperienced Japanese outfit. Bulabalavu is a mighty hitter when set but perhaps not as consistent as he might wish.
Good scores will also need to come from Maciu Gauna, the exciting 19 year old wicketkeeper/batsman who has compiled 449 runs at 64.14 playing club cricket for Wests-Illawarra in Australia in 2009/2010.
Jikoi Kida is another player expected to contribute strongly with the bat. He represented East Asia-Pacific in the 2006 and 2007 Australian Country Cricket Championships but has missed a lot of cricket since due to army service and is a welcome addition.
Josaia Baba is an incredibly gifted athlete and highly promising batsman. So far he has only shown glimpses of his talent but he is a player that can turn a game with bat, ball and in the field.
Veteran strong man Iniasi Cakacaka has a phenomenal T20 record and you can be assured that if he bats for 10 or more overs, the runs will flow freely.
Realistically though, the batsmen will have to perform above their career averages if Fiji are to post competitive totals but there is a distinct possibility of that happening because most of the top order is young and improving.
The bowling looks strong. The Fijians should be able to go toe to toe with any other side in the competition in this department.
Sakaraia Lomani is quick and accurate and has recently come off a very good Australian Country Cricket Championships where he took six wickets at 24.33 for EAP.
Tukana Tavo is a promising 17 year old paceman tipped to have an outstanding career. Watch out also for his clean late order hitting.
Lee Waqa was in good form at domestic level this season and is also quite lively.
Jo Dabea, Greg Browne, Baba and Kida bowl handy medium pace.
And there is good variation in the attack. Highly thought of 18 year old leg spinner Viliame Yabaki is a player to keep an eye on. Peni Rika also bowls wrist spin while Cakacaka is a crafty and cunning off break bowler with years of experience.
Well aware of the foreign conditions the side will experience in Kathmandu, the Fijians have arrived for the tournament with plenty of time to adapt.
Kathmandu is roughly 4,500 feet above sea level and quite cold at this time of year - at least by Fijian standards. Suva, where most of the Fijian squad are based, is barely a foot above sea level and it is highly unlikely that a sweater has ever been called for on the playing fields of the Pacific Island.
All things considered, Fiji will have done exceptionally well if they can keep their place in Division 5. A top two finish will require career best performances.
Nevertheless, non-test nation fans can be certain that this team, which is 100 percent homegrown, will play an entertaining brand of cricket. Their charismatic and highly talented captain Joe Rika probably put it best in a recent interview with CricketEurope when he said "It is a young side but I'm telling people now that we aren't bringing over a development side because we are coming there to win and although we know it won't be easy if we put the hard work in, the results will show for themselves."
Fiji begin their WCL Division 5 campaign against the USA at the Engineering Ground this Saturday.
Josefa Rika 22 (c) LHB
EAP Representative 2010
Runs 532 HS 106 Ave 28.00
Joji Bulabalavu 37 RHB
Runs 543 HS 150 Ave 20.88
Josaia Baba 22 RHB/RAM
EAP Representative 2009/2010
Runs 141 HS 63 Ave 14.10
Wickets 5 BB 2-57 Ave 49.00
Jikoi Kida 29 RHB/RAM
EAP Representative 2006/2007
Runs 466 HS 61 Ave 18.64
Wickets 10 BB 2-26 Ave 15.70
Maciu Gauna 19 RHB/WK
Runs 73 HS 28 Ave 10.42
Jo Dabea (vc) 34 RAM/RHB
EAP Representative 2004
Runs 349 HS 48* Ave 18.36
Wickets 22 BB 3-22 Ave 18.40
Tavo Sorovakatini 34 RHB/WK
Runs 64 HS 32 Ave 10.67
Peni Rika 32 RHB/RALB
Runs 131 HS 60 Ave 18.71
Wickets 1 BB 1-14 Ave 23.00
Iniasi Cakacaka 41 (vc) RAOB/RHB
Runs 819 HS 55* Ave 16.05
Wickets 37 BB 3-25 Ave 21.83
Tukana Tavo 17 RAFM/LHB
Runs 17 HS 10 Ave 8.50
Wickets 2 BB 2-61 Ave 30.50
Lee Waqa 25 LAMF/LHB
Runs 55 HS 16 Ave 18.33
Wickets 1 BB 1-21 Ave 142.00
Viliame Yabaki 18 RALB/RHB
Runs 3 HS 2 Ave 1.00
Wickets 4 BB 2-12 Ave 24.00
Sakaraia Lomani 28 LAFM/LHB
EAP Representative 2009/2010
Runs 193 HS 41 Ave 14.84
Wickets 37 BB 4-32 Ave 20.16
Greg Browne 27 RAM
Runs 48 HS 18 Ave 4.80
Wickets 4 BB 2-11 Ave 38.50