President of the Nigeria Cricket Federation (NCF), Professor Yahaya Ukwenya says the target for the senior male national cricket team, The Yellow Greens, is to clinch one of the two qualification slots on offer as they get their ICC T-20 World Cup Africa Finals qualification to a start against Ghana today in Uganda.
The Yellow Greens – the lowest ranked team in the tournament – are jostling with Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Botswana and hosts Uganda to pick one of two slots to the final ICC T-20 World Cup qualifier in the United Arab Emirates later in the year.
Being the lowest ranked team in the tournament is something Ukwenya believes should not hinder Nigeria’s chances because according to him, “rankings don’t determine how you play a tournament”. With a rich cricket history dating over a century, Ukwenya believes Nigeria must start to pull her weight on the international scene.
This tournament, therefore, presents an “opportunity” for The Yellow Greens to upset the odds and “deliver” a ticket to the final qualification round as they have prepared well enough and will be contesting against their more illustrious opponents with the winning mix of “hard work, determination and a will to win”.
“We are probably the lowest ranked of the six teams that are in fighting for a World Cup spot in the men’s qualifiers,” Ukwenya told busybuddiesng.com in an exclusive chat.
“Probably next to us in ranking would be Ghana and then Botswana, but rankings don’t determine how you play a tournament. I think what’s most important and critical to the outcome of the tournament is your form during the tournament and form is determined by preparation and we have been preparing for a while.
“I believe the team is balanced and as I was telling them, it takes a bit of hard work, determination and a will to win to transform that balance to success on the field of play. So, it’s one thing to have given them the best preparation we can afford at the moment and it is another thing for them to transform that into play on the field. But nevertheless, I’m looking forward to a credible performance from the boys and we’ve set them a target and that target is qualification. I think we are way beyond trying to go into a tournament to just be part of the numbers we played enough cricket in our history to be aiming for more and that is a World Cup ticket. So, the opportunity is there we pray and we hope that the boys will deliver.”
Ukwenya’s confidence stems from the robust preparation the team has undergone with a two-week tour of Zimbabwe where they played a series of preparatory matches against top Zimbabwean cricket club sides. Nigeria’s U19 male team similarly toured Zimbabwe in the lead up to their historic feat of becoming the first ever Nigerian cricket team to secure qualification to any World Cup when they confounded expectations to pick a ticket to the U19 ICC World Cup in South Africa next January.
Deliberately seeking collaborations with Test playing countries in order to ensure exponential improvements for the national teams, Ukwenya said, is a core strategy of the NCF board and he credits the tour of Zimbabwe with helping the U19 team with the confidence and self-belief that propelled them to the World Cup.
It is a strategy he hopes will also pay off for the senior team who having tested themselves against elite players are expected to approach the qualifiers in Uganda without any fear.
“Definitely the senior boys will benefit from the experience [of touring Zimbabwe] because they are going to be able to examine themselves, they are going to lose fear of any kind of skill and that is what we did with the under 19. That’s the way the tour of Zimbabwe of our U19 boys affected them that we are not far from these guys and that self-belief was carried to Namibia and that was why when they were under pressure in three matches, they still came tops and eventually won the tournament.”
Nigeria open their ICC T-20 World Cup Africa Finals qualification against Ghana today after which they play Kenya on Monday, May 20 and face Botswana on Tuesday 21 May. The Yellow Greens then play Namibia on Thursday, May 23 before rounding off their campaign against hosts Uganda on Friday, May 24.
The top two teams qualify to represent Africa at the final ICC T-20 World Cup qualifiers in the UAE later in the year.
YELLOW GREENS ICC T-20 WORLD CUP AFRICA FINALS QUALIFICATION SQUAD
Ademola Onikoyi (Captain)
Sylvester Okpe (Vice Captain)
Joshua Ayannaike (Wicket Keeper)