After leading Nigeria to a clinch a historic berth at the U19 ICC World Cup 2020, Captain of the history-making U19 Cricket Team Sylvester Okpe would like to see the sport get more government patronage and more corporate sponsorship to help build on the achievements of the Junior Yellow Greens.
Okpe led his teammates through an unbeaten qualifying series in the U19 ICC World Cup qualifiers Africa Division 1 where they saw off hosts Namibia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Sierra Leone to become the first West African team to secure a place at a Cricket World Cup at any level.
The Junior Yellow Greens achievement Okpe told busybuddiesng.com was “the victory we deserved” and he paid tribute to the efforts of his teammates, the Nigerian Cricket Federation (NCF) and to God for making their historic accomplishment possible.
“[I would like to say thanks] first to God and to the Federation for the hard work they’ve put into Nigerian Cricket,” Okpe said.
“I would say to the team also to the guys, they’ve done their bit they’ve done everything they can because before we went to the tournament there was a lot of work being put into the trip and the guys had to sacrifice a lot.”
The magnitude of what the Junior Yellow Greens have achieved by qualifying for the U19 ICC World Cup is perhaps not fully appreciated in Nigeria where the sport doesn’t enjoy the massive following that football commands.
No West African nation had made it to an ICC World Cup and Nigeria went into the U19 ICC World Cup qualifiers Africa Division 1 as huge underdogs after losing all five matches in a preparatory series against Zimbabwe a Test playing nation who had already qualified for the World Cup.
Those losses and the tag of being underdogs notwithstanding, Okpe said the experience of testing themselves against the Zimbabweans fueled their belief heading into the qualifiers and helped them achieve a first-ever win against hosts and massive favourites, Namibia.
“What really gave us the belief was when we were in Zimbabwe for the training tour, those guys there were really helping us very well and they really inspired us to be able to play well,” he told busybuddiesng.com.
“So when we got to Namibia, we just said OK, those good things we did against Zimbabwe [who] are a greater side [and] who are already in the World Cup, if we do those good things well then we will know what will happen next. And when we did those good things in the tournament in our first match it yielded a great victory for us against Namibia which we haven’t beaten before in any part of cricket.
“So after Namibia, it boosted the minds of the guys and we said ok, just continue with those right things for the rest of the tournament and it happened and we came out victorious in the tournament.”
With the country basking in the glory of the U19 Cricket Team’s achievement and with a reception planned by the Minister of Sports Solomon Dalung, Okpe expressed the hope that a government which hitherto had shown scant interest in Cricket would begin to do more for the sport that relies mostly on the International Cricket Council (ICC) for funding.
The Captain of the U19 Cricket Team also hopes that the players can score commercial deals off their remarkable accomplishment and would like plans to be set in motion to enable the team give a good account at the World Cup in South Africa next year.
“The government didn’t put much contribution to the team before this tournament but I just hope this victory that we brought into Nigeria now will bring more sponsorship into Nigerian cricket and for the guys. I just hope the federation has greater plans for us and Nigeria has greater plans for us so we will be able to compete very well at the tournament.”