Fuvahmulah is famous throughout the Maldives for growing things that just won’t take root anywhere else in the archipelago. Things like pineapples, and (once upon a time) even oranges. Oh, and cricketers…they grow them now too.
Cricket’s seeds were first brought to Male’ from Sri Lanka, where they germinated only among the gentry who played visiting British naval elevens. Just 130 years later, Fuvahmulah’s first crop of cricketers has just blossomed.
The sports produced in the Maldives’ – as with most things – seem to depend greatly on the man in the President’s Office. The first occupant, Mohamed Amin Didi, was a renowned fan of football, insisting on pitches being planted across the capital. Though he did take a lesser interest in cricket, starting the first girls team in the 1950s.
It was the country’s third president, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, whose childhood passion for cricket led to the further development of the national game in the 80s and 90s, though this was confined almost entirely to Male’s Galolhu and Ekuveni stadiums. Despite attempts to promote the sport’s growth in Addu at the turn of this century (one of the only places with islands big enough play properly) as of last year, there were still no spinners in Suvadive.
But they did have a couple of white elephants; one of whom could play…a bit. After the 2011 SAARC summit was held in Addu City, the atoll was left with a convention centre no one could agree what to do with (it’s now being converted into a hospital) and Fuvahmulah became the only island in the atolls with a cricket pitch, used for the SAARC T20 cup.
Five years later, with no coaching infrastructure in place, the only grassroots in Fuvahmulah cricket were those overwhelming the neglected pitch in Dhiguvaandu. But things began to change last year, after a particularly fortuitous set of circumstances brought a new coach into town, who has subsequently cleared the ground for the atoll’s first generation of cricketers to flourish.
What’s more, a new strain of Maldivian cricketer is being cultivated, with three girls teams now playing and training locally on the pitch. The country’s first ever women’s T20 tournament was scheduled for last March, but fell victim to the nationwide flu outbreak. President Amin’s efforts to introduce the women’s game faltered soon after his demise in 1953, and efforts to get girls playing in Addu in the early 2000s were woeful (to which one disillusioned ex-cricketer not too far from this blog can attest!!).
So, while the people’s game of football continues to dominate the Maldives, sprouting up on every open patch of dusty ground available, in Fuvahmulah they’re growing the gentleman’s game…and it’s the girls who are winning.