Recently, Nigeria's U-19 male cricket side, the Junior Yellow Greens, qualified for the 2020 ICC U-19 World Cup slated for next January in South Africa. They sealed their qualification after winning their last match against Sierra Leone at the ICC World Cup Africa qualifiers in Windhoek, Namibia, drawing extensive jubilation amongst sports enthusiasts. The team ended the qualifiers with an unbeaten run against Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Sierra Leone and hosts Namibia.
Nigeria's victory over Sierra Leone in a tension-soaked encounter was the highlight of the week-long run of victories against African powerhouses. Nigeria recorded the required total of 139 runs for the loss of 8 wickets in 44.2 overs in what could be described as the best performance in the tournament. The team emerged as the first team in the whole of North/West Africa to qualify for the ICC U-19 World Cup.
President of Nigeria's Cricket Federation Adams Yahaya Ukwenya said the team's qualification was a milestone for Nigeria in cricket. "This is history that has just been made and Nigeria's cricket has attained a new height that has never been reached, and we are very happy for this achievement." Sports Minister Solomon Dalung also said the qualification proved that Nigerian sportsmen and women can do wonders if given the right support.
This feat has heightened optimism in Nigeria's cricket family. Though Nigeria has never qualified for the most prestigious event in world cricket, which always features such African countries as South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya, we believe it is just a matter of time before the nation takes its place among the world's cricket elite. Nigeria is currently not a strong cricket nation despite the sport's old tradition in the country.
Cricket is recorded as the first organized sport played in the country by Nigerians way before football and other games came around. The first ever international cricket game was staged in Lagos on May 25, 1904, in the early years of British colonial rule. Rather than grow from there to become an important national pastime like football, cricket was relegated to the background alongside other sports.
Until the 1970s, cricket was Nigeria's major sport but soon after football began finding its way into the hearts of the country's citizens and with that came a decline in cricket, both in organization and interest of the game. Although it is not the most popular sport in Nigeria, cricket has been trying in the last couple of years to get back to reckoning. Nigerian cricket seven years ago was on the upward trajectory, rising as far as the World Cricket League Division Five.
If the Nigeria Cricket Federation (NCF) continues with its development programme, anchored on spreading the sport to all parts of the country through schools, the country would soon join the game's elite. The country has rediscovered the route to cricket's accelerated development. We must salute the country's sport governing body for putting Nigeria back on the annals of cricket by planning meticulously. ICC Regional Development Manager-Africa, Patricia Kambarami, who recently visited the country, said she has been impressed with the passion and professionalism that the NCF board displayed in their short stint at managing the sport in Nigeria. She believes more can be achieved if the members maintain their focus, which she said could make them become the toast of Africa in the near future.
We are particularly impressed at the milestone they have set and how they are ticking the right boxes thus far. Plaudits aside, the cricket body must not rest on its oars. More work needs to be done toward positioning Nigeria as a top-rated cricket playing nation.
Over the years, time has proven beyond doubt that there's nothing which brings Nigerians closer together than sports. For a multi-ethnic country, sports is one ground that brings a sense of oneness to Nigerians. We urge the sports authorities to work assiduously to grow our sports, hone our talented athletes' skills and allow them to flourish.