At 14, Ekpoma-born Lucky Piety became the first female Nigerian cricketer to score a century in a T20 format game. ABIODUN ADEWALE writes on how she took the cricket world by storm following her eye-popping displays
There are not many youngsters who have moved from nurturing ambitions to finding career paths and are certain of what they will be able to make out of it, especially in the world of sports, which usually has uncertainty hanging over it.
At that naive stage of life, excelling in a chosen field is ideally the least problem of anyone between age 13 and 18, when there are examinations to pass or even video games to level up with.
For 16-year-old Lucky Piety, who has grown through the levels of cricket in Nigeria, she had a date with destiny at age 11, and has never looked back since then.
Just five years in the game, she is leading the pack of new prodigies of the xoubtrysy cricket by becoming the first female player to score a century at a T20 format game.
First at the national U-17 championships in 2021, before repeating same feat at the international level during the 2023 ICC Women’s U-19 Cricket World Cup qualifier.
Her cricket journey started when she was in Junior Secondary School Two.
Piety had left an admired private school to join a popular public school in Ekpoma, because her mother could no longer afford the fees at the former.
Though she understood her mother’s plight getting her and her siblings educated at all cost, she was crestfallen about the switch, but little did she know what fate had in stock for her.
“The love for cricket came naturally for me because I started in school and nobody told me to come play. I remember when I left Cosmopolitan Group of Schools due to financial challenges. I joined Ujoelen Grammar School in Ekpoma and I just fell in love with the sport from there. It was intriguing to see people following the ball,” she told our correspondent.
Within a short period, she moved from being a girl that was amused by chasing the ball to restricting opponents from making runs and even getting the wickets.
In 2018, thanks to a female junior cricket tournament organised by the wife of the President, Nigeria Cricket Federation, Obosa Akpata, she was able to bring her skills to test, before proceeding to play for Edo State and the South-South zone at the NCF-Pwc National Championships in 2019,
To her other sports are boring and cricket allows her to use more of ingenuity while exerting less energy.
“The way some people see cricket as boring is how I see other sports,” she said unapologetically.
“It makes you exert not so much energy but you have to keep thinking, do the basics and read the game yourself even while playing. Just apply yourself, like our coach will say, don’t try too hard even when it’s hard.”
The coach who discovered her, Cyril Musa, narrated how he was struck by her composure. He recalled that she was among many other prospects in Ekpoma who teamed up to win the 2021 NCF-Pwc National U-17 Championship for the South-South regioi. One of them he said was Piety’s classmate and they are all in the national team currently.
From coach Musa’s explanation, it seems Edo State is a hub for cricketers as Piety isn’t the only player that has made it out into the national teams. She is one out of many prodigies from Ekpoma particularly, but how much she has been able to achieve has set her firmly on the path to etching her name on the sands of time in Nigerian cricket.
At the second edition of the NCF-Pwc National Championship in 2021, Piety ran the show to lead her team to victory and in the process, she raised her bat for scoring 100 runs (century) as the first female to do that in Nigeria – a feat that didn’t only win her the Most Valuable Player at the tournament, but also secured her a scholarship from the NCF to further her education at any university of her choice.
“To me the score was unexpected because my cricket was not yet top notch as at then and I didn’t realise 100 runs was something massive that would be celebrated as much as that. Even after scoring I just came out and the next thing was getting my scholarship. I really thank the president for that; and at that point I feel even if that’s the only thing I achieve in this cricket, I feel fulfilled already,” she said.
Having showed huge prospect, it’s natural to question why she would feel satisfied at such an early stage. But Piety cannot be blamed; she had faced a lot of restraining from her mother, who would do anything to protect her and never allow her out of her reach. As a matter of fact, she almost botched the 2021 championships which produced her scholarship if not for the intervention of her maternal grandparents. Her grandmother went the extra mile to raise transport fare for her to join her teammates in Benin City, against the will of her mother.
“Starting cricket, I wasn’t bad and I got a lot of encouragements from my senior colleagues. But at home, I had issues with my mom because she was over protective. And I understand her fears, because as the first child she wanted to keep me within of parental control,” she began to narrate the experience.
“My mother had already insisted I was not going, and I already succumbed after pleading and doing all sort of house chores to appease her. A day or two days before I was supposed to join other South-South players in Benin, my grandmother asked that I come to her place to help her. It was even my mother that delivered her message.
“So, when I go to my grandma, she asked me if I really wanted to go play the tournament and I said yes. I mean, it was a big opportunity; my name was on the list and the tournament was in Benin, not even far from Ekpoma. So, she took out N1,500 from some church money that was kept with her, because she also said she had debtors owing her but it was too early to go ask for money and I needed to travel that early morning. In short, she rescued with that money while she waited for her debtors to pay so she could return it. I remember transport was N1,300 and my grandfather also gave me N500 for me to eat on the way because it was so early that I haven’t had breakfast before leaving. She also gave me her small phone too so I could call her when I get to Benin.”
While in Benin for the championship, news reached her that her mother still disapproved of her grandmother’s help. Yet she was focused and the result reached her mother at home, even before she hit the road back home. As much as the outcome of the reward of excelling at the championship pleased her mother, Piety still acknowledged the fact that anything lesser than securing the scholarship would have ended her cricket career abruptly.
“After the 100 runs, the president asked for my mother’s account number and I gave them my grandmother’s account number. Eventually, they insisted it has to be my mother’s account. At that point too, I knew it was going to be a testament to my mom that I was up to something good.
“Aside from safety, the major thing my mother was protecting was my education, so, getting the scholarship was like a relief for her too. She was happy that my education was secured and that was the turning point. She was like, carry on.
“If the scholarship was not involved, I think my cricket would have stopped because I disobeyed her,” she added.
Now with a scholarship and done with secondary school, the 16-year-old is aspiring to study Theatre and Media Arts and if there is ever anything more she hopes to accomplish immediately from the game, it is to secure the education of her three siblings as well, at just 16.
In her own case, she has seen the essence of education and sports and she strongly believes that one of her siblings, who also wants to play cricket, can enjoy such benefits.
“The NCF will never allow you leave your education because of a tournament. Even during our preparation for this, the president still paid for our JAMB coaching. So, we were moving from training to JAMB lessons,” she noted.
Having been part of the team that competed at the 2023 ICC Women’s U-19 World Cup qualifiers, Piety understands how far Nigeria has to go, beyond personal achievements.
At the qualifiers, she scored another century after facing 42 balls, which was the tournament’s fastest. Again, she became the first female Nigerian to record 100 runs at a T20i and that doesn’t erase her heroes on the home front.
“There are lots of players I look up to, even in our team. Our captain, Blessing Etim,the most capped female player for Nigeria, is one of the people I look up to and I want to surpass her achievements with Nigeria.
“By the grace of God, I am looking forward to us qualifying at the upcoming women’s World Cup qualifiers because we haven’t done that before. We have always been very close and I feel there is no time for catch up again. When we go into the tournament, we know what we are going for and we are getting there,” she added.
At a time Nigerian cricket is taking a quantum leap in Africa and the world, with more players like Piety emerging in the country, there are huge prospects that Nigerian cricketers will be raising their bats and trophies at tournaments in Africa and on the global stage very soon.