The setting for the game was the stunning St. Edward's School in Oxford, and when Nigeria batted first they made the most of a helpful batting track. They dealt very well with the extra pace of Pringle, and worked him well with both late and square cuts to the short boundary on the off-side. Within nine overs, both of our opening bowlers had been hit out of the attack, mostly thanks to the clean hitting Ademola Onikoyi. When I was given the responsibility of trying to contain Ademola with my away-swingers, I was slightly apprehensive as he had been calm and assured. I was delighted to force him to mis-time a delivery into the off-side, and when the off-spin of Alex King turned the screw at the other end, things were looking precarious at 75 for three. Dotun Olatunji and Olajide Bejide both played extremely calmly to rebuild the innings, though, working the gaps and hitting cleanly over the short boundary on their way to a century partnership, looking much more adept than the mere minnows that many would expect them to be.
In the field, the bowling was rhythmical and flowing, and the fielding was athletic but erratic. It was also in the field that Nigeria showed that they were a team from the lower reaches of the world cricketing ladder. Their fielding was at times ropey and slightly ill-disciplined, with fielders occasionally making somewhat complacent efforts to stop only moderately challenging balls. This should not take anything away from the obvious talent on show, though, even though they were taken for a double-century opening partnership by AD Fox and Hugo Darby - they aren't even the first team this week to have lost over 200 runs to that pair.
The Nigerian team impressed me when I played against them today.
The batsmen on show today really impressed me. Ademola, Bejide and Olatunji were excellent, all fulfilling their roles in the side excellently. Indeed, they looked to have more about them than the Bermudian batsmen in the 2007 World Cup, David Hemp aside, and were difficult wickets to take. Some of the Nigerians were technically accomplished, while others made up for patchier techniques with good shot selection. In all, a total of 267 for seven from their 45 overs is a good effort on pretty much any track.
As the runs mounted in the mammoth opening stand, the fielding and bowling got gradually sloppier. At times, the Nigerians resembled a club side, bowling wides and misfielding. The talent in the both of the weaker departments was clear for all to see, but the fielding in particular needs long hours of practice to get right all the time. This is the obstacle that may stand in their way when they face Argentina, Bahrain, Jersey, Kuwait and Vanuatu looking to progress to Division Five.
While there aren't any superstar cricketers in Nigeria yet, although in a place of that size, this should only be a matter of time with the right patience and investment, the player who impressed me most today was opening batsman Ademola Okinoyi. His ability to seize onto anything short of a length with a sharp pull shot, as well as working deliveries I delivered outside his off-stump into the leg side for singles, showed a quick cricket brain as well as quick feet and hands.
The Club Cricket Committee in Lagos co-ordinates a broad club cricket scene from which most of the national team ends up being selected. Cricket is not yet established as a mainstream sport, a position held by football, so the availability of cricket to school-children is currently minimal, but the club scene is being developed carefully by the NCF, and they have regularly been commended for their work on cricketing infrastructure in the country.
Indifference. I say it time and again, and it continues to be true: how can cricket ever hope to globalise when the ICC is stuck in the neolithic mindset that only ten teams are really needed? Looking at the Nigerian team today I saw incredible amounts of natural talent in a team that is selected from a tiny minority of what the nation has to offer. But why would the Nigerian government, for instance, seek to develop a sport with no Olympic prospects and no clear route to the top? Would you?
Next week, I will finally cover the one major African nation that I have so far omitted: Namibia, a team that I'm exceedingly fond of. Until next week, though, goodbye.