After our recent conversation with Nigerian women’s captain Samantha Agazuma Nigerian men’s captain Joshua Ayannaike sits down to discuss the state of the game in the country.
Ayannaike made his national 50-over debut against Vanuatu in 2013, and his T20 debut against Zambia in 2014, making 34 appearances for Nigeria across the formats.
After first picking up the sport at the age of ten, Ayannaike was swiftly introduced into the national junior setup and went on to collect nine under-19 caps, and was part of the team that won the ICC Under-19 World Cup Qualifier Africa Division Two in Swaziland. Since then his stock has grown considerably.
Ayannaike has seen cricket develop at an impressive pace in Nigeria since he first started playing. However, he is realistic in his assessment of where cricket lies within the country’s sporting ecosystem. When asked whether he thinks there is a hunger for young men to take up the sport, he believes more exposure is needed. Although many who understand and play the sport love it, young men in the country understand the professional limitations.
‘There is a huge gap between the country’s knowledge of football and that of cricket.’
‘(we) are encouraged to go to school first and try to build a professional career outside cricket.’
This is a recurring challenge across the Associate world, where players are not often able to make a living from playing cricket. This reality is in stark contrast to the state of football in Nigeria, which has a fully professional domestic system, and provides opportunities for players in pan-African competitions such as the CAF Champions League, or even further afield in Europe.
Ayannaike believes the Nigeria Cricket Federation (NCF) is working hard to overcome this barrier. If the celebrations of the Under 19 team upon qualifying for the ICC Under 19 Cricket World Cup are anything to go by, passion and pride in representing the nation, amongst the players and Federation’s staff, is a key building block.
‘It is always an honour to wear the national colours. There are usually quite a number of people competing for spaces in the team, and also the feeling of being a national ambassador is euphoric.’
‘Nigeria’s hosting of an ICC tournament in 2018 and the ongoing upgrades to facilities across the country are exciting. They also demonstrate real readiness by the NCF to grow the game to a global standard.’
Ayannaike is quick to mention that these successes are built on a long legacy of on-field competitiveness, and a number of role-models from these past teams who have inspired newer generations to take up the sport.
‘The class of 2008 that won us the right to play white-ball cricket and the class of 2013 that kept the World Cricket League (WCL) hopes alive in Botswana (are heroes),’ he continues.
‘I feel lucky to have played with guys like Seun Odeku and Endurance Ofem…who have won battles on and off the field…and have impacted me directly and indirectly.’
The importance of trailblazing role models in Nigerian Cricket cannot be overemphasised and Ayannaike hopes that the young, aspiring players will also look up to him one day.
Reflecting on what needs to happen in order to fulfil this potential, he states that the NCF must continue to upgrade the country’s cricket facilities, grow youth participation, increase the awareness of the sport by making it available on local television and computer screens, and attain ODI status in the next ten years. Ultimately, all of these goals can only be realised with increased funding from a range of sources.
Regardless of the financial and developmental challenges that may be ahead, it is clear that cricket in Nigeria is in dedicated hands.
To those naysayers who question the seriousness of cricket in Associate countries, Ayannaike is testament to the fact that the opposite is true. With passion, cricket’s potential is endless. It just needs harnessing.
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