February 7, 2000

NIGERIA - Could the sleeping giant be about to stir?

Those who claim to be in the 'know' in Nigerian cricket will tell you it is not unlike the country's resource rich economy - latent with potential but so far yet to show

Those who claim to be in the 'know' in Nigerian cricket will tell you it is not unlike the country's resource rich economy - latent with potential but so far yet to show.

While under-utilisation of the country's economic resources is genrally attributed to internal management, there are national team members who say they can easily identify the reason for any perceived lack of progress in Nigerian cricket.

"Up to the early '80s cricket had a very good grass root/developmental platform. But since then basically due to Nigeria's inability to get ICC status the sponsorship dried out. Most schools could no longer afford to fund the game. And government involvement was minimal at best," national player, Femi Olayiwole said last week.

It is this single issue which passionate Nigerian cricketers such as Olayiwole point to as the most significant reason for Nigerian cricket's perceived lack of progress.

Playing under the banner of the West Africa Cricket Conference, of which Nigeria was a foundation member on its 1975 admission to the then International Cricket Conference, has according to Olayiwole and others, robbed Nigerian cricket the benefits associated with individual Associate membership.

It is a membership which on raw talent, Nigeria should have no trouble attaining.

People such as Olayiwole proudly boast that the national team enjoys 95% indigenous membership, while black Nigerians also contribute 90% of the country's club cricketers. The non-indigenous players include Britons, Indians and Sri Lankans, while the Australian High Commission occasionally fields a team.

Prior to the last WACC Championship in 1998, Nigeria had won the previous 10 West African titles.

And it is a stand-alone national team which Nigerians hope will help slow the geographical contraction of Nigerian cricket.

Nigeria has 31 provinces/states of which 11 have a cricketing presence.

Broadly speaking, there are four cricketing regions - North, East, West and South West.

Of those, the western region has historically provided the pulse of Nigerian cricket. It has traditionally supplied the vast majority of national players, won the country's National Championships and the Lagos League is the country's strongest.

The Lagos League competition, presently underway, comprises the following clubs: Foundation (1), Cosmopolitan, Foundation (2), GCI, Pioneers, Rocks, Dyaks, Levites, Midas, KCOBA CC.

Other teams in the West Zone, outside the Lagos League are: Lagos, Ogun and Oyo State representative teams; UNILAG, UI and OAU university teams, and a British High Commission side (not in the league & and recreational players only).

The current Lagos League is known as the CCC League (Club Cricket Committee) so named because it is run by fellow cricketers. Prior to sponsorship from Van Vliet, it was self funded by the clubs, who paid to participate.

The format involves 50 over matches which at the most can be reduced to 40 overs-a-side. The league is based on a round robin format with standard 50 over one-day matches. Points are awarded for wins, batting points, bowling points etc, and the winner is the overall leader at the end of the season. The top four teams advance to a World Cup style 'Super Four'.

Two other leagues exist in Lagos for developmental purposes. One is for 10-15 year olds revolving around Secondary (High) Schools. The other is for Primary Schools (10 years and below).

Cosmopolitans have been the League's form batting team with two centurions in five matches while the top bowling side has been KCOB.

Cosmopolitan CC and Foundation (1) CC have been the strongest clubs for the last five years, rotating the premiership honours each year.

Nigeria's North Zone was formally one of its cricket's healthiest, but a significant drop in cricket activity in the past two to three years has seen the quality of cricket drop.

Four club sides remain - Zaria and Crocodile CCs, while university sides from ABU and UNIJOS also exist. These clubs contribute to the Sokoto State team.

In the East Zone, the standard has also declined. Previously it was a strong fielding region, but not so in batting.

Teams here include: UNN (a University team), Coal City CC and Enugu State representative team.

The South West Zone has historically provided the rest of the national team. They have also produced some of the fastest bowlers the country.

The Zone's club teams are: Warri CC, Shell CC, Shell Warri CC and Shell Port Harcourt CC.

There also also UNIBEN and UNI Port university teams, as well as Delta, Rivers and Edo State sides.

Pitches in most part of the country are concrete with a matting. Some pitches are laterite, which are rolled before every game, and a mat used to cover the surface. Mats used range from Jute, coconut, reticule and carpet.

There are no permanent grass pitches. This is due to the cost of maintenance and lack of expertise.

A grass pitch was produced by Crocodile CC a few years ago. This pitch was used for a series of national trials and friendly matches. The grounds belonged to the Polo club and have since reverted back to the original owners. The Lagos pitches however are all concrete with a carpet covering for games.

Major efforts have gone into junior development. There is a national competition for secondary schools as well as regional competitions.

Many years ago, most secondary schools had thriving cricket institutions, but this is constantly been depleted by the emergence of more "glamorous" sports such as soccer. Efforts, however, have been intensified in recent years to re-introduce the game back to the grassroots mainly by a non-profit organisation called Howzat Foundation for Cricket.

Thanks mainly to the Foundation, (a Nigerian managed and run cricket organisation) grass-roots development is back. The two other leagues that are run for younger players, are solely due to the Foundation. It has obtained sponsorship enabling a Nigerian under 19 team to go London this summer. According to Nigerian cricket enthusiasts, the Foundation is the main reason that cricket has a future in Nigeria