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Phantom Wars and the Colorful Cricket Party in Lagos

April 8, 2022

Hardly will you find the words ‘war’ and ‘party’ in the same sentence…but here we are presenting both to you in just the title alone. The war was not unexpected neither was the party and so the mix of both had been playing in the minds of many stakeholders and has been a topic of discussion among many people across the various strata in the cricket communities all over the continent. For 8 awesome days, their attention was turned to Lagos where the best of female cricket players were assembled and doing battle.

On the back of the subtle rivalry that had started to develop between the two nations, it was a satisfying win for the Rwandans and they have promised to come back next year to show that their triumph this year was no fluke.

But as we wait for the next 52 weeks to roll by, there is a need to take a look back at how the past few days have unfolded. As the old saying goes: “the further back we can look, the farther ahead we will see”. In a tournament that culminated in a final that produced many revelations, we will evaluate together the things that lit up our gaze and those that made us squint in disbelief and uncertainty.

There were bright sights both on the field of play and off it. The fact that Nigeria was able to host a 5-nation competition without it being an event of the International Cricket Council deserves all the accolades it is currently getting and will continue to get. Rwanda was already an ally and the ladies have been to (Abuja) Nigeria in the first series which was a bilateral and so it was easy to get them to come over for a second tournament. However, considering the logistical nightmare, financial implications and training needs, to get the other nations (Ghana, Sierra Leone and The Gambia) to traverse several borders for cricket would have taken some convincing. From what the President of the Nigeria Cricket Federation (Mr. Uyi Akpata) said during the closing ceremony, the tournament will be expanded to feature 8 countries in the next edition next year. Wow!

One other bright sight was with the backroom staff that had been expanded. In addition to the two coaches working with the ladies (Onome Oghenekevwe and Theophilus Ibodeme), more helping hands were mobilized to help out in getting the ladies ready. The fitness coach (Seye Olympio) that currently works with the male team was brought in to help keep the ladies in top shape and better condition their bodies in readiness for the rigors that come with playing alongside the best in your country, against the best of other countries. Leke Oyede, also brought in as Batting Consultant and to cap it all, the head coach, Asanka Guruinha also worked very closely with the team, offering tips and strategies all in bid to ensure that the team presented would be our best one yet.

The ray of light that came from the re-organised and re-galvanised backroom staff was that the batting line up became more stable - a far departure from how the batting lined up when the ladies were last at Kwibuka. The top order played together for a while and it was evident in the middle that they knew themselves better than before. The line up presented (at least for the top 4) remained the same from start to finish except in a case where an individual missed out of the game entirely. 

A glowing sight witnessed by many at the ground and many more around the globe was the dazzling display of batting masterclass on show from the awe-inspiring Salome Sunday. In a batting exhibition delivered with poise, polish and panache, an unbeaten 61 against Sierra Leone was followed by a commanding 63 against the eventual tournament conquerors Rwanda. One other soothing feeling, at least as we have seen, is that Salome is turned on further when she pairs Blessing Etim, and save for the messy emotions that overan everyone in the last game, Etim herself had a decent outing in all.

A promising little spark also showcased herself to the world when she defied her age and experience to produce some of the best bowling figures by a female international. Following in the (Kwibuka) footsteps of her captain (Blessing Etim) who produced an incredible 4-4-0-4 in Rwanda, Lillian Udeh returned unbelievable figures of 2-2-0-2 and emerged as one of the ones to look out for in the tomorrow that had already started from yesterday. 

15 year old Lillian Udeh with one of her Player of the Match awards

For a pane of glass to be reflective, one side of it must be "silvered" with a coat of reflective metal. This process turns the pane of glass into a mirror and the mirror allows us to assess ourselves with it.

One weakness of our team that has been pointed out is the tactical predictability. It seemed as though they had one solid, seemingly impregnable plan…and in all fairness to them, it worked. But when another tactical team matched their approach with an equally tactical slant, our ladies looked lost and unsure of what to do next. It looked as though there were no backup plans.

And because the team was not deep with tactics, they were rendered blunt and ineffective. Rwanda in the second game knew our every move and had anticipated them. They came prepared to counter every step in every and any direction, boxed our ladies into a corner and methodically took them apart. The ladies will come up against more teams who will be as tactically sound (if not better), than Rwanda and so our coaches need to start teaching the ladies how to think on their studs, and how to decisively manoeuvre from one tactical arrangement to another.

Our opening batters Lucky Piety and Kehinde Abdulakareem, stood in all through the game despite being open that their chemistry was work in progress. While it is okay to keep them growing by constantly exposing them to do battle together, we doubt if it was a strategy not to ring a change, at critical moments and for an opponent that you needed some element of surprise to destabilize the notes they have taken of you. Predictability can be a weapon in the hand of an enemy sometimes. It sure was for Rwanda women!

In the first game against Rwanda, a number of dots became singles and doubles; and a good number of boundaries should just have been singles. If we are to move into the next phase of development, the field placement needs to be fluid, dynamic and proactive. Although, to be fair, the team captain, Blessing Etim, was rested for that game.

Talking about development, there was a semblance of improvement in our running between the wickets. Our last time out, we dashed out 10 run out dismissals in 6 games. This time, we gave out only 3…but the worrying thing about this statistical figure is that the 3 run outs came against Rwanda (two of them in a game). What this suggests is that when the opposition applies pressure, or the scoreboard applies its own tension, our batters will start to panic and will likely crack under the weight of such pressure. If we cannot keep a calm head and maintain a cool resolve, it will be difficult to progress past teams who know how to heap pressure on their opponents. The games against Rwanda was a typical example and there will be more of such in the future.

The NCF Women’s T20I Invitational also afforded Ghana, The Gambia and Sierra Leone to beam the spotlight on their Women’s team, and third placed ‘Saro” Women were particularly a delight to watch. Fearless, despite knowing Nigeria and Rwanda had the upper hand. 

Ghana scored their highest ever total in a women’s T20i against Gambia, when they had the chance to the delight of their fans. 

As for the ladies from The Gambia, they clearly soaked in all the learnings and exposure available to them in Lagos.

Overall, this has been a successful outing by Nigeria both on and off the field and we are excited about what the future holds. See you at the Kwibuka Tournament in June.


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