The revolution taking place in cricket development in the country has caught the attention of a former Nigerian international, George Wiltshire. The former Chief Operating Officer of the Nigeria Cricket Federation believes the grassroots programmes for Under-17 boys and girls sponsored by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) will definitely create the next generation of super star cricketers in the country. DURO IKHAZUAGBE was there when Wiltshire recalled his adventure in the game…
Background in cricket right from college days at St. Gregory’s in Lagos
I attended St. Gregory’s College in Lagos, a foremost cricket playing institution, which has a solid cricket tradition and where the noble game is still played till date. I was introduced to cricket in my Form 1, and coached by Legendary Ewa Henshaw (Lagos State Cricket Coach) and late John Gbojor (National Coach), by 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 cricketers from other parts of the country, built a long lasting friendship till date.
We travelled by road from Lagos to Calabar and were able to see other parts of the country. Calabar left a lasting impression as I experienced a clean and serene city, very warm people and a good memory of Hope Waddell Secondary School where we played our entire cricket matches.
Also, we travelled to Kaduna by rail for the National Sports Festival in ’77, it was an experience stopping at the Rail Stations we read about.
What did the experience teach you?
Youth cricket brought about genuine friendship, which I have maintained since the 1970s. Cultivation of friendship is very dear to me. Even though we competed fiercely, we never hated ourselves.
Can you recall some of the structures that made grassroots cricket to flourish when you played as a youth?
The cricket playing schools in the country were well equipped. They had games masters who encouraged us to play and uphold the tradition of the noble game. Coaching was top quality. We learnt from the very best.
Coaches were sent to schools to train the students. We had the School Sports Structure and the National Sports Festival; which had Intermediate team comprising of secondary school students.
Did Cricket in anyway affect your Education?
I started attending National trials in 1980 at the age of 20 while in University of Lagos, I will say I was gifted because I was also involved in playing music. I did not find it as a problem at all combining cricket, academics and music. Even when I was a Ministerial Aide and when I worked in the banking industry, my cricket never suffered.
How was your experience as an administrator when compared with what obtains now?
I was the first appointed Chief Operating Officer/ GM of Nigeria Cricket Federation. I was able to introduce operations manual, policies and a blueprint for successive administrations to develop. The then Administration developed a template for preparation of national teams for international competitions. We established Regional Development Officers as well (RDOs).
The present Administration has done very well by taking Nigeria cricket to greater heights with the milestone of competing at the Under-19 World Cup level.
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 help develop women’s cricket. Administrative structure is also an area where there has been significant improvement with more departments created and staff base tripled.
How about the growth at the grassroots?
The growth is indeed exponential with the aggressive School Programmes embarked on by the NCF in collaboration with Corporate organizations like PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).The Naija Kids Cricket sponsored by PwC which looks to introduce 40,000 news kids into the sport annually 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.
What do you make of PwC Partnership with the Federation?
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. We are 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 fully backing the development programme. Other bodies such as, PETS Foundation and individuals are supporting the Federation as well, but the PwC partnership is a hallmark achievement for Nigeria.
What has been your impression of the on-going National Under-17 championships?
Very impressive, well organised with the Covid-19 protocols adhered to. We can see new talents emerging. 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.
Ekiti State’s female Under-17 team won the South-west regional playoff at the Ibadan centre
In your opinion, in what other areas do you think the Federation can still do better?
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 tournaments, 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. Secondly, 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 publicized.
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.
Kudos to the Federation for hiring a National Coach, Asanka Gurusinha from Sri Lanka who has played the game at the International level and with international experience as a Manager. I am sure our coaches will benefit a lot from him and Nigeria cricket will continue to reach more milestones in the game.
What future do you see for Nigeria Cricket?
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 Female and Male categories.