2019 has been an amazing year for cricket in Nigeria: Their U19 beat all odds to qualify for the 2020 U19 World Cup in South Africa. They will appear at the event alongside fellow debutants Japan.

The “Yellow Greens” went to Kampala for the Men’s T20 World Cup Asia Finals as the second qualifier from West Africa behind neighbours Ghana from their sub-regional. The Africa Finals were affected by rain with only 10 of the scheduled 15 games possible, but the rain came with some fortune for Nigeria as they managed to get valuable points against home side Uganda and eventual winners Namibia due to washouts.

The two points were added to the wins against Ghana and Botswana. There was more fortune for Nigeria as the home side Uganda failed against neighbours Kenya and winners Namibia, with their only win coming against Ghana. Once it came down to points Nigeria, finished in third place ahead of home side Uganda who finished in lowly 4th.

A third place finish was not good enough to qualify automatically, but a decision at the ICC conference in May to suspend Zimbabwe opened up an extra spot for an African team, and that is how Nigeria got their shot at the T20 World Cup.

The Nigeria Men, the “Yellow Greens” (supplied)

Fortune might have favoured their path to UAE but it doesn’t mean they are not ready. Named as a targeted growth nation by the ICC, Nigeria has made great strides in developing the game in the country. With a population of over 200 million to grow the game among, the Nigerian Cricket Association has invested in infrastructure as well as their human resource in terms of players and coaches.

Their U19 squad shocked the nation – and the cricketing world – by winning the Worlds Cup Africa Qualifiers in Namibia, going unbeaten past seasoned teams such as Uganda, Kenya and Namibia.

In the years leading up to these international tournaments Nigeria has visited Uganda twice and even though they have generally gone down to Uganda’s Cricket Cranes, they have clearly gained much from the experience. This year they ventured into Zimbabwe, playing against local teams ahead of major tournaments.

Before leaving the continent for the Middle East the Men’s squad toured Zimbabwe, playing seven games against Rhinos Cricket Club in Kwekwe. That tour was followed by a trip to Sharjah UAE where they played three more T20s including a win against former World Cup semi-finalists Kenya, making a total of 10 tune-up matches against quality opposition before a major tournament.

Nigeria in team talk
Nigeria team talk before going out to field against Kenya in Sharjah (supplied)

Coach Clive Uthe Ogbimi has added three U19 players Sylvester Okpe, Sulaimon Runsewe, Taiwo Mohammed to gain some much needed exposure ahead of the U19 World Cup early next year. Much will be expected from senior players Ademola Onikoyi (Captain), Daniel Gim, Chima Akachukwu, Abiodun Abioye.

Coach Clive told Emerging Cricket “We have tried to keep on improving our work rate. Reinforcing the need to do the basics right and more consistently. We mentioned the policy of seeking superior firepower on playing/ training tours like the recent Zimbabwe tour of Kwekwe.”

Nigeria may be touching down in UAE as underdogs, but they travel there with every intention of leaving their mark on the event, and should not be written off as easy beats by any of the other six sides in Group B. Playing all round-robin matches in Abu Dhabi, they will come up against some of the stronger Associates in the game’s shortest international format being UAE, Oman, Hong Kong, Jersey and Canada, as well as Ireland, a match which will be the countries first Men’s international against a Test nation, after the women faced Zimbabwe in the regional finals in Harare in May 2019. Let the games begin.

Full Nigeria Squad:

1. Ademola Onikoyi ©
2. Sylvester Okpe (VC)
3. Sesan Adedeji
4. Chimezie Onwuzulike
5. Vincent Adewoye
6. Leke Oyede
7. Isaac Okpe
8. Daniel Gim
9. Segun Ogundipe
10. Chima Akachukwu
11. Abiodun Abioye
12. Taiwo Mohammed
13. Sulaimon Runsewe
14. Yusuf Gershon
15. Daniel Ajekun

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