Kamisese Mara led Fiji to their historic victory over the West Indians. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.
Kamisese Mara led Fiji to their historic victory over the West Indians. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.

On January 12, 1956, a formidable West Indian team led by Denis Atkinson slumped to a 28-run defeat against Fiji. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at one of the most astounding David-slays-Goliath occasions in the history of cricket.

It was in the era when New Zealand tours typically used to be as the second leg of the more glamorous tour of Australia. The 1955-56 West Indies tour of New Zealand was, however, a single four-Test tour. The West Indians broke their journey in the beautiful island of Fiji to take on the locals for a match.

It was a formidable squad: led by Denis Atkinson it had the likes of Everton Weekes, John Goddard, Garry Sobers, Collie Smith, Clairmonte Depeiaza, Sonny Ramadhin, and Alf Valentine among others. A one-day one-innings match against Fiji was supposed to be a pushover. Atkinson decided to rest Weekes and Goddard, but the other stars played.

The pitch did not look too promising for batting. Kamisese Mara won the toss and, sensibly, decided to bat in the picturesque Albert Park of Suva.

The Fijian innings

The Apted brothers, Harry and William, walked out to open the innings for the hosts. Wilfred Edun, the Guyanese medium-pacer, shared the new ball with Atkinson. The latter struck early, removing William Apted and H Swann fell prey to a famous combination: caught Ramadhin bowled Valentine.

It was then that Ilikena Lasarusa Talebulamainavaleniveivakabulaimainakulalakebalau (the man with the longest surname in First-Class history, and cousin of Mara), abbreviated to IL Bula for the benefits of cricket scorers around the world, walked out to join Harry Apted. Bula, generally referred to as the Fijian Bradman, was an exuberant strokeplayer: only last season he had scored a hundred in less than an hour; it had included eight sixes.

Harry Apted, on the other hand, had a fracture in his right hand at an early age that could not be mended. As a result his upper arm and forearm remained almost perpendicular to the usual direction; he could not stretch his right hand at all. However, he had trained so hard that he could bat left-handed and bowl right-hand off-breaks, and was so acrobatic that if a ball went to his left he could stop it with his right hand.

The two settled down: Atkinson moved his bowlers around, persisting with Valentine for a while and then bringing on Sobers.. But the two batted with grim determination on a difficult surface, keeping the bowlers out. Apted eventually scored 33 before Smith claimed him; Bula was bowled by Atkinson for 27; the partnership proved to be match-winning.

The rest of the innings passed as expected: Smith picked up 4 for 26, Atkinson 3 for 14 and Fiji were all out for 91. Of the tail only the tiny wicket-keeper Patrick Raddock (12) was the only one to have got into double figures. What was 92 in front of the mighty West Indians? Surely the locals did not expect to win?

The West Indian innings

West Indies opened with Hammond Furlonge and the Jamaican Alfred Binns. The pair was well on track with the batsmen scoring 16 apiece against the left-handed Asaeli Driu and the right-handed Jack Gosling. It was then that both bowlers struck, and both openers were removed. It was then that Gosling triggered the collapse.

Sobers scored 6. Smith 1, and Depeiaza 4. The tourists were suddenly 50 for 5 with the dark cloud of defeat looming overhead. Driu ran through Goddard’s defence, and with Atkinson also failing, the West Indians sunk deeper. Frank King joined Edun, and the pair tried to resurrect.

It did not work as Gosling trapped King leg-before, and Driu removed the spin twins for ducks to mop up the tail. The West Indians slumped to a paltry 63, losing the match by 28 runs! Driu finished with 4 for 26 while Gosling had 6 for 25.

The locals were elated; Albert Park crowd celebrated and Atkinson’s team sunk into despair. They left Fiji with a heavy mood. The heroes of the victory — Harry Apted, Bula, Gosling, and Driu — were hailed; and the saga has been retold over generations now.

What followed?

- West Indies drew the Test series in New Zealand 2-2.

- Bula was the first cricketer to be inducted into Fiji’s Hall of Fame in 2005; Harry Apted was the second in 2008.

- Fiji was elected to ICC in 1965, and is now an Associate Member. Well past their glory days, they now languish in ICC World Cricket League Division Seven. They came third after Vanuatu and Nigeria in the 2013 version.

- Mara moved on to bigger things. He became Chief Minister of Fiji in 1967. When Fiji gained Independence from England in 1970, he became their first Prime Minister. He served till 1992. He also became served as President from 1993 to 2000.

Brief scores:

Fiji 91 (Harry Apted 33, IL Bula 27; Collie Smith 4 for 26, Denis Atkinson 3 for 14) beat West Indians 63 (Jack Gosling 6 for 25, Asaeli Driu 4 for 26) by 28 runs.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)