When the new board of the Nigeria Cricket Federation was inaugurated in October 2021, there were mixed reactions from various sectors and angles of the game though mainly clouded with joy and excitement, there were some people who chose to take the back seat to observe and watch how things unfolded before expressing any emotions that could expose their patriotic energies whether they were positively or negatively charged as the case may be.
The Inaugural Board Meeting was the first time all elected officers for the next 4 years gathered in the same room to make formal introductions and charter a new cause for the Federation. Newly elected President Mr. Uyi Akpata gave a resounding welcome address, reemphasizing the NCF 5 key pillars for development as the roadmap that will guide the activities of Cricket in the country. To wrap up the evening, donations of equipment was made to some states in the North as a way of kick starting the rapid development of Cricket in that region. The most remarkable statement that evening was when Mr. President said ‘’everyone fasten their seat belt and enjoy the ride because it is going to get busy and very quickly for that matter’’
While many were still trying to take a breather from all the hassles of the elections and inauguration, the Federation resumed the new dispensation with the Sierra Leone Bilateral Tour where Nigeria won the series 4-1, to ensure that the age long rivalry remained intact and bragging rights secured.
The Annual General and Full Council Meeting which is a constitutional obligation for the Federation, Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development (FMYSD) and the International Cricket Council (ICC) was next on the agenda in December 2021 as it offered the opportunity for stake holders in the game to be informed about the affairs of the Federation and also the opportunity to meet the new board. Significant steps were taken during the AGM which included explaining the 5 Key Strategic Imperatives for development, amendments and ratification of some articles in the Constitution and setting up Board committees’ that will work to actualize the goals of the Federation.
The year 2022 resumed with the official launch of the turf wicket at the Tafawa Balewa Square Cricket Oval. The traditional home of Cricket in Nigeria as it is popularly called has produced and continues to produce super stars and professional cricketers for the country even without the basic standard facility to compete among other cricket giants in the continent and beyond. What seemed like an illusion and unachievable task for over 100 years of the sport’s existence in the country became a reality on the 16th of January 2022 when stake holders across Nigeria came to witness the occasion. The event which attracted high profile dignitaries likes of the former Governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode and CMD of OMNI Medical Center, Cricket veteran and philanthropist Prof. Osato Giwa Osagie, further amplified the significance of constructing a turf wicket in TBS.
The 3rd edition of the biggest and most organized grassroots tournament in Nigeria was successfully conducted in February 2022. The NCF/PwC National Under-17 championship witnessed a massive expansion in the tournament with a record 31 states participating in the Boys category and 26 States in the girls category. The next generation of Nigeria internationals has constantly been produced from this tournament with Nigeria’s participation at the ICC Under-19 World Cup, South Africa 2020 still fresh in our minds. Most remarkable story from this year’s tournament is the involvement of states like Gombe and Taraba from the North East region who made their debut appearances despite the challenges of insecurity in that part of the country. Beyond bat and ball, the National Under-17 championship has also become the change mechanism for our teenage boys and girls by imbibing the ethics and etiquettes of the game which is centered on Respect, Hard work, Team Work and resilience which are key components of life during their formative years.
March 2022 can be regarded as the most eventful month thus far; comprising series of events. As part of the continuous plans to enhance capacity building and technical knowledge, the month began with the Federation sponsoring 5 candidates to Rwanda for the ICC Level 2 coaches’ course. On the backdrop of that, the maiden edition of the NCF Women’s T20 International tournament was born. Considered the biggest Women’s international tournament in North West Africa, the quality of organization and execution and the number of participating countries, the tournament was granted the ICC Twenty20 international status which turned out to be a master stroke by the Board and management of the Federation.
When the Head Coach and High Performance Manager, Asanka Gurusinha announced his resignation from the Nigeria Cricket Federation due to health reasons in April, that led to an immediate response by the Federation to restructure the technical department. Coaches were appointed and redeployed to various positions of the national team set-up which saw the highest number of young and indigenous coaches appointed for national assignments since the turn of the millennium. The Introduction of the ICC Under-19 Women’s tournament also afforded the Federation the opportunity to expand the coaching staff. Talking generally about staff, at the administrative level, evaluation and appraisal was conducted with deserving staff rewarded accordingly. The NCF also extended her capacity beyond boarders ahead of the Africa Games ‘’Accra 2023’’. As part of support system and big brother role in West Africa, the NCF provided the services of our turf wickets Consultant, Yemi Amusa and the Chief Grounds man Francis Atekega to the Ghana Cricket Association, as facility construction and upgrade became necessary.
As part of plans to continuously increase the technical knowledge and skill of our national team players, the Nigeria Cricket Federation in May 2022, sponsored and facilitated the trio of Sesan Adedeji, Sylvester and Isaac Okpe for high performance training at the Hollywood Dolphins Academy in Durban, South Africa. The 3 players who were gone for 1 month were introduced to new technology and skill enhancement programs in bating bowling and fielding during the period. The program was a huge success with the players returning back to the country with valuable experience. This placement program has been consistent in the last 3 years and the Federation has assured that it will continue as one of the pathways of developing our national team players at different categories.
The month of June crowned the success and commitment of the NCF when Nigeria was announced as the global winner for the ICC Cricket 4 Good Social Impact initiative program of the year with the Internally Displaced Persons Special Intervention Program. The program which is facilitated under Promoting ethics through sports (PETS) foundation in Benin City has over 2,000 displaced children now involved in the sport. Plans are also in motion to extend the IDP program in other states across the 6-geo political zones in the country.
The National Women’s team AKA Female Yellow Greens successfully participated at the 7th edition of the Kwibuka Women’s tournament in Kigali, Rwanda where they finished 5th position overall. Nigeria made her 3rd appearance at the event which offered them the opportunity to play the likes of Germany and Brazil who made their debut at the tournament. Salome Sunday became the revelation for Nigeria in the tournament with her outstanding performance as she became the only player to be drafted in one of the 3 teams that participated in the elite championship after the Kwibuka tournament. She further extended her prowess when she was drafted into the Common Wealth side which featured legends in sports such as former England and Arsenal star David Seaman and former New Zealand Cricketer, Van Kruger amongst others.
One of the most important projects of this present administration is the commitment to increase the number of cricket players and followers in the country by reaching at most 250, 000 new entrants into the sport annually through the NCF Accelerated growth program. The spread of the games through schools and remote communities have seen an in-road progress of over 40,000 achieved in the first quarter of the year. Efforts have been tripled to ensure that the desired minimum target is achieved by the end of the year 2022.
Other events such as national camps have also been successfully conducted by the Federation, from the Senior Men and Women’s team to the National Under-19 male and female. National team players have regularly undergone treatments and rehabilitations from injuries sustained during their playing time for the country.
Going through this piece carefully, you would discover that the 5 key strategic pillars for Cricket development as proposed by the NCF Board have been catered for. This is just 8 months on the spin and it is going to get busier with loads of domestic and international tournaments lined out for the rest of the year. For those still taking the back seat, it doesn’t matter how your energies are charged right now, the first gear of the moving vehicle of cricket in 2022 is about to change, just get onboard, fasten your seat belt and enjoy the ride.