Nigeria is not known for being a strong cricketing nation, but then the Junior Yellow Greens, Nigeria’s Under-19 cricket team qualified for their first-ever ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup. The Conversation Africa’s Wale Fatade asked Dr Babatunde Adebayo what Nigeria needs to do to popularise cricket and make qualification for major tournaments a regular occurrence.
How big an achievement is the qualification of Nigeria’s U-19 cricket team for their first-ever World Cup?
It was a groundbreaking achievement for the nation, especially in the area of youth sports competition. It was a proof that with adequate preparation, Nigeria can rub shoulders with big nations across the globe.
What investment and preparation needs to be made to build a world-class U-19 cricket team? What lessons do you draw from this experience?
The athletes and the team handlers had invested quality time in training hard to qualify for the tournament. Huge amounts of money had been spent to organise training tours to expose the athletes to this level of the sport prior to the African qualifiers.
The lesson that could be drawn from this is that the sports administrators in the country should refocus on developing young talent in sports other than just football. The effort put into producing talent in cricket is not as great as what is put into other sports. Yet those sports do not get the same outstanding results as what’s been achieved by the Under-19 cricket team.
Cricket has a long history in Nigeria. At what point did it lose its mass appeal and why did it happen?
The decline started over a decade and a half ago when the nation neglected those who had a passion for the game – due to too much focus on football development. Then there has been the poor quality of graduates of physical education in schools. In the past, the game was taught at secondary school level where young talent was discovered. But then sports teachers who retired or found other job opportunities were suddenly no longer being replaced.
What should be done to make the game more appealing to Nigerians?
The game should be resuscitated right from the secondary school level. Sports researchers in the universities should reintegrate the game into their training curriculum. The universities that were offering the game as a course should come together to spread their tentacles to other institutions.
The Ministry of Sports should also help build the sport by constructing cricket facilities in schools and procure necessary equipment for use. Seminars and workshops should be organised for physical education teachers to be able to teach the skills appropriately.
There is need to involve the veterans, those who have passion for the game and have played with outstanding records to work with the technical crew of the Nigeria Cricket Federation. The game should be introduced to schools right from the elementary stage. Pupils should have mini-cricket games which could arouse their interest to continue playing the game when they get to secondary school.
Universities that have been known for cricket should also revive the game; upcoming universities can consult them to learn from them. Institutions through the Nigerian Universities Games Association can establish a cricket league for university athletes where they can draw talents to represent the country in international competitions.
Media advocacy is very pertinent. The body administering cricket in the country should partner with the media to publicise their activities to revive the game. Our administrators should also send people to places like South Africa that have reputable records in the game to learn from them.
How can future Junior Yellow Greens teams stand a chance of doing this well at the World Cup?
If the technical crew do their homework adequately then future teams will do well. The camping session should be taken seriously. Players must be adequately remunerated, including officials. The coaches must also be exposed to up-to-date techniques and strategies.
What is the status of the senior national cricket team? What should be done to make it as successful?
They are just at the average level. They may not be able to attain a feat like qualifying for the world cup right now. There is a need to scout for talented and dedicated players. They also need to involve the veterans in preparing the athletes. The leadership of the Nigerian Cricket Federation should be strengthened – they need to work with the bigwigs that are ready to sacrifice everything for the game.