Head coach of the Female Yellow Greens, Nigeria’s women’s cricket team, Leke Oyede, in this interview with ABIODUN ADEWALE, talks about about his playing career and transition into coaching
Congratulations on winning the 2023 Nigeria Cricket Federation Women’s T20i. How refreshing was it to eventually win especially in that kind of pulsating final against Rwanda?
It feels great and another step in the direction of where we want to be. I have expressed my confidence in the girls since we started camping. They have played ruthless games and showed a lot of positivity and I was sure they would be victorious. We rested a few of our players before the final, so it paid off for us eventually and they gave their 100 per cent.
So, how did you begin cricket?
I started playing cricket in secondary school. I went to Methodist Boys High School, Victoria Island. I was introduced to the game by one of my friends, Seye Olumpio, who is currently the fitness coach of the male and female cricket teams of Nigeria. I played a lot of competitions in secondary school and after that, I started playing in the CCC division two league and from there to division one. I have been playing competitive cricket since 1999.
How abut your national team experience?
I didn’t play for any of the age-grade teams, whether U-17 or U-19. However, I eventually broke into the national team in 2011, I believe as a result of the work I had put in over the years. My first major competition was an ICC World Cup qualifier in Uganda. I was part of the national team till 2019 and represented Nigeria at different competitions in Dubai, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, South Africa and many other countries.
What was the peak of your career with the national team?
I had that genuine peak in 2013 at the ICC World League qualifiers in Jersey. At that tournament, I realised I was really into the game and was ready to give everything.
Cricketers play almost every role but they have their strong hold on the field, which one is yours?
During my starting days in the league, I played the major role as an all-rounder. In the national team, I was more of a bowling all-rounder because I had senior batters and bowlers in the team. Even when I could bat, I played the role of a bowler-batter and towards the end of my days in the national team, I played as batter-bowler all-rounder or a batting all-rounder. So, basically from a bowling all-rounder to a batting all-rounder.
It is also common for cricketers to coach while playing. How did you venture into coaching?
I stayed in an environment where money was a problem and I always wanted to give back to the game. So, sometimes ago, I thought about how I could, and I discovered there was a lot I could give back to the game through coaching. So, I started writing to primary and secondary schools on Lagos Island. I introduced myself as a national team player who just wanted to bring cricket to the schools and let them see how much their pupils could do with it.
At the same time, on my street, I started introducing cricket in my area in Igbosere, Bamgbose, Tokunbo and other streets. At some point, I started having about 20 to 30 and 50 groups of players who started training under my tutelage. As at today, the first set of players that went through the process with me, some of them have represented Lagos State at different age-grade levels, and about six of them have played for the U-19 national team, which represented Nigeria in Zimbabwe, South Africa and the just-concluded U-19, which Nigeria hosted in Abuja. Two of them are currently in the national team. Ridwan Abdulkareem, one of them, stays in the same building with me.
Did you keep any other job to fund your passion for coaching?
What really helped me, even in the face of lack of finances, was the support of my partner, Anna Oyede, who is now my wife. She worked with bureau de change at that time and she helped a lot to fund the boys. Not only her, I had support from Seun Odeku, Femi John, Owolabi Oduguwa, Femi Solebo, Tayo Sowole, Sola Anyia, Dele Oshodi, Seun Garuba, Iya Fatimo, Rahmon Adelakun and the current President, Nigeria Cricket Federation, Uyi Akpata. They gave me all the support I needed.
How did your appointment as coach of the Female Yellow Greens come?
In 2019 or thereabout, the NCF employed a Sri Lankan/Australian man as high performance head coach of the national team. When he came in, I was in camp for a tournament in Rwanda, but I was feeling like hanging the bats already. As a matter of fact, players like Ridwan Abdulkareem, who I trained, had joined me in the national team as well. So, I felt I had paid my dues and should call it a quits. When I stopped playing, I told the high performance head coach I wanted to go fully into coaching and he put me to test with a lot of questions about what I had been doing in that regard. After that, the next thing I heard from him and the federation was that I would be joining him as an assistant to the ICC qualifiers in Rwanda in 2020. Having worked with him for a while, I believed he was satisfied and he recommended me to the federation as the head coach of the senior team and I got a mail from the secretariat, which confirmed me as the head coach of the female senior team.
How has the experience been in terms of challenges and prospects?
First, I have to say the NCF board led by Akpata has given me the enabling environment to work. I told the board my plans when I was appointed and since then, we have got full support for training, camping, getting equipment and attending competitions. Of recent, we had about 16 players given professional contracts, which means cricket is no longer just play and go for them. The prospects are so tremendous that they have overshadowed whatever challenges that have come our way.
The Female Yellow Greens lost the final of the 2022 NCF T20i to Rwanda. How did you mastermind the win this year, even after losing to them a day before the final?
Life is a learning curve. Last year, I was able to access certain things technically. We realised where we had lapses, not that we are 100 per cent good at the moment, but I put together the lessons from the last time and had the girls to watch the game again then going onto the field to work. I think that really helped. Again, like I said before, we rested a few of our players before this final, so it paid off for us eventually and they gave their 100 per cent.
You missed playing the World Cup as a player. Are you dreaming about that as a coach?
Leading the girls to the World Cup is part of the vision and I believe we are on the path. Countries who have qualified for the World Cup are not extra spectacular, but what makes the difference is hard work, so we are already putting a lot of that into our programmes. Aside that too, adequate treatment of the players is key — and what are these treatments: giving them the chance to train and make them comfortable psychologically, which the NCF has done with the contracts. In September, we will be playing in the division two of the World Cup qualifiers, from there we go into division one and straight to the World Cup, if we progress. So, the plan is to work to be able to achieve that.
You have worked with a foreign high-performance coach before and now, there is another foreigner Steve Tikolo currently with the Yellow Greens too. How have you learnt the ropes with these men?
In summary, what they say is, do your job, educate the girls and work with them on-and-off the field.
Are you still training boys who are interested in cricket?
Yes, that is where it all began and it won’t stop. I took a day rest after the NCF Women’s T20i, and I’ve gone back to the oval again to resume training with the boys, who are currently on holidays. And they are so lucky to have coach Tikolo and coach Ugbimi around too at this time.
A lot of your players combine education with cricket. For you personally, what are your professional and educational qualifications as well as the heights you want these players to reach?
I have a level 1 coaching certificate and I am tutor in cricket coaching. I studied Human Kinetics/Health Education at the University of Lagos, both Diploma and Degree. I am also doing some leadership courses at the moment. For players, they see us as role models. Education is the key. They know they have to go to school, those in high school also know that they must advance to tertiary institutions. There are about seven of them that just gained admission and the NCF has put a structure in place to make their education and cricket seamless.