Newly-named captain of Nigeria’s Yellow Greens, Sylvester Okpe, says he’ll do all in his power to “lead well” and “help the team play better” at the upcoming ICC T20 World Cup Africa Qualifiers taking place from 15 to 21 November 2021 in Rwanda.
Okpe was unveiled as leader of Nigeria’s men’s cricket national team in the final 14-man list released last week by the Nigeria Cricket Federation (NCF) for the qualifying tournament.
The elevation adds yet another feather to a budding career already filled with remarkable highlights that includes captaining the national U19 side to become the first Nigerian team to qualify for an ICC World Cup in 2020.
The decision was unexpected, and while he’s taken it in his stride, the soft-spoken Okpe in a chat with busybuddiesng.com, admits his new role is “a big challenge” and a “big task”.
Okpe who was named MVP at the recently concluded Bilateral Series with Sierra Leone in Lagos is, however, confident he’ll discharge his duties with the steady excellence he’s exhibited throughout his cricket career.
“I felt okay when I heard the news and I knew it’s a big challenge,” Okpe told busybuddiesng.com about how he reacted to news of his new status.
“It is a big task, but I know I have to put in my best for the team and try and help the team play better and lead well.”
At just 20 years of age, Okpe will be expected to lead a team populated with much older and experienced players.
But the former captain of the U19 national team doesn’t envisage any problems in this regard, insisting the experience in the squad is a “good thing” and expressing confidence he’ll enjoy the support of his teammates.
“Well, it’s a good thing having experienced players in the team”, he says, “it’s not a challenge to me because I know they will give me their support.
“I’ve played with them, so I know what they’re capable of, and I know that they’ll give me what I need to be able to carry the team and ensure that we play better. We’re all on the same page.”
Nigeria will have to navigate past a formidable field of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to clinch the sole ticket to the global qualifiers.
The situation evokes memories from the U19s qualifying campaign when Nigeria upended the odds to clinch qualification to the 2020 ICC U19 World Cup in South Africa.
That experience of playing “under pressure” and facing better-fancied sides, Okpe says, will come in handy for him in Rwanda.
“I’ve been privileged to be with different coaches during the world cup period and being on tour, so I guess I know what to do at a particular time and know when to switch on and switch off,” he says.
“The U19 World Cup helped me. I’ve played under pressure and I feel it’s a great thing having such experience and playing again with the senior guys in the team that have experience. It’s going to play a major role for us going forward in this tournament.”
And the captain is confident that at the end of the tournament, the players will “make the country proud”.
“I’m very confident because I trust the process we’ve been going through. Hopefully, we’ll do better and make the country proud.”