Nigerian Women win bronze medal in cricket at the 2023 African Games

Nigeria women's team celebrate a wicket at the 2023 African Games, Accra, Ghana (Photo: Nigeria Cricket Federation Twitter)
Nigeria women's team celebrate a wicket at the 2023 African Games, Accra, Ghana (Photo: Nigeria Cricket Federation Twitter)

The Nigerian women’s cricket team prevailed in a thrilling 3rd place playoff game against Uganda to take out the bronze medal at the 2023 African Games. Hosted in Accra, Ghana, it was cricket’s debut appearance at the continental multi-sport event, featuring the top eight ranked women’s teams in the African region: South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Nigeria.

Batting first, Uganda made a disastrous start, losing their first four wickets for only 21 runs in the face of disciplined Nigerian bowling. The Lady Cranes never recovered from thereon, inching their way to a lowly 76/8 off 20 overs. In fact, the score was rather typical of the totals scored in other matches with the newly laid surfaces at Achimota Ovals A & B proving particularly difficult for batters. Only six of the fifteen completed games, including the knockout stages, witnessed teams breach the 100-run mark.

 

The Nigerian bowling also sustained the pressure throughout with immaculate line and length by pacers Peculiar Agboya and Lillian Udeh, who finished on 3/11 and 2/12 off their four overs respectively. Christabel Chukwuonye also chipped in with two wickets off her two overs.

In response, the Nigerians also started poorly losing three quick wickets for eight runs inside three overs. A smooth fifty run partnership between Player of the Match Salome Sunday and Abigail Igbobie subsequently steadied the chase. However, their dismissals in quick succession in the 16th and 17th overs sparked another mini collapse, leaving the team teetering at 68/7 after losing four wickets in the space of just 2.3 overs. With seven runs required off the last over, batter Lucky Piety held her nerve to nail two boundaries off the first two balls to seal a famous victory for the Nigerian women. It was an appropriate finish to a nerve-jangling encounter showcasing the very fine margins in Associate T20 cricket on the African continent.

Nigeria’s Fairytale Tournament 

It was a highly successful tournament for Nigerian women and arguably their finest cricketing moment to date. With a ranking of 27 on the ICC Women’s T20I ladder, they were the lowest ranked team off all the participating nations at the Games and therefore deemed the least likely to win a medal. This performance was a testament to the astonishing growth of the sport in Africa’s most populated nation.

In the group stages, they thrashed 17th ranked Namibia by 55 runs in a surprise ‘upset’, a team they had never beaten in four previous encounters. They also pushed Full Members South Africa all the way; the Proteas only managing a narrow four wicket win at the end. While the Zimbabweans proved too good for the Nigerians in the semi-finals, they once again surpassed expectations defeating 18th ranked Uganda to secure a bronze medal and a podium finish.

Seamer Lillian Udeh was the games’ highest wicket taker with 10 wickets at an average of 7.5. While batter Sunday stood head and shoulders above her teammates scoring 92 runs off four innings at an average of 23. Her two crucial innings of 40 and 37 in wins against Namibia and Uganda respectively were instrumental in Nigeria winning bronze.

Zimbabwe seal African Games gold after a Super Over thriller

There was more drama in the final after Zimbabwe pulled out a heart stopping Super Over win against favourites South Africa. It was another low-scoring affair with the Lady Chevrons only managing 112/5 in their first innings. Set 113 to win, the South Africans had a horror start and were struggling at 48/5 in 10.4 overs as the required run rate ticked over seven. But a spirited late order fightback, courtesy of Miane Smit’s 31 runs, brought them closer to the target.

They needed a run of the last ball to get the win, but the Zimbabweans held their nerve superbly. Tight bowling and excellent fielding by wicketkeeper Modester Mupachikwa ensured that batter Gandhi Jafta was run out, trying to steal a single. The ensuing Super Over was a bit of an anti-climax however with South Africa losing their two wickets with a paltry two runs on the board. In response, star Zimbabwean allrounder Kelis Ndhlovu slog swept a boundary off the second ball to chase down the small target in style, sending the Lady Chevrons dressing room into raptures.

Ndhlovu also picked up the Player of the Tournament award for her consistent performances throughout the Games. She was excellent with the ball, picking up nine scalps at 8.44 and scored a handy 59 runs with the bat in hand.

The gold medal was particularly welcome after their male counterparts had suffered dual heartbreaks last year, missing out on qualification for both the 2023 ODI World Cup and the 2024 T20 World Cup. On the other hand, the South African management will rue another loss in the knockout stages despite sending over a depleted squad missing all their first choice players and treating the tournament as bit of a developmental tour.

Overall, it was a successful tournament with surprise results a plenty and numerous tense, low scoring affairs. It was a bright start for cricket at its inaugural African Games appearance and all eyes will now turn to the men’s tournament to see whether it lives up to the same excitement.

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