With football being the major sport in the country, training children and other youths to play cricket is not what one would expect in a community on the outskirts of Lagos.
However, in Ipakodo in the Ikorodu Local Government Area, Coach Ingram Jones who relocated to the country from the United Kingdom is grooming future cricket stars for the country. Efosa Taiwo reports.
He ran over to me with gusto when I beckoned him to come over for an interview.
His coach, Ingram Jones bellowed as he ran, “You see that boy! He is going to be a star.”
Face to face with this reporter, Emeka ThankGod, 10 years old, teeth grinning with excitement enjoying playing cricket, shared his love for the game
“I like cricket because it is interesting and fun. When I saw them playing it, I loved it and decided to join them,” Emeka who is in JSS1 enthused.
For him, it was the sight of the game that made him fall in love with it, but for Ogunyemi Omolere who is 18 years old and in SS2, she saw a bright future with cricket.
Over the years, she has had stints with different sports, including swimming, football and table tennis and sometimes get teased by her friends for doing “what boys love doing”.
But unlike other sports, cricket seemed to be the one with better prospects, bringing to past her dad’s optimism that a better sports that will appeal to her will come her way after series of futile efforts with others.
“When I first saw cricket and coach Ingram came to talk to us about it. I felt it deep inside of me that this was the sport I have been waiting for. I saw that with it I could become great in life.
“It has been a very nice game since I started playing. Before now, I could not hold the bat but now I can play and can make runs, and I can even coach others.
“I used to train in swimming before, and my daddy could not see a future in it because I was not representing the state in swimming competitions after many trials. My daddy told me not to worry that another opportunity will come, and then this one came,” Omolore explained.
Odinaka Okanime is a typical Lagos boy who grew up loving and playing football like almost every other boy on the street . But to him, cricket brought him something football does not have.
“I am no longer putting attention on football. It is cricket now for me. I have learnt a lot of things in this game, like the basic skills and it is just left for me to work on them and go higher.
“When I first heard of it I was really glad to join because I was looking for a sport that will make me go far because football is just a random game, so I was looking for something new,” Okanime, who is in SS2, said.
Cricket will soon be the pride of Ikorodu – Ingram Jones
He saw the Nigerian cricket team on television play cricket and got fascinated by their performance. The pandemic erupted the United Kingdom and he and his Nigerian wife decided to come to Nigeria.
They touched down in Nigeria in February, and decided to settle down in Ikorodu. Ingram Jones would soon get an appointment as the Head Coach, Lagos Cricket Association, but that was not enough for him as he felt the urge to impact where he lives. He approached the Ipakodo Grammar School to have the children trained on cricket and convinced the school on how much of a value the game is to character development and career prospects.
“The community was very welcoming indeed. Straight from going to Ipakodo Grammar School, meeting the principals of both the junior and senior secondary school, they were very supportive. Sports master very supportive. The parents were very supportive. They registered their kids to play cricket. They come around whenever we go to TBS to support their kids.
“During the pandemic, I saw Nigeria playing cricket for the first time, and I was ‘wow! They are playing cricket. I could help them do better. I can support.’ So when I came to Nigeria, my sister-in-law and my wife were talking, and I asked them if they play cricket in Ikorodu and they said no, and I said to myself and to them at that moment, ‘I want to change that’.
“Soon I got the post of coaching the Lagos team, and I knew my priority was Lagos State. I took it upon myself to start something within the Ikorodu environment where I live and told myself I have to start from schools.
“By summer this year I want to do a big bash with schools in Ikorodu coming to a big venue, with balls flying all over the place and music accompanying just like they do in India. It is going to be something they have never seen before in Ikorodu. It is going to be the pride of Ikorodu.
“So subsequently, we would start getting teams from the Island to come here. For long, the Island has been known for cricket, we have to change it. That is going to have to change. In the long term, the goal is to have a cricket club here in Ikorodu,” Jones said.
