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Fiji cricket's Knight

Cricket Fiji
Tuesday, February 18, 2014

One would be correct in assuming that St Albans, Hertfordshire, England is indeed a long way from Suva, Fiji. And in 1972, when Peter Knight decided to move from his home city — about 20 miles north of London — and call the South Pacific nation of islands home, at least geographically, it was. However the cricketing landscape was something much more akin to what Peter was perhaps accustomed to in the English counties.

"It was pretty strong when I got here in 1972," Peter recalled, "and during the 70s and in to the 80s. I remember in Suva alone we had 16 clubs and we had five grounds (pitches) at Albert Park. On a Saturday you'd have 10 teams playing, which was quite a sight. And we had a few other grounds around the place to accommodate all the teams that were in the competition."

A lawyer by trade, Peter is modest when it comes to talking about his own talent as a cricketer.

"I was never much good," he said, "but I really enjoyed it. The highest I ever achieved was playing for Suva — I never played for the Fiji national team."

However his involvement in the sport in Fiji has been paramount.

In 1973, the year after his migration, Peter became involved in the administrative side of cricket, through the Suva Cricket Association. Then in 1976, he was elected to be the secretary of the national body, then known as the Fiji Cricket Association. When the association became Cricket Fiji in the 2010-2011 season, Peter gained a seat on the board, a position he has held ever since.

In his ongoing 38 years working with the national governing body of cricket in Fiji, Peter has seen the troughs and peaks that come with any professional sport. There was the first International Cricket Council (ICC) Trophy — commonly dubbed the 'World Cup' for ICC Associate Members — that Fiji competed in in 1979, there was the 1990 ICC Trophy staged in the Netherlands, where Fiji drew a tough pool but beat Bermuda and narrowly lost to both Kenya and Bangladesh — the latter of whom has since achieved ICC full member status, and then the introduction of the World Cricket League (WCL), where Fiji competed as high as Division 3 as recently as 2007.

However since then, Fiji's results on the international stage have been somewhat disappointing. Other countries have seemingly passed where Fiji was at, and it seems that few people back at home have really investigated as to "why".

"Albert Park's deteriorated," Peter said of the main ground's condition, "… and then when we put the concrete strips in (as opposed to removable mats which used to be used as pitches) that restricted the use of the whole of the park a bit.

"I think the other thing I've noticed is that there are not as many people playing cricket now as there used to be then," Peter added, "and the standard of cricket at the highest level has dropped."

However Peter insisted the blame couldn't solely be placed on extraneous variables.

"We didn't pay enough attention to the youth," he explained, "so we didn't have the younger players coming through to replace those players who got to old to play in the national side — and we're paying the penalty for that now.

"Realistically, the only way we were going to be able to get the young people to play was through the schools."

He went on to explain that this was much more difficult to establish in a country where cricket was a developing sport, unlike in his former home of England, where cricket was so popular that schoolteachers already knew the basics of the game, as well as the local club structure being stronger.

"We didn't have development officers in those days," Peter added, referring to the time before the ICC development programme was established and Fiji cricket lacked the funding to employ full-time staff.

Whilst in some instances, when it comes to the hurdles cricket in Fiji is facing, we can only rue on the mistakes of the past, Peter insisted that some things can still be tackled head-on.

"The lack of facilities," Peter exemplified. "We don't have enough grounds, so (even) if we do get more players, the problem is where are they going to play, that's another area we have to concentrate our efforts on."

On the bright side, Peter says, things are looking up with factors such as a significantly increased number of teams competing in the Suva Cricket League this year (14), the hiring of a development manager in the works, the offers of new ground lease agreements making themselves known, and most recently, the Fiji National Sports Commission announcing that they will fund the hiring of new national coaches for several minor sports, including cricket.

"It's encouraging," Peter said, "however, I'm still worried personally about cricket in schools. I think we need to pay more attention to that, I think we need to make sure we get good, regular competition in the schools, which hopefully will produce some players for the future.

"The competition amongst other sports is much stronger now than it used to be," Peter added.

"Traditionally, back in the 70s and 80s, cricket was the main game in the summer in Fiji, and in a number of schools it was always played in the first term but now of course rugby league has come in, and then all the other sports like basketball, volleyball, soccer and so on.

"We have to identify the best time of year for cricket to be played particularly in the schools and make sure we get good, competitive games up and running."

Since Fiji's disappointing relegation from the WCL after their tour to Botswana in April of last year, many have taken the optimistic view that this might indeed have been the best thing that could have happened to Fijian cricket.

Peter agreed saying that the past 12 months has seen some significant yet beneficial changes to the organisastion.

"I think the structure's right now," he said, referring to the appointment of new general manager Inoke Lesuma, as well as the roles of High Performance and development managers being filled.

"I mean it's been very disappointing (the steady decline of Fijian cricket in the past few years), but we're now in this transition and hopefully some younger, better players will emerge over the next couple of years, which will improve the standard of the national team."

So now we look to the all-important regional qualifiers — scheduled to be held at the end of 2014 — where Fiji will aim to put 20 months of being on the outer behind them, and regain their spot back in Division 6 of the WCL.

"I would certainly hope that we would come first or second in that tournament and I believe we've got a reasonable chance to do that, as long as the team is prepared properly."

At the same time, he reiterated the importance of not getting unnecessarily caught up in high performance programs to ensure that the development side of things is not forgotten.

"We need to ensure that we've also got an under-19 national side, and under-17 and under-15, because you've got to start the kids at (age) nine, starting them at 14, 15 is too late."

Despite Peter's non-wavering stance with regards to the importance of the development of cricket, particularly in schools, he said there is one fact that can't be disputed for Cricket Fiji in 2014 — getting back into the World Cricket League.

"It's very important," he said conclusively.

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