Associate Cricket recently caught up with Selena Solman, the Vanuatu national women’s team captain and Fairbreak Global ambassador to learn more about her story.
What is the structure like domestically for women’s cricket in Vanuatu?
We have 8 teams in total. We are planning to have one more, which is going to happen soon. I believe we can have more but it all comes down to grounds since we only have 3-4 cricket grounds here which we have to share with the boys. We don’t have different age group (teams), so as long as you are 14-15 and above, you can play. However young school children need approval from their parents to play hard ball cricket and they need to wear a helmet.
The men’s former captain and current player, Andrew Mansale, is the full-time coach for our women’s team, which is very exciting. We all have a good relationship with him and he brings a lot of experience from playing in the men’s national team.
Strength and Conditioning
We had Brett Wright for the past 13 years but sadly he left to go back to Australia early this year. We are grateful to have had him for the past 13 years and are still doing our own strength and conditioning sessions from his programs. We are now looking for a new person to take on this role.
While the men’s team have a physio, the women don’t. However, a physio at a local hospital gives us check-ups.
Some of us work full-time for Vanuatu Cricket, so part of our job is to train and play. However, most of the girls in our team have school and work commitments outside of cricket and don’t get paid to play. When we travel (for tournaments), Vanuatu Cricket gives us allowances
When was the Vanuatu women’s cricket team first set up and what is the plan for development?
The women’s team was first set up in 2012. In terms of development, though we have a lot of school (cricket) programs going on, we want to expand women’s club cricket, which is currently only in the capital, Port Villa. Since the islands don’t know much about cricket, last year our women’s national team raised funds to travel to Santo (an island in Vanuatu) as a group, to develop women’s club cricket there. We decided that we as a team would progress women’s cricket in the different islands. We plan to keep doing this every year for different islands along with Santo, as we want girls from all around the country to take up cricket and try out for the national team. We believe this would increase the strength of our team.
What is the next big tournament for the Vanuatu women and how are you feeling about it?
Our next tournament should be the East Asia Pacific world cup qualifier in September. While the girls are getting ready, we do have other responsibilities, such as many girls needing to catch up with schooling that was missed during the pandemic. Other than that, the girls are really excited to train as we came really close in the last games that we played against PNG (Papua New Guinea) and Samoa. So the girls want to train really hard to beat them and if not, at least give the best that we ever can.
What kind of preparation are the Vanuatu women currently doing? How are you all managing trainings around the Covid-19 pandemic?
Since we have many girls that have different work or school commitments, our coach separates us into groups depending on different people’s timings. We can pick and choose which trainings we attend based on our availabilities throughout the week. While we are grateful that there weren’t many covid cases here, it did put a stop to our cricket for a few months. So now everyone is just really excited to get out of the house and play.
Because of the pandemic, we didn’t have many games until the end of last year. Last November, we had a T10 tournament which got a lot of people’s attention, which was surprising as many people don’t know about cricket here. These were high performance games, such that only members of the national squad and pre-squad were invited to play. There’s another T10 going on at the moment. After this, our club competition is going to start, which everyone is looking forward to play.
What is your cricketing background?
I started playing cricket at the end of 2013 because of my cousin. It was just a dare between him and me. He used to play cricket and when he came home, he always made me and my best friend bowl to him, even in the rain and mud. He told us that we should try out for cricket. Back then, I was into netball, which had mixed teams. I told him that we needed boys to come play in our mixed netball team. So he made a deal with me that if I came to play cricket, he would come and play netball. When he actually came to my netball tournament I thought oh no, I have to actually go play cricket since I made this promise. So I ended up going to cricket.
When I came back home from my first time playing cricket I thought the game was really hard and boring and I wasn’t planning on going back. But my cousin said I should give it another try. I went back a second time and then filled in for a boys game since they were short on players. I just kept missing the ball while fielding! I was then told to join the girls training and made my best friend come along with me. She now also plays for the women’s national team. Ever since then, I couldn’t leave cricket and got this love for the game as I played more. Nearly 10 years later, I’m still here!
How did you come to be the Vanuatu women’s captain?
In 2014 I made the national team. Alvina Chilia was the captain of the women’s team then. When we went to PNG for the South Pacific games in 2014, I was vice captain. However, our captain (Chilia) got injured during the warm ups, so I became the captain and have been ever since. Alvina Chilia is back playing now, and I’m so grateful for that.
Why do you enjoy playing cricket? What do you love most about playing in a team?
Cricket is one of those sports that I look forward to play because I get to learn new things every day. People think that just because you are in cricket for a long time you should know everything about it. But I don’t. Every day I learn new things in trainings and in the game. That’s why I love cricket and have so much passion for this game.
I love playing in a team because I get to hang out with a lot of people that I love. Our girls are crazy. I get to play with them on the field and off the field, we are basically family. I think it’s amazing playing amongst strong women like my teammates. I get to be around people from different backgrounds, but at the end of the day, you all come together to play this game that we love so much.
What are the challenges for Vanuatu women’s cricket?
I think one of the obvious ones are grounds. We only have 4 grounds that we have to share with the boys, so whenever any men or U19 competitions are going on, we have to stop. I believe that if we want to get better we need more games. We also need more exposure, such as playing more international friendly matches to get the girls on their feet. The weather is also one of the biggest issues. Sometimes we don’t get to train for 2-3 weeks because of the rain. We don’t have indoor facilities where we can train and just have to sit back and wait for the rain to stop.