In 1904, the first international cricket match took place in Nigeria with the Nigerian team who are known as Yellow-Green squaring up against Ghana formerly known as the Gold Coast.
The sport is administered in Nigeria by the Nigeria Cricket Association.
Changing a perennial problem in the Sports Industry
In the Nigeria sports sector, there has always been the challenge of discovering talents from the grassroots but no system in place to groom them to be world stars.
Jones noted that the problem is due to lack of vision by sports administrators.
“You have got to understand that you can’t expect a non-visionary to have vision. You can’t expect a blind man to see. So there have to be a visionary. When there is no vision, the people will perish. I think, in my opinion, that cricket be taught to five year olds first. Why? Because it is going to capture the parents.
“And when you get the parents invested, you get the whole family invested, and by the time they get to 10, they have quality already, and at 12, you are looking at playing for the state. Then go international, because we have got it early on.
“We are changing things. We are giving them character development from a young age. And if you look at all the superstars, not just in crickets but in all sports, they started very young. A lot of them. So I believe the younger we go, the better for us as a nation when it comes to sports.”
“I have been doing this 25 years, and my track records speak for itself. I am not being arrogant, but I know. There have been kids that I know that I brought to club at 16, 17 and I have children playing at that club today. We just have to create the structures. We can make excuses about funding or we can start bringing solutions. We can learn from our mistakes and we can do better. For that to happen we have to separate the skill-makers from the people who are mere-talkers. We have to find people that want to do the work and bring them in, and leave out people who only talk and no work.
How he got the children to play cricket
The sport is unpopular in the country, so I was curious how he was able to convince the children to play cricket, unlike every child that finds joy kicking balls.
To him, it is normal that you get people who would play cricket as not one profession has a monopoly of people.
“The whole country is not full of doctors, right? We’ve got engineers, carpenters, tailors, barristers, nurses, cleaners, office workers, transporters, people got different roles. Not everyone will play football, not everyone will have the opportunity of playing football. And now, when they see that they are not very good at football? The question is: what else am I going to do? And they are out there on the street doing something else.”
He affirmed that cricket is a game that is a cut above the “popular” football, noting that it keeps individuals productively engaged compared to being idle.
“For those who could not find it well with football, and don’t stand a chance with it, rather than be on the street idle, there is a second chance in cricket. And cricket, with due respect to football and footballers, is a different class. You could get to the university in UK being a cricketer. Rugby, Golf, Horse Riding, Jumping, these are sports that the prime ministers go watch. It is what it is. And when you talk to young people about what it means for them and their self-esteem, they get excited. And tell them you will do well in this. It gives them skills, and even prepares them for the workplace. It is a unique sport.
Charge to Parents, Guardians
Jones highlighted the benefits of children playing cricket alongside schooling as a plus for parents to consider.
He said cricket is a blend of Mathematics, English and Science.
“I know there this big thing for parents to tell their kids to focus on their school work and don’t focus on sports. But I tell you what, cricket gives you Mathematics, English, Science.
“In English, your communication skill. You are communicating with your other players, communicate on the field, off the field, with the media. Two, mathematics, how many runs I need to make in relation to win the game, how many runs we have to make to stop them to secure a win. Science, the speed at which the ball is coming down, the way you have to move your head out of the way. I will say to parents, give young people a chance.”
On Nigeria’s Chances to Level Up with leading nations
When it comes to cricket, the talk is about India, England, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh; for Jones, it will take Nigeria a lot but we need to start from the young.
“We have to start young. We have to invest in our coaches. We have to invest in the game. And investment is not just money; but efforts, time, planning and change in our mindset.
“The mindset is everything because everything starts with thoughts. From ignorance to your intelligence, the mindset must change. You can talk about all the problems but if you don’t get down to solutions, nothing will change. If I had sat down and talk about all the problems I had, I won’t be doing this today. But when you think about history, legacies, breaking records, win titles, your energy gets channeled that direction.”