A child in Niue (representational image). Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
A child in Niue (representational image). Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Niue is not a nation you typically associate with cricket. For that matter, you don’t associate Niue with most things. In fact, there are chances that you are not aware of exactly where Niue is.

For the uninitiated, Niue is a breathtakingly beautiful island nation about 2,400 north-east of New Zealand. The population, surrounded by a magnificent barrier reef, is about three thousand. However, that has not prevented them from featuring consistently in the top forty in the Rugby League International Federations rankings.

That, however, is not surprising, for all their neighbours have traditionally been excellent rugby sides. At the time of writing this, the top ten countries include six from Oceania.

There has been cricket too, albeit not in its most conventional form. In fact, the Niuean language has its own words for cricket jargon: punipuni (to defend), uka (a draw), pamu (a full-toss), teka (to bowl), olo (wickets), mate olo (to get out bowled), faimoa (to score a duck), goi (to stump), tulipolo (to field), and so on.

A piece by Tony Munro in the 2006 Wisden describes a Niuean cricket match like this: “The fielder, high in a coconut tree, throws the ball to one of his 39 teammates at ground level, desperate to prevent his opponent completing the maximum sixth run.”

Nothing in that description sounds like the sport we know, and yet — somehow — everything does.

The ball is made of rubber. The bat, well, triangular — making one wonder whether the sport in question is really cricket or kilikiti, cricket’s nearest kin that has graduated to the level of having its own World Cup.

Forty-a-side teams are hardly surprising, for these matches are often inter-village, often culminating in gala feasts. Cricket is also a part of their annual October festival (Niue had attained self-Government — in association with New Zealand — on October 19, 1974).

If you think watching eighty men bat will make it sound strenuous for the spectators, think again: there are forty fielders, and none of them is hesitant to recover the ball from anywhere (and by that I mean anywhere). There is also a tip-and-run rule in place, probably on the lines of baseball, so matches get over soon.

But none of these is the most astounding aspect of cricket in Niue. Eyebrows are raised when something unusual happens, “a series of ducks [I wish Munro had used faimoa here] or getting out to an unlikely catch,” for example.

A time out is called by the team on the receiving end. Then the team holds a conference, for several people failing to score or a spectacular catch are nothing but ill omen brought upon by sins. The players are then subjected to interrogation on the lines of whether they have committed a sin — adultery with the wife of a teammate included.

Play is held up till one of the players actually confesses and pays a fine. Something tells me this is not something ICC would want to adopt anytime soon.