Nigeria’s cricket national team captain, Ademola Onikoyi is leading the way forward in greater awareness for the sport in the country, where he says impact from the wickets’ game is stirring up better interest and support.
Onikoyi recalls that when he was a teenager he struggled to explain to his friends why he would leave football games early to go to cricket practice but times have change and the wicketkeeper-batsman hopes the days of having to explain rudiments of the game are over.
As he gears up to captain Nigeria’s T20 national team at the World Cup qualifiers in the United Arab Emirates, the 32-year-old Onikoyi said he is happy that many Nigerians that did not know or understand what cricket was all about now have a strong grip of it.
Reaching this far is a huge step up for Africa’s most populous nation as it edges closer than ever before to a major international tournament, and Onikoyi told AFP: “It is a big stage for us — the first time we are participating at this level.”
The Nigerian team’s coach, Clive Ogbimi added his verdict in the same way, even as he admitted it is a stroke of luck that is taking them to UAE, where they will play their opening game against Jersey on October 19.
The team of amateurs, students and businessmen is the lowest ranked side at the qualifiers and faces overwhelming odds to reach the World Cup in Australia next year, with the squad getting through to this stage after the International Cricket Council (ICC) suspended Zimbabwe in July over government interference in the game.
However, Coach Ogbimi and his players believe they are in with a chance, with an attendant ray of hope that success can fuel more interest in cricket back home; as he recalls: “We got handed this opportunity and now we have to grab it. The belief is rising and we can go out and compete.”