New ground, more players: Kaduna State continues to grow cricket in Nigeria

Isaac Lockett reports on the development of a new cricket ground in Nigeria and how the sport is integrating itself within Kaduna's communities.

Children playing Kaduna State Nigeria

The cricketing infrastructure in Nigeria is growing at an exciting rate, with new facilities being build across the country. But there is often the question as to whether new facilities correlate to increased participation and sporting growth. In Kaduna state, the building of the Murtala Square Cricket oval supports the idea that new facilities will drive participation. 

The development of the Murtala Square Cricket oval can be followed on the Nigerian Cricket Federation Twitter page. The project that has been sponsored by the Kaduna State Government is being built to accommodate the increased interest in the sport along with providing a safe space for young cricketers to learn, develop and thrive. Even though the ground is not finished yet, there appears to be a buzz surrounding cricket in the state. Cricket matches are popping up on the streets of Kaduna, and the sport’s popularity is benefitting due to the community atmosphere that is developing around it. Currently, there are five communities that are playing sport in the region; Ungwan Rimi, Narayi, Kakuri, Kawo, Malali, with the sport growing in each.

Cricket is not a new edition to the state’s sporting ecosystem, having been initially introduced by British colonial administrators and then spread by English missionaries and army personnel. It was during this period that cricket became integrated within schools in the state, with Abubakar Rimi college and Government College being two of the first educational institutions in the country to play the sport. Now the epicentre of Kaduna state cricket is Murtala Mohammed Square (MMS). MMS is a recreational and sporting facility which is open to the community, and the oval is expected to be an exciting addition to the centre. The plan is that the oval will have its own clubhouse and cricket pitch, with the Nigerian Cricket Federation’s technical director Enesi A. Habib reflecting that the facility ‘promises to be a wonderful sight to behold on completion’. The sport has now been well ingrained into Kaduna’s sporting life and continues to grow and prosper.

The state has been the starting block for many Nigerian athletes including Rashidi Yekini, Daniel Amokachi, Celestine Babayaro and Moses Simon who have all played for the Nigerian football team. But now, with cricket growing, the state is aiding the development of international cricketers. Sylvester Okpe, who captained the Junior Yellow Greens during the most recent edition of the Under-19 Cricket World Cup was born and brought up in Kaduna; with also Daniel Gim, Danladi Isaac, Isaac Okpe being from the state. Kaduna’s state team is a strong one and with the players being able to compete against each other as well as gaining unique experiences.   

Sylvester Okpe Nigeria
Sylvester Okpe during the U19 World Cup in South Africa, 2020 (Photo: ICC)

Last year, the state’s cricket team got its chance to experience cricket outside of Nigeria. The Governor of Kaduna State, Nasiru Ahmed El-Rufai, became the first governor in the country to sponsor the state’s cricket team to travel to play cricket. The team travelled to Kampala, Uganda which saw the team compete in a 3-day series and take part in a number of preseason matches. 

Despite COVID-19 causing disruptions to cricket in Nigeria, the Kaduna state cricket association, led by the current Nigerian Cricket Federation president Professor Adam Y Ukwenya, have reported that participation has still grown. Previously, individuals from across the state would travel to MMS to play cricket, however, the pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions meant that this had to change. Instead of travelling to the facility, games are now being played in fields across the state which has boosted participation as cricket is more visible within the community. 

A game of community cricket being played in Kaduna State (Photo: Nigeria Cricket Federation)

It is clear that cricket is growing in Nigeria, but it is not just the infrastructure that is growing with the sport becoming a part of everyday life within communities across Nigeria. Kaduna is one example of this growth and has shown the power that sport can have within a community.

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