The 2001 West African Championship has come and gone and Sierra Leone has retained the current cup for keeps having won it thrice in a row. I believe a new trophy will be made available by Sierra Leone for the next championship which will be hosted by Nigeria in Lagos come 2002.
Given the circumstances of the hosts, I believe the championship was fairly hosted and the Government of Sierra Leone must be commended for the support given to the SLCA. As a matter of fact the Sierra Leonean President Tejan Kebbah graced the closing ceremony personally while the Minister of Sports was present at both the opening and the closing days. The victory for the third time in a row has no doubt convinced corporate organisations in Freetown to support the Association in its bid to develop the game in the country and I believe the SLCA will start reaping the benefit of this support in the not too distant future.
The competition itself was fairly contested and as usual the match between Sierra Leone and Nigeria was the one everyone looked forward to. The wicket was Astroturf on concrete and the venue for all the matches was the King Tom Police Grounds; the only ground in Freetown available for cricket currently.
The Sierra Leone team has been together for sometime being the result of an injection of youngsters about eight years ago and during Nigeria's stranglehold on the championship in the first 10 editions had always threatened. They took their chance in Ghana in 1999 when the bulk of the Nigerian team that ruled for 10 editions was eased out and the Nigerian team started a rebuilding process.
The team is built around veteran Solomon Fatoma (captain), Sahr Kpundeh (left arm bowler), Albert Kpundeh (wicketkeeper), Sao Kanyako (opening batsman), Jina Kanyako (allrounder), Abdul Samu (left arm top order batsman), Henry Anthony (left arm seam bowler), Talleh (left arm seamer) and Mohammed Kamara (top order batsman).
The Nigerian team which is still in a rebuilding process looked capable in its first two matches but froze in the decisive match against the hosts and the rebuilding process must continue. The side which was predominantly supposed to favour batting flattered in the the first two matches reaching scores in excess of 300 runs each but capitulated to a more determined and experienced Sierra Leonean side.
The Gambian side continues to be affected by the absence of a developmental programme aimed at bringing out new talent and was considerably over-aged.
Ghana brought a side predominantly made up of the U-19 youngsters that played off with Nigeria in the selection for the West African team that participated at the Africa U-19 Championships in Uganda earlier in the year. This was indeed a refreshing development for West African Cricket and apart from their big loss to Nigeria competed on an even keel beating Gambia and keeping Sierra Leonean hearts in their mouths on the last day of the competition.
The standard of officiating was fair, however the LBW decision continues to be controversial as quite a few decisions especially those on the front foot generated commentary. Also the 'note-keeping' habit of the umpires took their eyes away from play often when the ball was not yet dead and in fact a bat/pad catch was completely missed during one of the games until the batsman walked.
The first match between Nigeria and Ghana was entirely one-sided as the Nigerians eager to show their ability against a youthful Ghanaian side chalked up 345 runs for the loss of seven wickets; the highlight being the 166 runs amassed by Bunmi Olufawo batting one down in the order.
This equalled the highest individual score at a Quadrangular set in 1982 by Ewa Henshaw who happened to be the Nigerian Team Manager this time around. Henshaw held his breadth as the record was about to be surpassed but he need not have worried as Olufawo was out next ball dragging a ball to his stumps. He batted for about three hours in a chanceless innings and had a partnership in excess of 200 runs with Wale Adeoye who ended up with 49 runs on the day. Young Dotun Olatunji also got 30 runs. Ghana replied meekly with 111 runs with Dapo Adegoke, Tayo Okusanya and Okey Ahuchogu claiming three wickets each.
The next day Nigeria played Gambia and got 325 runs for the loss of six wickets with contributions from Okey Ahuchogu(88) and Dotun Olatunji(60), Charles Okodua(31). Again Gambia replied with 123 runs with Dapo Adegoke collecting 3 wickets while Skipper Okon Ukpong took 5.
Before the Nigerian matches Sierra Leone had set the tone in the first match of the series beating Gambia by eight wickets after Gambia could only muster 123 runs which Sierra Leone did with the loss of only 2 wickets with Sao Kanyako getting a half century(52) and Albert Kpundeh also batting well in a solid opening partnership.
Ghana beat Gambia on Day 4 of the series with the youngsters acquitting themselves well this time.
On day 5 Sierra Leone defeated Nigeria emphatically with a 9-wicket victory. Nigeria played badly in setting a miserly target go 125 runs for the hosts which they accomplished for the loss of only the wicket of Sao Kanyako. Mohammed Kamara scored 54 runs batting one down and again Albert Kpundeh got into the thirties.
Bunmi Olufawo and Dolapo Gaffar scored 30 each and Nigeria was actually at 70 runs for the loss of 1 wicket before the rot set in.
In the final match of the series between Ghana and the hosts, the youngsters from Ghana almost created a scene by restricting Sierra Leone to 149 runs all out. However their batting did not match the hosts' bowling and they could only get 95 runs in reply.
All visiting contingents were lodged at Cape Sierra Hotel which was adequate for the series. Hoosain Ayob the ICC Development Officer for Africa came in to watch a couple of the games.
The AGM of the WACC held presided over by A O D George of Sierra Leone.
The following 18 were chosen to represent West Africa at the ICC Trophy in Toronto, Canada. Four will be dropped after a proposed training programme in South Africa:
Sierra Leone - Albert Kpundeh, Sao Kanyako, S Talleh, Henry Anthony, J Kanyako, Mohammed Kamara, Abdul Samu and Sahr Kpundeh Nigeria - Bunmi Olufawo, Charles Okodua, Wale Adeoye, Dapo Adegoke, Okey Ahuchogu, Okon Ukpong and Dotun Olatunji Ghana - Francis Bakiweyem and Kofi Anafi Gambia - Jubril Falana
The officials selected to groom the side are: Team Manager Ewa Henshaw (Nigeria) and coach Cyril Panda (Sierra Leone). Edmund Shonubi of Gambia will be the West African umpire to the Championship