Cricket in Nigeria: More than just the players

Isaac Lockett speaks to the Nigeria Cricket Federation technical director to learn more about the progress currently being made and why Nigeria are a country to watch out for in the future.

With participation numbers increasing almost fivefold in the ten years until 2018, cricket in Nigeria is developing at a rapid rate and this is fantastic for the sport as a whole. With a nation of over 200 million people further falling more in love with the game, it can only be a positive for those who would love to see the game grow and conquer. Arguably the biggest marker of progress, however, has been the Nigerian presence during the 2020 edition of the U19 World Cup. In order to qualify for the tournament, the team defeated arguably more established cricket nations, namely Namibia and Kenya, and went to the tournament as an exciting unknown entity.  

Nigeria finished 15th during the tournament after beating another tournament debutant in Japan in the 15th 16th playoff, securing Nigeria’s first win at a World Cup. There were also plenty of fantastic individual performances from the ‘Junior Yellow Greens’ during the tournament with Ifeanyichukwu Uboh being the side’s top wicket-taker with seven wickets at an average of 6.5 and Sulaimon Runsewe who scored Nigeria’s first half-century at an ICC global event against Japan. 

Sulaimon Runsewe in action during Nigeria’s warm up game during South Africa prior to the ICC U19’s World Cup

However, in order to accommodate the growth of Nigerian cricket, there is a need for parallel development of the country’s cricketing infrastructure. Recently, there was the unveiling of the plans to develop the cricket ground the University of Lagos, however, there is much more going on behind the scenes. Recently Emerging Cricket had the opportunity to speak to Enesi A. Habib, the Nigerian Cricket Federation’s technical director. 

Enesi previously played for the Nigerian men’s cricket team, with his last game coming in 2006 before injuries putting a stop to a successful stint with the national team. However, after hanging up his boots, Enesi found a love for umpiring that has brought him great success. With the Nigerian holding an ICC Level 1 umpiring qualification he was able to gain international recognition after he was invited to officiate an ICC Africa division two qualifiers in South Africa in 2018, an event which saw him and a colleague become the first Nigerians to umpire an ICC organised event. With his umpiring inspiration being Simon Taufel and not being afraid to make the tough decisions in the middle of the pitch, Enesi also uses his passion to help mentor the country’s upcoming umpires. 

If there are to be more players becoming involved with the sport and more games being played, then there will be the need for more officials and this is an eventuality that the Nigerian Cricket Federation is currently planning for. Under the watchful eye of Enesi, the federation is putting steps in place to grow the number of umpires in the county. Currently, it is thought that there are 200 umpires in the country with around 50 being active, however, this is a number that is set to grow. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federation had plans to run a level one course to get more qualified umpires involved in the country’s set up and a level two programme for those who are looking to progress further. However, the federation has been able to adapt to the unforeseen circumstances through the use of technology. There has been the recent conclusion of a 6-week long introductory umpiring course which was delivered via webinar. The webinars were delivered separately to the six different geopolitical zones of the country, with South West being the last to finish with theirs being completed on the 23rd August 2020. After this basic training, it is planned that the level one course will be offered to individuals soon. There is then the hope that all those who pass the level one qualification, organised by the Association of Cricket Umpires and Scorers of Nigeria and the Nigerian Cricket Federation, will be prepared for the ICC level one qualification. The umpires who qualify would then be part of the Association of Umpires which is a national body with statewide branches. Not only has the federation realised that there will be a need for more umpires but is putting in the groundwork to ensure that there will be a growth in the number of officials parallel to the growth of the game.

Enesi, Musa and Kehinde, the 3 Nigerian umpires at the U19 Div2 African qualifiers in South Africa with President Ukwenya of the NCF (Photo: Nigeria Cricket Federation)

ICC Africa is also playing a key role in the educating of Nigerian umpires. After Enesi was the first Nigerian that was trained and certified by ICC Africa, there has been a growth in the amount of training offered. During 2019, Nigeria hosted the ICC Africa facilitators meaning that the country was able to gain more training; with Nigeria hosting such an event showing just how much potential there is in the nation. ICC Africa went on to train and certify a further 7 umpires increasing the number of ICC recognised umpires in the country.  

Umpires are not the only area of desired growth, with the country still wanting to grow player participation and increase the number of coaches. Enesi also shared the work being undertaken by the federation to help sport throughout the culturally diverse nation. Currently, in Nigeria 20 of the 36 states play cricket to various degrees but there is a plan to grow cricket within the country with an endpoint of having individuals from the 36 states frequently engaging with cricket-related activities. With a national team that is comprised of individuals from a variety of states, there it is clear to Ensesi talent lies throughout the country and individuals from across the country should have the opportunity to develop their skills. 

The Nigeria Cricket Federation has realised the potential that increases cricket’s presence in the education environment. The federation is really aiming to promote cricket participation in schools and increase the number of schools that are playing the sport. Currently, cricket is not a common offer in schools and the majority of schools that do offer it are based in Lagos, which is one of the country’s biggest cities. If cricket is able to be introduced into more schools, the likelihood of a young individual having the chance to fall in love with the sport increases. The ability of the federation to provide Nigerian cricketing role models to the young through the promoting of activities is high on the agenda of the federation. But attracting to individuals or giving opportunities to participate in the sport means that there is a need for more coaches. Whilst Enesi admitted there is the challenge to ensure that there is a high standard of coaching in such a large country, with the federation going into schools and educating PE teachers and running coaching courses to ensure that the children are greeted with the best possible standard of coaching to help them realise their development. 

Nigeria U19s with Faf Du Plessis
Nigeria U19s with Faf Du Plessis

As reflected by Enesi ‘The Leadership of the board of Nigeria Cricket Federation is keen on all-round development. Infrastructure, players, coaches, umpires, grounds, and authorities are the topmost priority of the current board led by Professor Ukwenya A. Y and vice president Uyi Akpata’.

Whilst the difference between logistics and reality is vast, the governing body in Nigeria is laying the fantastic groundwork to ensure that there is the continuation of momentum that has been developed by the U19 World Cup Qualification. There promises to be an upcoming exciting period in Nigerian cricket and there will be plenty of eyes on the development of cricket in the country.

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