While the debate on which sport will queue behind the popular one contesting for hearts of incessantly betrayed sports loyalists (and of course the lion’s share of government’s funding), Cricket, a rather distance alternative, is pulling forward; and strongly too.
On the hot Saturday afternoon of 26th January, 2019, at the most hallowed Cricket ground in the country (the Tafawa Balewa Cricket Oval in Lagos), more than 250 kids gathered to receive 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 Board of the Nigeria Cricket Federation, led by a surgeon at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Professor Yahaya Adam Ukwenya, has put together to rejuvenate grassroots 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.
The kids who took part in the Lagos exercise were drawn from public and private schools, which now run cricket activities as part of their routine physical education schedules.
Endurance Ofem, a former senior national male team captain and Players’ Representative on the NCF Board, said: “There has never been this level of commitment in the past and we are working hard to make sure 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.”
Kofi Sagoe, a former national team player and the current Chairman of the Lagos State Cricket Association along with Charles Omoera who also chairs the most vibrant cricket league in the country; the Club Cricket Committee, Lagos (CCC League), also attended the presentation.
For Sagoe, the federation’s initiative is a big spark to the development initiative that his office as the Lagos Cricket Chairman is planning to undertake. It is only proper to align make the best of the outcome.
“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,” Sagoe said.
Interestingly, while the kids were being excited in Lagos, the national women’s team was also engaged in a bi-lateral 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 at which Nigeria will be making its maiden appearance at some point in May 2019. More to this, the series is expected to raise the awareness of women cricket in Nigeria and beyond and to foster diplomatic relations among member countries.
The home team scraped 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.
When the board of the Nigeria Cricket Federation took the reins of power eighteen months ago, it had developed a clear agenda that has endeared it to the International Cricket Council as a team to look out for in Africa.
The strategic development document was 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.”
This objective is further tied to five key strategic imperatives which bordered on; Promoting the game, Facility development, Establishing strategic partners, Players improvement and Maintaining appropriate Corporate governance and Finance structure.
Patricia Kambarami, ICC Regional Development Manager-Africa, has particularly 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.
According to Kambarami, “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.”
One of the federation’s many plan, is to scale 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. The Tour which ended last week has already been praised by ICC remarkable show.
Cricket may not yet be Nigeria’s major sport but it is one sport that is currently earning it some global appeal and going by the potential of the team running it, may dig deeper into the nation’s consciousness soonest.