NIGERIA CRICKET FEDERATION IN 41 DAYS AND 40 NIGHTS
While the debate on which sport will queue behind the popular ones like Soccer and Athletics in the country; contesting for hearts of incessantly betrayed sports loyalist (and of course the lion’s share of government’s funding), Cricket a rather distance alternative, is pulling forward; and strongly too.
The Nigeria Cricket Federation resumed activities early in the year, on the 3rd of January to be precise with the National Women’s camp in preparation for the first leg of a bilateral series with Rwanda. 24 girls were invited to camp in Kaduna State where an eventual 16 players were selected from the pool to represent the country.
A quick shift in focus saw the Nigeria U-19 Male team also invited to camp from the 12th to 20th January in Abuja where 25 players battled for 14 slots. This was in preparation for the ICC U-19 World Cup Qualifier Africa Division 1 scheduled to take place from 15th – 24th March in Namibia. We may recall that the Junior Yellow Greens against all odds, were run-away champions at the division 2 tournament in August 2018 at the NWA Cricket Oval in Potchefstroom, South-Africa.
On the hot Saturday afternoon of 26th January, 2019, at the most hallowed Cricket grounds 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 school to practice their new-found sports.
The event marked the beginning of the 2nd phase of the NCF/PWC Naija Kids Cricket, a project that the Board of the Nigeria Cricket Federation, led by a surgical professor at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Professor Yahaya Adam Ukwenya has put together to rejuvenate grassroot cricket development across the country.
On hand to supervise the clinic and distribute the plastic equipment was the Vice President of the Federation, Mr. Uyi Akpata, who mentioned that more than 16 states had been served with equipment already during the 1st phase of the exercise.
“Lagos falls within our 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 is being introduced. Our aim is to cover the entire 36 states in the country including the Federal Capital Territory starting with those with the least awareness of the sport he said.
The kids who took part in the Lagos exercise were from public and private schools who now run Cricket activities as part of their routine sports curriculum and physical education in the schools.
Endurance Ofem, a former senior national male team captain and currently players representative on the N.C.F 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 has been to increase Junior involvement along ICC development goals and next is to focus on elite and competitive cricket development which allows the 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 to name the least here and you can see how excited they are on a Saturday to come pick up this equipment that is part of our grassroots cricket sensitization effort of the Federation” he said.
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 as it is called), were all at the event.
For Sagoe, the Federation’s initiative is a big spark to the development idea that his office as the Lagos State Cricket Association Chairman is planning to undertake, it is just imperative to align and most importantly queue behind it and make the best of the fall out. He added that; “the plans of the Federation to equip school all-round the country has been a major boost that states like Lagos would leverage on as dragnet to recruit next generation of players to the game”.
Interestingly, while the kids were excited in Lagos, the National Women’s team were also engaged in a bi-lateral encounter with Rwanda in Abuja. The series was set up by the NCF as early preparation steps toward the ICC Women’s World Cup qualifier which the country will make its maiden appearance at some point in May 2019. Furthermore, the series is expected to create and improve the awareness of women cricket in West Africa and beyond and to foster diplomatic relations among member countries.
The home team escaped with a narrow 3-2 victory, but Professor Ukwenya who watched every game said that the event had lived up to its objective, which was merely to expose the players to internationally graded encounter after a month camping in 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 match with Rwanda was to test the impact of the camping and how strong and the strength of our team. 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 as to what to do in getting the team better ahead of the event scheduled for Zimbabwe in May.” He said.
The board of the Nigeria Cricket Federation when they took the reins of power some eighteen months back had developed a clear agenda which has endeared them to the International Cricket Council as a team to look out for in Africa.
The strategic development document was anchored on a mission to: “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 bothers 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 the professionalism that the board had displayed in their short stint at managing the sport in the country and believes if they keep their focus on their laid down objectives, they might soon become the toast of Africa.
As part of efforts and plans by the ICC to provide a working and sustainable structure for Nigeria Cricket, a Commercial Strategy and Development Seminar was organized from the 4th – 6th of February in Lagos. The Seminar was delivered by the renowned CSM Sports consultants for Middle-East and Africa, where Stake holders, Government officials from the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, Sponsors and potential sponsors of the Federation and finally, the Media were engaged on ways to work as a unit to achieve the common goal of the Federation.
“After the seminar, Patricia Kambarami said that “the International Cricket Council has been impressed with the present board and especially their well laid out plan to develop the game in the country 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” she said.
while the applause was still ringing for the Nigeria Cricket governing body, the NCF has also been gathering all stakeholders relevant to achieving their set goal by 2021 when the tenure of the board expires to rejig the process.
One of the federation’s many plans is to scale up her 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 definitely will soon be paying full attentions to Cricket in Nigeria.
According to Mr Uyi 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 decided to list Nigeria as one of the three African countries that will host the ICC World Cup Trophy when the 2019 Cricket World Cup Sensitization Trophy Tour begins.
In confirmation of Nigeria’s passion, dedication and commitment to the growth, development and popularity of the sport in the country, the country successfully hosted the ICC World Cup trophy touring both the cities of Abuja and Lagos State. In Abuja, the country’s capital, the trophy was received by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development Mr. Olusade Adesola on behalf of the Minister of Sports Barr. Solomon Dalung, also, the trophy visited iconic sites around the capital, most notably the Katampe hill which marked the mid-point of the country.
In Lagos the trophy was received by the Executive Governor, His Excellency Akinwumi Ambode and finally it was displayed at the traditional home of Cricket in Nigeria, the Tafawa Balewa Square Cricket Oval, where a match was organised between Ibeju Lekki 1 CC and Government College Warri Old Boys CC. the high point of the event was the arrival of the Nigeria Football Icon Austin Jay Jay Okocha whose first game was Cricket before making a career swap. Okocha Identification with the ICC World Cup trophy and the Nigeria Cricket Federation is a clear indication of where the heart truly belongs. The trophy finally departed the shores of the country on the 13th of February.
It is noteworthy that a number of better ranked Cricket playing African Countries were not afforded the privilege which Nigeria got on the sheer recognition of being a highly organized and potential cricket growing country that the ICC has marked down.
The last 6 weeks in the 2019 calendar year have been marked with success for the Nigeria Cricket Federation and with the accolades coming through from across the world, it is clear that the Federation is on the right path. It is often said that “the reward for good works is more work” and without taking a breather, the Federation is in full swing as they prepare for the ICC U-19 World Cup Africa Qualifier Div. 1 scheduled to take place in Namibia from 15th to 24th March 2019. The event will climax what would be described as a very successful 1st quarter for Nigeria Cricket Federation.
MUSA EHIZOJE BODIE
PUBLIC RELATIONS OFFICER (NCF)