As the nation revels in its high-profile appointment of Asanka Gurusinha as head coach, cricketers across Nigeria are getting ready for the start of two tournaments, which mark the next phase of the sport’s return since the coronavirus pandemic.
Training has already started across many of Nigeria’s states, but the commencement of the National Sports Festival and the National U17 tournament sees the return of competition.
Emerging Cricket had the opportunity to speak to the Nigerian Cricket Federation’s technical director, Enesi A. Habib, about the two tournaments.
National U17 Tournament
This year marks the second edition of the national U17 tournament following what Enesi described as a ‘hugely successful’ inaugural edition of the competition. There will be two tournaments held with a male and a female event taking place; with the country’s best U17 talent having the opportunity to compete with and against each other.
When reflecting on the first edition of the tournament Enesi said that ‘the tournament provided a base where different talents were discovered’. The Nigeria Cricket Federation’s technical director then went on to explain that the ‘players that were discovered during the 2019 edition of the tournament are now on the development pathway for U19 selection’. One such player that was discovered during last year’s tournament was Boniface Oche.
Oche performed well during the tournament and was subsequently selected for Nigeria’s squad for the 2020 edition of the U19 World Cup in South Africa. Despite an unfortunate solo outing for Oche during the tournament, which came against the West Indies, he is a prime example of the talent discovered during the tournament.
Alongside the individual talents that are discovered, the tournament benefits the individual state’s player development through the creation of more competitive action. The matches will enable states who may not usually play against each other opportunity to do so, which provides the state players with different experiences.
This year’s edition is poignant following the current period of social unrest in the country as it presents the opportunity for the youth of Nigeria to come together and celebrate their achievements. Enesi, when reflecting on the start of the tournament against the current social climate, said that ‘North East was applauded for presenting a team despite serious security challenges in the state’.
National Sports Festival
Enesi stated that the ‘National Sports Festival is the highest and most glamorous sporting event in Nigeria’.
When describing cricket’s involvement at the event, Enesi explained that ‘the tournament sees a male and a female team from each geo-political zone converge at Benin, which is the capital of Edo state, to compete for gold, silver and bronze’.
In total, there will be 24 teams competing at the event with three separate tournaments scheduled to be held. There will be a T20, a 40 over and a 6-a-side tournament being played over 14 days.
Enesi presented that the Nigerian Cricket Federation views the inclusion of cricket at the National Sports Festival as vital for the development of the sport. Firstly, Enesi stated that the Festival ‘serves as a platform to showcase the talent and skills of the senior cricketers’. The festival is also used by the Nigeria Cricket Federation national selectors to shape selection for international matches.
Alongside providing an exciting platform, the event is essential to the Nigeria Cricket Federation from an administrative sense. The festival enables the Nigeria Cricket Federation to further fulfil ICC criteria due to the increased competitive action. ‘Every tournament is crucial for the Nigeria Cricket Federation,’ Ensei adds.
Following the tournaments
Nigerian cricket fans will be able to follow both tournaments through the NCF’s social media accounts and website. When reflecting on the power of social media, the technical director stated that ‘social media is a very powerful tool for promoting any brand’. It would appear that the federation is aiming to make the most of the power of social media.
Alongside the social media outlets, the tournament can also be followed through Cricheroes which will allow fans to engage with player statistics and follow games ball by ball.
Enesi’s hopes for the tournaments
As these tournaments approach, Ensei is excited about the ‘opportunity to witness the best talents in the country … as a National selector, I am particularly thrilled to see if new budding players will show up and really put their name forward for national selection … Along with seeing if the existing players will show what they are made of when they see some challenge from players that want to wear the national colours’.
Enesi, who is passionate about the development of the country’s umpires, is also excited about observing ‘our top umpires handle the events. A few junior umpires have been called up to be part of the tournaments to understudy the senior umpires which creates an opportunity to aid in the development of our umpires’.
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