One of the biggest challenges facing us is girls having difficulty in commitment due to starting families and having full-time jobs. Some need to work on Saturdays, which is when our games are, but we can’t do anything about it because that’s how they get their livelihood. We can’t just force them to leave their jobs and come play cricket.
As girls growing up in the islands, we are expected to stay home, do chores and at a certain age, get married and have kids. For this reason a lot of girls don’t get support from their families. They are told that they need to stay home and get married and get asked why they are still playing cricket, when it’s a ‘boys’ game. We are still trying to work around this to get girls involved.
How do you motivate yourself and your team to overcome these challenges and achieve your goals?
Whenever I play cricket, I feel it’s my blissful place. I always think about how fun travelling and working really hard is for me and my team. We really wanted to win past tournaments and were disappointed when we didn’t. That’s one of the things really keeping me motivated whenever I feel like I’m wasting my time. When I think about this (winning tournaments), I feel that this is what we’ve always wanted.
Most of us who play cricket right now have a lot of passion for the game and we are very motivated. I believe that we have a very good team and just need to train a lot. Every time someone is feeling down, we tell them to remember the time we really wanted to win a competition and we couldn’t and this motivates the girls to pick themselves up and start training hard again.
What does it mean for you to represent your country?
I think a lot of things, honour, pride. I feel like I’m not only representing cricket but am also representing every woman who doesn’t have a voice. It’s an honour for me, representing Vanuatu. I wouldn’t change it for anything else.
What else do you do besides playing cricket?
My full time job is working for Vanuatu Cricket Association as a Social Impact and Inclusion Ambassador under the department of gender-based violence. This program is funded by the Australian government. We often go to schools to raise awareness about gender equality.
If I don’t play cricket or work, I love hanging out with my sisters kids or hanging out with friends at the beach, going swimming and fishing. We live on the islands after all.
We understand that you are one of the players and ambassadors of Fairbreak Global. How and when did you get involved with Fairbreak? What kind of opportunities did this give you?
I was involved with Fairbreak back in 2014 or 2015. Shaun Martyn (the founder of Fairbreak) was doing some work here and was watching cricket. That’s how he found out about me and I then got to train with Fairbreak in New Zealand. My second Fairbreak tournament was in England in 2018 and a third, recently in Australia last year. I would never have believed I would get these opportunities, such as going to England, playing with a lot of amazing cricketers and meeting girls from different countries that I would only dream about. I know that I made a lot of lifetime friends just from Fairbreak Global giving me this opportunity. I also get to represent something which I believe in so much, which is gender equality. One of the key things Fairbreak gave me, was the ability to come back and talk to my girls and tell them that they can be anything they want, that they are never not good enough, which was what I learned from being a Fairbreak ambassador.
How did playing for Fairbreak and playing A-grade cricket in Australia shape you as a person and player? What important experiences did you get out of this?
I played A grade cricket for Southern Districts Cricket Club in Adelaide, South Australia. Playing there was amazing as I got to build a relationship with the girls over there. I miss them a lot and wish I could go back. It was amazing getting to play against Megan Schutt, Tahlia McGrath and Amanda Wellington. I got so nervous knowing that they played for Australia, but at the end of the day it is pretty cool getting to tell people that I played against these players. Every time I got them out I would get really happy. Our team are the underdogs, but last year the girls did extremely well, they won the T20 grand finals.
By playing for Fairbreak and club cricket in Australia, I was exposed to a standard of cricket which I never thought that I would play. It was really different from what I was used to. I’m so grateful I got this opportunity because I got to come back and tell my girls about what a high standard should look like. I never thought that I would ever have the opportunity to play with people from countries such as India and Australia. Playing for these teams not only made me realise that I could match up to their standard but also made me a better person outside of cricket. I learned and grew a lot by getting to meet many beautiful and amazing people. My favourite moment was my first time meeting Alex (Blackwell) during Fairbreak. Growing up, when I had just started playing cricket, the only players that I knew about was Alex and Ellyse Perry. I honestly thought that they were the only two females playing cricket in the world!.
One of the key things I took away from these experiences was learning about different cultures and trying different foods, such as trying Pakistani food from Sana (Mir), which was amazing. These are some of the things which I treasure a lot. I never thought I would have the chance to experience all of this.
What is your favourite off-field moment so far?
Most of my funny experiences has to be with the (Vanuatu) girls. One of the funny things about us is that whenever the coach is not around we are very loud. We always dance crazily, but every-time the coach comes we run away like kids. Being home now, I get to go to the beach and do silly things with my teammates and laugh about it the next day. If I have to choose one moment, it would be 30th of July, Vanuatu independence day. That’s when you get to see all of the cricket girls wearing dresses, which we don’t get to do often as we always wear pants when playing cricket.
What is your advice for young aspiring female cricketers, especially those who come from associate nations who may feel uncertain about their future as a player?
I would just have to say don’t give up, because you never know who is watching. I feel that’s what happened to me. You never know, someone may come up to you and ask you to sign a contract. You should believe in yourself and know what you want and don’t give up on your dreams as a cricketer. We play cricket because we have passion for the sport. Keep doing you because good things are coming, you never know when, but they are coming.