New cricket stars shine

Pictures Samantha Wantling.

By Tania Phillips

Vanuatu’s Stanthorpe-based Nasimana Navaika finished as the leading wicket-taker in the pool rounds of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup Global Qualifying Tournament in the United Emirates despite her side not making the finals of the tournament.

Scotland and Sri Lanka won the right to compete in this year’s ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in Bangladesh in September and October however the Vanuatu side won plenty of friends despite finishing with one win and three losses in their pool games according to Stanthorpe’s Rodney Prestia who runs IComply where eight of the Vanuatu Women’s team (several members of the men’s team) work.

While many of the other teams at the tournament include players contracted to teams in major professional competitions around the world, since late 2023 eight members of the Vanuatu team have been based in Stanthorpe, helping to fill labour shortages at a local nursery as part of the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme.

While in Stanthorpe the team members have had access to training facilities and the flexibility to take leave for international tournaments as part of a partnership between the Vanuatu Cricket Association, the Vanuatu Department of Labour and PALM scheme approved employer, ‘iComply’.

IComply Chief Executive Officer Rodney Prestia, who flew to UAE to surprise the team, said having the team in Stanthorpe and playing in local competition had proven a big success for both the players and the local competition.

And as most of the players returned to Stanthorpe this week to finish out their work contract for the year, he confirmed the arrangement was set to continue into the future.

“They missed the finals in the end – the nett run with the Netherlands really put us on the back foot and that last game against UAE, they had probably one of the best bowlers in the competition Samaira Dharnidharka, and they absolutely devasted our opening order,” he said.

“I’ve never seen anyone swing the ball like that. I was actually watching the game with four of the guys from the men’s team and they said they’d hate to be facing her.

“We were reeling at 4-15 and we couldn’t recover from that. The middle order put a mighty fight-back on but losing the potency of our leading batters so early it was too big a mountain to climb.

“We found the opening of the UAE – the first five overs pretty tough and losing pretty much our whole top order, we’ve got four really strong batters in the top order but we tend to fall away after those four. But to see some of the youngsters like 17-year-old Vanessa Veira who’s a spin bowler out there and face eight overs and be so brave against the best that was just a fantastic highlight.

“And of course IComply’s Nas Naviaka finished the tournament as the leading wicket-taker in all the pool games with 10 wickets.

“That was a fantastic achievement for her because she’s one of the less well-known players in our team. She came to me wanting to do seasonal work, she was a single mum and wanted to support her son. To see her shine was just fantastic, she came out and took another three wickets against the UAE and Nas not renown as one of our top two or three bowlers, our top two or three would probably be Rachel, Selena and young Vanessa but to see her come out and shine was really positive and it’s just given her so much confidence. It wouldn’t surprise me if we started to have a few franchise teams starting to ring about her services for the future.”

The side already have two players Selina Solman and Rachel Andrew competing in the Japanese Women’s league, flying straight from the UAE to Japan instead of returning to Stanthorpe with their work and team mates. The Japanese tournament is due to start at the weekend.

“They would be the first two women from Vanuatu to play franchise cricket,” he said.

“They did the whole season down in Stanthorpe and did very well playing in the domestic competition down there. So it wouldn’t surprise me if Nas joins those girls and starts fielding offers. Franchise cricket, especially for women, is growing probably faster than any other sport. Just get that international exposure and for the ICC to come out and say on their page that Nas was the leading wicket-taker in the group stages, that’s huge within itself. There were players in that tournament in the UAE who play in the WPL. The tournament was really good for them and the girls have taken a lot out of it. I had a good chat about it when they came back and they looked at a couple of their short comings. They probably could have done a bit more fitness in the leadup but they’ve taken a lot out of it.”

He said there is a real belief now that they belong at that level but they would be now working on being competitive at that level.

Prestia said the program put in place between Vanuatu Cricket Association, the Vanuatu Department of Labour, PALM scheme approved employer, ‘iComply’ and Stanthorpe cricket had proven a major success. He said one of the main players in making the program such a success had been local cricketer and school teacher Callum Blake.

“He has been instrumental in pulling this off and if it wasn’t for his love of Vanuatu Cricket it probably wouldn’t have happened,” he said.

“Every Friday night Callum spent three or four hours on the phone talking to all the players, trying to work out which ones were working, which weren’t. He then went back to the cricket clubs in Stanthorpe saying these players are available. He’s been the lynchpin between IComply and the cricket clubs but the club’s just welcomed them all so much. The girls are all so excited to finish their contract now, they have two months now and then they’ll go home for three months which brings them back in time for the Stanthorpe Cricket season.

“They’re all really excited to get back to Stanthorpe and play next year and continue the relationship with the cricket clubs.”