'Proud' Vanuatu to joust with giants in historic Women's T20 World Cup Qualifier campaign

Fresh after facing Full Members Sri Lanka in warm-up action, Vanuatu's women embark on the biggest challenge in the country's cricketing history at the T20 World Cup Qualifier in Abu Dhabi.

By Daniel Beswick

Having already gone where no Vanuatu team had ventured before, Selina Solman's side go face-to-face with another Full Member in Zimbabwe on matchday one Group B action, buoyed by encouraging moments in their preparation.

The side was on the receiving end of defeats to Uganda and Sri Lanka, though moments across both matches point to a strong debut showing for Vanuatu, who are also set to face The Netherlands, Ireland and UAE after their meeting with the Zimbabwe.

Picking up where she left off at the East Asia-Pacific qualifier, all-rounder Rachel Andrew has impressed across both matches with captain Solman chipping in with wickets and runs to begin the tour.

Vanuatu with Sri Lanka

The Ni-Vanuatu squad with Sri Lanka after their warm-up meeting at Tolerance Oval.

After passing Vanuatu's target on Tuesday, 23 April, Sri Lanka opted to bat on, only to lose 6/36 in a period of nine overs.

The experience against the seventh-ranked T20I side is golddust according to the skipper, as the team from the Pacific aim to cause a shock or two in the Qualifier run.

"I felt proud and excited that we had the opportunity to play against a squad we've all looked up to for a long time.

"They're a top-tier squad, and it was a moment we'll always remember. I was happy with how well we played, especially on the field.

"Playing against such a strong team taught us a lot, and we're going to use those lessons to do even better in future games.'

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Their landmark meeting with Zimbabwe will be the first competitive encounter between Vanuatu and a Full Member nation across men's and women's teams, pressing on to become the first team from their country to qualify for a global event in the sport. No senior Vanuatu team in any sport has qualified for a World Cup, with their Men's Under-20 football team to this point the only side to taste a World Cup back in 2017.

Solman's side is the highest-ranked Vanuatu national team (30th) in any sport, with recent Commonwealth Games medals in Beach Volleyball and F46 classification Javelin the only other comparable sporting success of note. Recent international results in cricketing circles should also encourage Vanuatu, with East Asia-Pacific rivals Papua New Guinea (11th ranked), who fell to Solman's side in qualifying, going on to beat Zimbabwe in a T20I in Harare in March, albeit via a Super Over.

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There are sure to be plenty watching on in the middle of the night from Vanuatu, with 150 senior women's club cricketers watching their compatriots fly their nations flag, and over 300 junior girls taking part in club cricket across the country. As Solman (alongside men's international Nalin Nipiko) are plastered on advertising billboards that stand over the national ground in the capital, thousands take part in modified programs, even before adding the 24,000+ children playing some form of cricket across schools, a staggering figure considering the country comprises of just 300,000 people across over 80 islands.

The side has succeeded too in spite of logistical difficulties. Crab holes and climatic struggles make turf wickets almost impossible to upkeep, leading to the innovation of a hybrid wicket put down on their premiere ground. Equipment is difficult to bring into the country given its remote location in the Pacific Ocean, though the Vanuatu Cricket Association (VCA) has found solutions, locking in a sponsorship deal with Melbourne-based Ferox as well as receiving donated bats from long-time supporter Peter Duffy.

The VCA also launched a public fundraiser to help mitigate costs outside of ICC-paid expenses for the upcoming qualifier, and have formed a strategic partnership with Australian agricultural compliance specialists IComply, with men's and women's players continuing their cricketing programs with turf facilities while on seasonal work in Queensland.

Vanuatu CEO Tim Cutler believes that in spite of the challenges, the side is ready to surprise their heavily-favoured rivals.

“We had eight players coming directly from seasonal work albeit with some training and playing and another seven coming from Port Vila and to come together, half of them with a nine hour stop in Brisbane airport, 14-hour flight to Dubai, a three hour bus ride to Abu Dhabi and then to have a practice match the next day. It's understandable for everyone to be a little bit scratchy (in the first warm-up game).

“I think overall a more complete performance in the field for that second half (against Sri Lanka) is pleasing. The mood now in the team is good, now they've seen themselves take wickets against the best team here ranking-wise (Sri Lanka).

“I really am confident that they will be able to put their best out there in Zimbabwe in game one.

The Women's T20 World Cup Qualifier begins on Thursday, 25 April, with all matches live and free on (in select regions).

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