Sierra Leone may not be the first place people think of when listing cricketing hubs in Africa. But the country’s U19 team was only one step away from qualifying from the 2020 World Cup. Whilst there will have been disappointment in not qualifying for the tournament, the team were able to prove to the world that they are a team with talent.
Emerging Cricket recently spoke to the captain of both the U19 team and men’s senior team George Edward Ngegba about what it was like to play in the qualifying tournament and what cricket means to the country.
When speaking about the experience that Ngegba and the rest of the U19 team had during the ICC World Cup Africa Regional Qualifiers Division 1, Ngegba reflected that the tournament presented the perfect opportunity to showcase the cricketing talent that exists within the country. Sierra Leone is given limited opportunity to showcase their talent to the greater public with the team last playing a T20I in 2018 so the ability to play games that were then uploaded onto digital streaming platforms was a huge opportunity. Alongside the exposure; the tournament presented a fantastic learning experience for the team.
During the tournament, the team were able to play against some of the more established African teams. Competing against nations such as Namibia, Uganda and Kenya placed the team in some uncomfortable situations. The team were in unfamiliar surroundings playing in a tournament of such magnitude; meaning the team quickly had to learn to perform under the added pressure. Other valuable insights also were learnt during the tournament including game preparation and how to make productive use of downtime. Each lesson was an invaluable experience to Ngegba and his team, not only for the tournament but for the future. The team were able to return home form their successful tournament with newfound confidence and belief in their ability.
Success on the pitch was able to grow cricket in the country; Sierra Leoneans after the success became more engaged with cricket which shows signs that the sport can compete with football for the public’s attention. The team was able to show the public that they are a team that despite still learning the game competes with courage and passion. It was these qualities which gained attention in the country and gave them a larger profile. Not only did the team’s success make national news, but there was also international coverage of the team’s success and allowed the country to become aware of cricket being played in Sierra Leone. Whilst the attention was not at the forefront of their minds during the competition, if cricket is able to increase its profile in the country there is the hope that participation will grow.
Returning to Sierra Leone meant returning to domestic cricket in the country. At the moment, the cricketing infrastructure remains limited, but with plans to develop facilities, Ngegba is excited about the future. Currently, in Sierra Leone, there is only one cricket pitch which meets ICC requirements situated in Kingtom, with other facilities in Bo, Kenema, Magburaka and Sussex beech. With the Sierra Leone Cricket Association working hard behind the scenes, with support from a variety of sources including the government, to develop the countries facilities Ngegba hopes that the plans to update the facilities will soon become a reality. No matter the facilities available to cricketers in the country it will not curb the passion that the country has for the sport.
For Ngegba and his teammates ‘playing cricket in Sierra Leone is a blessing in disguise’. Cricket offers the opportunity to travel, learn from unique experiences and become a part of the strong cricketing community in the country. In Sierra Leone cricket can be said to be a vehicle for social improvement within the greater population and the growth of the sport in the presence of a strong community can only be a positive. According to Ngegba, who is the captain of both the U19 team and the senior men’s team, traits including commitment, resilience and perseverance have all been developed along with the skill of listening. Ngegba approaches captaincy with the view of putting the team first and feels that he is able to learn from all cricketing conversations who matter who is talking to him and has been able to develop an appreciation of listening to others’ opinions.
Alongside the talent of the U19 team, the Sierra Leone women’s team are also making waves. The team are currently ranked 39th in the WT20i rankings and are developing with every match. There is the hope that if the women’s team continues to develop at the rate it has been over recent times that the team will be able to compete amongst Africa’s elite.
It is clear to see Sierra Leone is home to raw talent, but cricket in the country goes much further than just a sport; hoping to aid social cohesion and individual development for those involved. However, if the talent in Sierra Leone is to be capitalised on there must be a way to ensure that the players continue to be exposed to more international cricket along with the Sierra Leone Cricket Association turning development plans into reality. There is the need to use the momentum that currently exists around cricket in Sierra Leone otherwise there is a fear that the golden opportunity to grow the sport will be lost.
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