Outside the Big Two: Cricket in Africa

Cricket
Outside the Big Two: Cricket in Africa
Graham on African talent in cricket

South Africa is one of the heavy-weight teams in world cricket:  it played its first Test match in 1889, and is ranked second in the world in Test cricket.   Zimbabwe is also a test-playing country, but more of a middle-weight with 107 matches and twelve wins (against Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, but nobody else).  

What of the rest of Africa?   We are about to find out.  The Under-19 World Cup will be played in South Africa in January and February.   All the Test-playing countries will take part, including the host and Zimbabwe. Places are reserved for qualifiers from the Americas, Europe, Asia, East Asia Pacific and Africa.  

The first round of the qualifying competition was played more than a year ago.   Nine teams took part – Botswana, Eswatini, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Tanzania in one group, Ghana, Lesotho, Mozambique and Nigeria in the other. When every team in the group had played each other, the top two teams in each group moved on to the semi-finals. Nigeria beat Tanzania and Sierra Leone beat Mozambique in the semi-finals; Nigeria won the final, while Tanzania defeated Mozambique for third place.  

The top three teams went through to the second round of qualifying, and were joined by Kenya, Namibia and Uganda.   After each team had played each other, Nigeria topped the table: two rounds of qualifying, ten matches played, ten wins!   Nigeria qualified for the tournament in South Africa.  

They will play Australia on 20th January, the West Indies on the 23rd January and England on the 25th, all in Kimberley. Each match will be 50 overs per side, and – weather permitting – will only take a day.   With the other teams in their group being established Test-playing countries, it is (I’m sorry to say) difficult to see Nigeria finishing 1st or 2nd in the group and advancing to the Super League quarter-finals.  

It is most likely that they will finish 3rd or 4th, but that won’t be the end.   The bottom two teams in each group will go forward to the Plate quarter-finals and then to placement matches, so that every team is ranked in order.  Whatever happens in South Africa, the Nigeria Under-19 cricket team gives the country hope for future tournaments and for the men’s team in a few years’ time.  (England v Nigeria at Lords?)  Their country should be proud of them.