it's not just cricket

Kirikiti is a game descended from the English sport of cricket. It is widely played throughout the Samoan islands and although there are no official teams, leagues or rules, Samoans are extraordinally competitive so that the inter-village matches are actually taken quite seriously.


Just as the leather and willow used to make cricket equipment are abundant in England, kirikiti equipment uses a lot of freely available natural materials.

The bat: A Samoan kirikiti bat is a very substantial object. It is carved as one piece from the wood of the kapok tree, and is at least 3'6" long (1.1m). In cross section, the bat is shaped like a quadrant, with the straight sides up to 6" (15cm) in length. It tapers to the handle, which is cylindrical and about 1" (2.5cm) in diameter. As if a massive chunk of wood wasn't imposing enough, the bats are invariably painted with garish, striking designs and bound with rough twine from the handle down to about the halfway point to provide a better grip.

The ball: As the kapok wood is quite soft, a traditional English cricket ball would cause too much damage to the face of the bat. Instead, a wound rubber ball is used, about the same size as a cricket or baseball but weighing slightly less than either of them. Rather than being tightly wound all the way to the core, the centre of the ball is made of cords of twisted rubber, round with thin layers of unvulcanized rubber is wound to give a good spherical shape and more durability.

The stumps: Kirikiti stumps are taller than their cousins in cricket, maybe about the same height as the bat. They are made of thin, straight(ish) branches with the bark stripped off. There are no bails, and surprisingly, no miniature camera and microphone in the off-stump!

That's it! That's all you need.


If you are familiar with cricket, you will notice a lot of similarities, and also some surprising differences. Note that the accepted rules vary from island to island, village to village and person to person, so this is far from being a definitive account.

The pitch: This is basically a large field with a wicket in the middle - it is about the same size as a cricket pitch. Unlike a cricket pitch, which don't generally are quite well kept, a kirikiti pitch has normally got clumps of thick grass, trees, dogs, roads and the Pacific Ocean dotted throughout them. The wicket, however, is a quite well maintained concrete block a couple of yards/metres wide and a chain long (that's about 20m).

On this pitch, there are two teams. One of the teams is the bowling side (and every one of their players is on the field) and one is the batting side (there are only two batters at any point). The bowling side spreads out on the pitch, except for two bowlers - one at each end of the wicket. The batters stand at opposite ends of the wicket too, in front of the stumps (which are just beyond the end of the wicket).

The way the game works is that one of the bowlers bowls the ball down the wicket. The batter tries to hit the ball as far as possible, for which the batting team is awarded points. This continues until everyone on the batting team has batted, and got out:

Ways to get out:

  1. the batter steps off the wicket
  2. the batter misses the ball and it hits the stumps (getting "bowled")
  3. the batter hits the ball and it is caught by a fielder, either on the full or after it has bounced off a house roof
  4. the ball hits the stumps when the batter is not right at the end of the wicket
  5. the batter hits the ball twice
  6. the batter handles the ball

Scoring: There are three ways for the batter to score:

  1. Hit the ball out of the field without bouncing. This is worth 2 points.
  2. Hit the ball out of the field along the floor. This is worth 1 point.
  3. Run from one of the wicket to the other. This is worth 1 point.
Once the batting team is all out, the other team bats, and tries to score more points than the first team. If they do so, they win.

Differences compared to cricket

There are a few rules that haven't carried over into kirikiti from cricket. For example, there is no LBW rule, which opens up the possibility of just standing in front of the wicket and never getting bowled out. This brings me nicely onto my next point: although cricket is seen as the gentleman's sport and sportsmanship is highly valued, in kirikiti nobody ever tries to abuse the rules. Fair play isn't something to aim at, it's just inherently part of both teams' behaviour, and that's why umpires are not really necessary. However, in general, someone who can play cricket will pick up kirikiti in no time, and should be able to transfer some of her skills.


Batting: Because the bat is so big, it's impossible to "play with a straight bat" as is so desirable in cricket, and there are no defensive shots. Instead every shot is an attempted 2-pointer. Most people get bowled out as the uneven ball kicks off the wicket or the bat proves too lumbersome. However, the 1st way to get out (stepping off the wicket) happens quite often, as the inertia of the bat can quite easily spin someone off balance, and off the concrete.
Basically, try and put the ball in orbit at every opportunity.

Bowling: The "straight arm while bowling" rule in cricket is not really enforced, you can get away with using your elbow a little while bowling. However, trying to do a baseball pitch might not go down so well. Unlike cricket, where a nice line and length is essential, an ideal ball in kirikiti heads right for the middle stump and is very full; the aim is to bounce the ball under the unwieldy and go on to hit the stumps. As for pace, the faster the better, and there are no spin bowlers. The soft ball means it doesn't really hurt if a batter is hit. That's no excuse for bowling beamers all the time, though.

Fielding: As the ball bounces so unevenly on the rough ground, the curved bat often puts spin on the ball and the springy rubber makes catching very hard, fielding is quite tough in kirikiti. Catching is done by putting one palm on the back of another hand, looking though the gap between the thumbs and watching the ball drop straight down towards you.

One last point - villages often have kirikiti matches lasting many days, with several innings, and these often get quite heated. There have reportedly been cases where "death by kirikiti bat" has occurred on the pitch after a disagreement about something. If in doubt, agree with the tall, muscled, angry Samoan waving half a tree in your face.

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