Dubai, Jan 2: It was while getting distracted during an Independence Day celebration that Sylvester Okpe stumbled across a group playing with bat and ball.
Curiosity got the better of him, so he asked what those players running back and forth over 22 yards were up to. And in doing so, he got his introduction to cricket.
Fast forward just a handful of years, and Okpe’s determination to try something new didn’t end there. It has now come to the point where he will be taking the field as the Nigeria captain at the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup.
In a country where football dominates the sporting agenda, the 19-year-old’s story of stumbling into cricket is not a unique one.
Across the U19 squad representing Nigeria in its first global cricket competition at South Africa 2020, very few had even seen the sport before first picking up a bat.
Some didn’t have shoes, let alone kits or equipment, for a game regarded both by teachers and parents as an easy way out of lessons.
For some with their poverty-stricken backgrounds, support from family and outside sources was minimal.
British colonists and missionaries first brought cricket to Nigeria in the 1900s but the sport taken time to flourish inthe country, having been stalled in the latter stages of the 20th century, following independence.
The past 20 years, however, have seen the tide turn anbd the game brought back to life, as previously active and passionate individuals rekindled the love for the game.
This time, these youngsters were determined to get it right for good.
The Nigeria Cricket Foundation (NCF) helped pave the way, not only bringing the talent to the fore but finding time for player welfare, sporting education, developing mentality and professionalism.