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‘PWC’s grassroots engagement opens new vista for cricket development’

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On the basis of years of introduction, cricket should be at par with football in terms of development and popularity because it was one of the earliest sports brought into Nigeria by the British colonialists.

Played by missionaries and the Queen’s representatives in the country, cricket quickly spread through government schools and local councils such that many of the early schools in the country practiced the sport.

However, unlike football, which has spread to all the schools and also found its way into the lives of many outside the school system, the country’s cricket has not been able to achieve such appeal.

Again, while countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Australia, among others colonised by Britain, are among the top players in the international scene, Nigeria is still ranked among the developing countries a long way off the top bracket.

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But the situation, according to stakeholders in the sport, will soon change following recent programmes introduced by the Nigeria Cricket Federation (NCF).

One of such stakeholders, George Wiltshire, a former cricketer and seasoned sports administrator, who was NCF’s first chief operating officer, believes federation’s resort to the grassroots for development of the game would soon give the country quality talents to build the game.

Explaining the place of the youth cricket in the quest to develop the sport, Wiltshire said equipping schools for the sport would give students the opportunity to learn the rudiments of the game at their early age. He added however that the students must be provided with experienced trainers to guide in all the stages of development.

Drawing from his experience in his school days, Wiltshire said, “the cricket playing schools in the country were well equipped, had games masters who encouraged us to play and uphold the tradition of the noble game. Coaching was top quality, we learnt from the best.

“Coaches were sent to schools to train the students. We had the school sports structure and the National Sports Festival, which had intermediate teams made up of secondary school students.”

Wiltshire, who attended the famous St. Gregory’s College in Lagos, said till date, the school has a solid cricket tradition, which makes it easier for new students to learn the game.

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“I was introduced to cricket in my Form One by the legendary Ewa Henshaw (Lagos State Cricket Coach) and late John Gbojor (National Coach). By age 15, I started playing for the school team.

“I participated at Lagos State Sports Festivals, National School Sports and National Sports Festival. It was a great honour to captain St. Gregory’s College to win gold in Lagos school competition and qualified for the National School Sports and won bronze. With the national exposure, it was a good experience meeting cricketer from other parts of the country, and we built a long-lasting friendship till date.”

As NCF’s Chief Operating Officer/GM, Wiltshire introduced operations manual, policies and a blue print for successive administrations to develop. The leadership of the NCF then also developed a template for preparation of national teams for international competitions, and also established Regional Development Officers (RDOs) for the growth of the sport.

He admits that the current NCF leadership has gone a step further by taking Nigeria’s cricket to the World Cup at the U19 level.

He added: “We have also moved from being a power house in West Africa to being amongst Africa’s top cricket nations. The development structure has been expanded to include development officers assigned to specific states and particularly, to develop Women Cricket. Administrative structure is also an area where there has been significant improvement with more departments created and staff base tripled.”

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Wiltshire is thrilled particularly by the current efforts at grassroots development. “The growth is indeed exponential with the aggressive school programmes embarked on by the NCF in collaboration with a corporate organisation like PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

“The Naija Kids Cricket sponsored by PwC, which looks to introduce 40,000 news kids into the sport yearly, is the biggest grassroots programme in the history of the sport in Nigeria and currently in Africa, besides the likes of South Africa and Zimbabwe.

“We have really gone back to the basics, the ICC is giving Nigeria the support required, they are encouraging us to do more and this administration is performing its role satisfactorily.

“Nigeria is lucky that the Head of PwC, Mr. Uyi Akpata, is the current Vice President of NCF… he has first-hand knowledge of what is required to develop the game from the grassroots level and he has been able to get his PwC team to back the development programmes of the NCF. Government is also fully backing the development programme, while other bodies like PETS Foundation and individuals are supporting the Federation as well, but the PwC partnership is a hallmark achievement for Nigeria.”

The administrator, who followed the proceedings at the national U-17 championships, said the competition has unearthed fresh talents, who will in future lead the country to glory.

“A young girl, Lucky Piety from Edo State, representing South-South, scored 106 runs off 54 balls. That is a record. At 14 years, such talents are rare and we might have to wait for another decade to see that happen again.

“The under-17 championship gave us that opportunity to witness such history making moment and that is what the genuine partnership between the NCF and PwC can achieve. We also saw a couple of half centuries and wicket takers. The boys tournament provides the pathway for the next generation of super stars for the country and more talents will be discovered.”

Although the PWC games recorded some outstanding performances, Wiltshire says there are still a lot do be done to make the best of the talents discovered at the meet.

“During the PWC games, I was shocked at the number of extras conceded. The NCF should arrange coaching courses for the coaches at the grassroots level.

Still on the U17 tourneys, the world is monitoring our matches on Cricheroes App, scoring is as important as the game, scoring needs to be done properly, I monitor the matches and see things like Lucky, 30 runs, in cricket you write the names in full, Lucky Oghene, Kabir Ibrahim or initials and surname.

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“Secondly, the NCF should show tables so that we can know at a glance the status. Lastly, match reports should be written and sent out to the press daily, this way the game is publicised.

“In general, the Federation has commenced the establishment of turf wickets, which is the acceptable international surface to play cricket on… the ongoing projects should be completed and new ones built.”

Wiltshire praised the NCF for hiring a National Coach, Asanka Gurusinha from Sri Lanka, who played the game at the international level and has experience as an international manager. “I am sure our coaches will benefit a lot from him and Nigeria cricket will continue to reach more milestones in cricket.”

With the support of PWC, Wiltshire sees a bright future for Nigeria’s cricket. He added: “In four years of involvement of PWC, the company is part of the giant strides we are witnessing today; we have made history by playing at the U19 world cup. I am certain that more youths will be involved in cricket. PWC has created a pathway for the kids to compete and work their way up to represent Nigeria at both the women and men’s categories.”

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