Cricket has been acknowledged as one of the first sports the colonialists brought to Nigeria. Together with football, cricket served different purposes for colonialists, including offering them the outlet for entertainment and chance to mix with the locals.
However, the game, credited for instilling discipline and perseverance on players, has not grown at the same level with football, which is played in all the communities of the country.
With the popularity of football, which is far easier to access in Nigeria, it is rare to see teenagers, who choose to play cricket rather than the round leather game.
But that is exactly the path Chilemanya Destiny has chosen. The lad who started playing the game at age 13 “when my younger brother, Solomon, asked if I wouldn’t mind joining them at the pitch, has given administrators of the game hope that the future looks bright.
Destiny told The Guardian recently that he was captivated by the game one day, as he walked past a cricket pitch and saw some young men work out and train on this new facility in a manner he never saw in football.
“I saw them train peacefully, they were very athletic and well organized, and I just liked the setting. So I walked up to one of them that I wanted be part of them,” he said.
That move seems to have given Nigeria a big prospect in game as he demonstrated at the just concluded U-17 Championship in Benin City.
Destiny’s discipline, curiosity and brilliance landed him the captain’s band for his school and with a little more, he was now commanding the state’s side and later South-South side that won the national Under 17 Championship.
“That was the biggest responsibility I have ever taken, my Coach Theophilus Ibodeme has a way of driving it in. He would always say ‘Destiny. Skip. Responsibility.’”
At the National U-17 Championship hosted at his alma mater, Destiny and his teammates gave a commanding performance that earned them the title and more importantly stood him out as the Most Valuable Player of the meet.
With a gift of height that belies his teen age, Destiny can easily be spotted out when the team cluster in training, on the bench or off the pitch, but nothing removes from his leadership ability.
Speaking on the just concluded Championship, he said though his side went into the championship as the number one seeded side, the first match was his most difficult game prior to the final match.
“The North Central side (comprising Abuja, Nasarawa, Kwara) held us down to 97 runs all out in the opening game. None of us thought they would give us that type of choke. Even when we came in to bat in the second inning, they made it clear to us that from their game that it was not going to be easy.”
Destiny recounts that, apart from returning to their normal practice, nothing more changed in their play all through the event, except for the fact that they now depended a lot more on their coach’s instructions.
“Coach Ibodeme has a unique way of seeing the game… he could just call out a player and ask him to move two step forward from his position and the next ball would be played to him.”
That happened twice at the event and for a team that needed something extra to bring to the table, looking up to a call from him for his perspective became very important as the game progressed.”
After the battle with North Central, Destiny says his team took things easy, treating all of the other sides with the respect they deserved.
“We watched all other matches as a team and worked out how to play each of the matches; but the final match with the North West team was different,” he confesses.
Selim Salau and Asia Osaro had done fine as opening duo for the South-South, but by 8.3 over Salau got bowled. They later lost four more wickets (Osaro Asisa, 9.2, Isaac Oyemba, 9.4, Useni Prosper, 9.5).
“I am the captain and number six batsman, and watching all these from the bench was really devastating.” Oyemba was his most respected and most disciplined teammate, while Prosper had this toga of former U-19 star handing over him. But as they all got dismissed it then lies with Destiny how the match must turn out.
“Shocking for me was Prosper as he got off on a ‘golden duck.’ I knew I had to do something. So as I walked in, I heard the coach say to me ‘Destiny. Skip. Responsibility.’ And this time he added ‘Take Charge’. I can’t forget those words easily.
“What I did was simple, I told myself I was going to track every ball to my bat and say a prayer after every ball.”
Destiny’s composure stabilized the game as he stayed through the end of the inning at 22.5, where they chalked 97 runs to set up an intriguing run off by their North West opponents.
Despite the shortfall, a tempo was already set going forward that meant the opponents were now on the edge to race past the 97.
“Naturally, the North West team would have done that easily, but I think we were pumped and our coaches didn’t put pressure on us, we were just asked to go and have fun. And we did.”
By the third overs, they had sent the opening batmen (Adams Ibrahim 3.3, Sunday Joshua 3.4) packing. They took another four before the 12th was over (Theophilus Jeremiah 5.3, Dominic Aliyu, 6 Paul Pam, 10.2, 40-6 Alhassan Alfa, 10.4, Boniface Kenneth, 12.1) to set up what became the climax of the event.
“By that time, we knew the game was for us to lose. But we won and it became my most memorable cricket match.”
Destiny and some of his team mates have been invited for trials with the U-19 national team billed to face Namibia, Uganda and two other qualifiers from the division two in an African youth competition.