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Tuesday 19 September 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in Cricket, Sports

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CICA women register first T20I win
Cook Islands 2023 Women’s Team. 23091407

The Cook Islands women’s cricket team recently returned from the 2023 ICC Women’s T20 World Cup East Asia Pacific Qualifier played in Vanuatu. Rahul Patil writes the story of a team that learnt a lot and will be richer for the experience.

Statistics never tell the true story. On paper we played six matches and won only one but the fact that we managed to put together a team and compete at the highest level should be something that all Cook Islanders should be very proud of.

Same as the Cook Islands Cricket Association [CICA] did with the men’s tour last year, this women’s team was a combination of seven players based in the Cook Islands and seven   living in New Zealand.

Upon landing the team went directly to a fundraising social organised by Kimi John. 

He brought his band along with Inangaro and his dance group. 

The Kuki team members performed their dances, and all had a lovely evening, and the team garnered some much-needed donations.

It was a fantastic start to the tour.

From there the whole squad began to practice and play together for the first time in Auckland.

What was good to see was how easily the team members bonded together.

Divided by age and distance but bound together by Cook Islands heritage and a common goal.

The team had a lovely blessing ceremony at their hotel in Auckland and the love and affection shown by friends and family made everyone feel warm and welcome.

The two practice games against a strong Auckland Cricket’s Māori Women’s team provided much needed game time for all the players. In the first match we fell short in our run chase by 11 runs before the second match was abandoned halfway due to rain.

Coach Tomakanute Ritawa and I were in Fiji earlier this year where we saw the likes of PNG, Vanuatu, Fiji & Samoa display their skills.

Based on our experience we knew that if our women played to their potential, we were in with a chance to win against Fiji and Samoa.

PNG and Vanuatu were significantly stronger whereas Japan and Indonesia were unknowns.

The team landed into Port Vila on a rainy day and checked into their base for the event, The Vanuatu Holiday Inn. The rain continued for the next two days and prevented any training sessions, so we had to start the tournament with a sluggishness from inaction.

Our first game was against Japan, and we had 11 debutants playing the new form of international T20 cricket that was first introduced in 2019.

We managed to restrict Japan to 125 in 20 overs. At one stage it looked as though we would keep them under the 100-run mark but our lack of experience at the international level showed and we let Japan off the hook.

The batting was disappointing, and we fell 30 runs short of the target. There was a feeling of frustration as we knew we had let this one slip through our fingers. Sonnia Vaia impressed with both ball and bat, but her efforts were in vain.

In our second match we faced the challenge of the mighty PNG team, currently ranked 12th in the world in T20I. 

They were hurting from their shock loss to Vanuatu on the opening day. PNG had a point to prove and their power packed batting, accurate bowling and athletic fielding resulted in a massive 100 run loss for us.

It was a reality check for the team, and we understood that if we wanted to compete consistently with the stronger teams then we had to work very hard. For the Cook Islands, Zamera Maeva had incredible returns with the ball, whereas Phillica Maruariki played a lone hand with the bat.

Next up were eventual tournament champions, Vanuatu. Once again, the gap between the two sides was clearly visible and we were handed our third defeat in a row. Vanuatu first bowled us out cheaply for 55 and then chased the target down to comfortably win by 8 wickets and 58 deliveries to spare. Daena Kataina and Sonnia Vaia were the only ones to offer some resistance with the bat and Sonnia Vaia once again was impressive with the ball.

We took heart from the great effort shown in our fielding and in making the potent battling of Vanuatu go pas the 10th over to secure the win.  It was clear this team had heart and passion in abundance and would not quit.

Indonesia had a torrid time getting to Vanuatu via Australia. Several flight cancellations meant that they arrived much later than scheduled but they didn’t let the delays affect their performance. Batting first against us in our fourth match they put on a respectable 144 in their 20 overs. Another below par batting effort by our women meant that once again we were on the losing side. This time by 66 runs. Marii Kaukura was the most impressive of our bowlers and Punanga Kaveao was our only batter to get double figures. 

Again, we did not give up or in, and batted through our 20 overs against an Indonesian bowling attack that gave a fine effort.  One of the loudest cheers of the tournament occurred when Sofia Samuels struck a solid boundary for her first international runs at the tender age of 14.  The whole team erupted in joy for Sofia, and for her father Henry, who had travelled to Vanuatu to support her and the team.