Nigerian cricket rides on new wave of optimism
There is a new wave of optimism blowing around the members of the Nigerian cricket family. The country is not among the top nations in the world game. Those are the ones currently preparing for the 2019 World Cup, which England and Wales will host from May 30 to July 14.In fact, Nigeria has never qualified for the most prestigious event in world cricket, which always features such African countries as South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya. But the country’s cricket enthusiasts believe it is just a matter of time before Africa’s most populous nation takes it place among the world’s elite of the game.
Cricket is recorded as the first organized sport played in the country by Nigerians way before football and other games came to steal the peoples’ hearts. Although it is not the most popular sport in Nigeria, cricket has been trying in the last couple of years to get back to reckoning in the continent. Nigerian cricket seven years ago was on the upward trajectory, rising as far as the World Cricket League Division Five.
The thinking then was that if the Nigeria Cricket Federation (NCF) continued with its development programme, anchored on spreading the sport to all parts of the country through schools, the country would join the elite of the game in no time. But such dreams were discarded by a sudden shift in focus and strange political considerations that saw the country pulling out of major international competitions.
However, the horizon now looks bright. In fact, followers of the game believe that country has rediscovered the route to accelerated development of the game. They cite the NCF’s recent activities involving the future stars of the game. The NCF began the year by gathering more than 250 children in Nigeria’s most hallowed Cricket ground, the Tafawa Balewa Cricket Oval in Lagos, and distributed sets of modified cricket equipment to be taken back to their schools to practice their new-found sport.
The event marked the second phase of NCF/PWC Naija Kids Cricket, a project that the NCF board, led by a surgeon at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Professor Yahaya Adam Ukwenya, has put together to rejuvenate grassroot cricket development across the country. On hand to distribute the plastic wicket, balls and bats was the NCF Vice President, Uyi Akpata, who disclosed that more than 16 states had been served with equipment already during the first phase of the exercise.
“Lagos falls within the league of topmost ranked cricket playing states. We actually started from the least playing states in the various zones, some of which were cricket-playing states back in the days and others being the first time the game was introduced. Our aim is to cover the entire 36 states in the country including the FCT starting with those with the least awareness of the sport,” Akpata said.Participants in the Lagos exercise were drawn from public and private schools, which now run cricket activities as part of their routine physical education schedules.
Speaking on the new NCF initiative, former Nigerian captain, Endurance Ofem said: “There has never been this level of commitment in the past and we are working hard to ensure as many kids as possible understand the game of Cricket. “Our focus is to increase junior involvement along ICC (International Cricket Council) development goals and next is to focus on elite and competitive cricket development which allows us narrow down to age-groups initiative, preparing them for future National teams.
“We have players from Ansarudeen Grammar School, Randle College, Ansarudeen College Isolo, Adebola Baptist School, Onitolo Community High School, Obelle Community High School, Kings College and Ansarudeen Girls High School, among others, and you can see how excited they are on a Saturday to come pick up these equipment that is part of our grassroots cricket sensitization effort of the Federation.”Another former national team star,
Kofi Sagoe, who is the current Chairman of the Lagos State Cricket Association, is involved in the project. Sagoe was joined by the chairman of the most vibrant cricket league in the country, the Club Cricket Committee, Lagos (CCC League), Charles Omoera, at the presentation.
Sagoe described the NCF project as a big spark to the development initiative that his office as the Lagos Cricket Chairman is planning to undertake. He added: “The federation’s plans to equip schools around the country has been a major boost that states like Lagos would leverage on as dragnet to recruit next generation of players to the sport.”
The Lagos programme was just one of the events the NCF saw as the push Nigerian cricket needed to unleash its dragon on the game. Another programme saw National Women’s team engaged in a bilateral encounter with Rwanda in Abuja. The series was set up by the NCF as an early preparation for the ICC Women’s World Cup qualifier in which Nigeria will make its debut appearance at some point in May 2019. The series was also expected to raise the awareness of women cricket in Nigeria and beyond and to foster diplomatic relations among member countries.
At the end of the five-match series, Nigeria recorded a narrow 3-2 victory, but Professor Ukwenya, who oversaw the event, said the event had lived up to its objective which included exposing the players to internationally graded encounter after almost a month camping that ran for most part of January.
“Without mincing words, we are very focused in positioning Nigeria as a top-rated Cricket playing nation and our four-year objective, we hope would lead us there especially in regards to women cricket,” the NCF president said.“The match with Rwanda was to test the impact of the camping and how strong and ready our team is. We are happy we won but all of us here have seen that we have a lot of work to do in key departments. With that, our technical team has taken notes and will swing into action in getting the team better ahead of the event scheduled for Zimbabwe in May,” he added.
The new NCF leadership, which came on board 18 months ago, says it has developed a clear agenda that has attracted International Cricket Council (ICC) to its potential of taking African cricket by storm soon.NCF’s strategic development document is anchored on a mission: “To position Cricket as a prominent National sport and be recognized as one of Africa’s top countries by attaining ICC Full membership status.”
It is tied to five key strategic imperatives, viz: Promoting the game, facility development, establishing strategic partners, players improvement and maintaining appropriate corporate governance and finance structure.ICC Regional Development Manager-Africa, Patricia Kambarami, who recently visited the country, says she has been impressed with the passion and professionalism that the NCF board has displayed in their short stint at managing the sport in Nigeria and believes more can be achieved if the members kept their focus on laid down objectives, which she said could make them become the toast of Africa in the near future.
As part of efforts by the ICC to provide a working and sustainable structure for Nigeria Cricket, a Commercial Strategy and Development Seminar was organized from February 4 to 6 in Lagos. The Seminar was delivered by the renowned CSM Sports consultants for Middle-East and Africa, where stakeholders, government officials from the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, sponsors and potential sponsors of the Federation and the Media were engaged on ways to work as a unit to achieve the common goal of the Cricket Federation.
Speaking on the seminar, Kambarami said, “the International Cricket Council has been impressed with the present board and especially their well laid out plan to develop Cricket in Nigeria and we are particularly impressed at the milestone they have set and how they are ticking the right boxes thus far.“Although a lot of grounds still need to be covered, I must say that Nigeria is a bright and developing cricket nation that the whole world is looking forward to.”
Key in the federation’s plant for accelerated growth is scaling up its development targets of reaching 5, 000 kids annually to doubling that figure in its 2019 goal, and going by the passion of the team behind it, sports enthusiasts would soon be paying attention to Cricket in Nigeria. According to Akpata, “We met with all stakeholders, including government representatives, media, partners and sponsors after we reviewed our goals and strategic objectives to explain it to them and see how we can foster better relationship with all parties involved.”To confirm the trust reposed on the future of cricket in Nigeria, the ICC also listed Nigeria as one of the three African countries that would host the ICC World Cup Trophy for the 2019 Cricket World Cup sensitization Trophy Tour.