As cricket followers around the world are geared toward the 2024 ICC U19 World Cup qualifier, Africa, Europe and Asia would become the epicentre of youthful cricket action from the 28th of September to the 9th of October 2022.
For the Africa region, the two-step pathway qualifications journey will feature 8 countries. These will be hosted in Abuja where the young Africans will begin to write their name in gold for the elitist cricket game annals.
As part of the finishing touches of Mr Uyi Akpata’s-led Nigeria Cricket Federation, (NCF) class act, Abuja Cricket Oval in MKO Abiola Stadium, Package B is already adorned with a sparkling new look. There are two freshly made and well-trimmed pitches (wickets) with a perimeter fence. And newly constructed restrooms for trooping spectators. Also, familiar cricket players in Abuja would be amazed at the new side screens.
The Nigerian Chairman of the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) for the International Cricket Council, (ICC) Men’s U19 Cricket World Cup qualifier, African Division 2, Mr Ogbonnaya Okogeri has assured that everything was in place for an exciting cricket experience.
“We have been working round the clock to get everything sorted out. I can also tell you that Nigeria is going to give the world a lovely tournament.” Mr Okogeri boasted last Saturday.
The excitement and thrills of junior cricket usually come with ‘edge-of-the-seat suspense. According to NCF Technical Director, Mr Joseph Eshua, the tournament is always full of dramas as the key actors are usually unknown and unpredictable. He however assured Nigerian tactics and handlers did their best back in the Edo State camp.
“With the kind of preparation the boys have gone through, we expect them to take us from this level to the next level by qualifying in Division 2. Either coming 1st, 2nd or 3rd. That will give us the qualification to play in Division 1.
“There are all coming as new teenagers, U19, meaning you don’t know them, they don’t know you. It’s a junior tournament and you cannot predict or tip any country to qualify for now. All you need to do is to prepare your team properly and hope that their best is good enough.”
Despite being the host, Nigeria like the other seven participants will have no home advantage as the wickets are quite new, therefore strange to everyone. It is confirmed that Nigeria has not played on the new turf yet.
Meanwhile, a reliable source has also confirmed that ICC General Manager, Development, Mr William Glenwright will be on inspection of Abuja readiness in the company of ICC Africa Regional Development Manager Mrs Patricia Kambarami on Monday 26th September 2022.
Nigeria alongside seven African countries would vie for qualification into Africa Division 1 in 2023. Thereafter sought final qualification into the U19 ICC World Cup taking place in 2024.
When asked about the impact of time on the ages of these future African cricket sportsmen, Eshua said, the age metrics arrangement permits participants of the qualifiers to play in the ICC U19 World finals come 2024.
In 2019, the Nigeria U19 squad led by Peter Aho took Africa and the world by storm. They made a fairy tale history by defeating Sierra Leon to represent Africa. That exploit drew BBC Cricket’s attention and made 5 million online views. The highest most followed pathway qualifications in cricket globally, according to NCF Public Relations Officer, Musa Bodie.
However, “these are different crops of players that helped Nigeria to the World Cup in 2019. We pray also that similar things will occur. We pray the current set of boys will see that record as inspiration” former Nigeria national female coach Eshua hopes.
The 8 countries in Africa Division 2 expected to arrive in Abuja by Wednesday includes Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leon and Rwanda. Others are Kenya, Malawi, Botswana and Mozambique.
The top 3 teams from Africa Division 2 will join Namibia, Tanzania and Uganda in the last qualification pathway, Africa Division 1 where the region’s winner will emerge to join the already qualified 11 teams across the world.
Five different regions in the world will produce 5 winners to join 11 and make up 16 participating countries in the 2024 ICC U19 World Cup. Will Nigeria repeat 2019 history? Only time will tell.