When big things happen in small countries, it leads to a life-changing moment. Such instances birth a piece of history that’s remembered by posterity. From a historical perspective, when Israel, one of the tiniest countries in the world, won the Six-Day war against a group of countries sworn to destroy the Jewish state, the massive achievement was noted with both shock and awe by the world.
At the peak of the of the Second World War, with the Nazi reign of terror in full flow, when two ordinary Czechs- Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabčík- trained by the British Special Operations Executive succeeded in assassinating none other than “Hitler’s Hangman of Prague,” the dreaded Reinhard Heydrich (the architect of the Holocaust), a tiny country, which until such time, had been utterly overpowered by the dreaded Germans learned a lesson in courage, besides setting an example of fighting back against tyranny.
In sporting parlance, when South Korea bettered Germany, one of the lord’s of soccer in 2018, and that too, in the World Cup, it proved impossible is nothing, and Adidas didn’t have to do anything with that.
Similarly, in Sierra Leone, a country of merely 7.9 million individuals, where footballers and politicians are considered celebrities and vastly outnumber those who pursue the painstaking path of cricket, when a young man named George Edward Ngegba became the Under-19 captain of a sport not many play, it birthed a significant moment too.
Though not as huge as England winning, for the first-time ever, the world cup in a sport they themselves invented, remember the game (2019), it did signal that cricketing hope wasn’t lost in a country whose population is nearly 22 million lesser than that of India’s national capital New Delhi where the sport is played in nearly every by-lane where E-sports are yet to penetrate the average household.
Here’s a hard fact, perhaps even a cold-blooded one.
To much of the wider world obsessed with cricket, the presence of Sierra Leonne in the game, whose association was first formed back in 1942, isn’t as interesting as the sight of watching a Joe Root or Virat Kohli club a Test century.
In fact, the very truth that a tiny African nation- with a spirited persona-happens to play cricket may not even concern or interest those ‘devoted followers’ of cricket who sit glued to their TV sets to watch their “crushes,” be it Smriti Mandhana and Ellyse Perry, even as they’d know little about the achievements of the idols of the women’s game.
But in a country where everyone is aware of names like Mohammad Bangura, Kei Kamara, and Isata Mahoi, the former two being noted footballers whilst the latter is a media personality, someone like George Edward Ngegba is making heads turn, slowly but steadily. Moreover, the 2002-born cricketer is determinedly adding to the cricketing narrative of a country replete with pristine white-sand beaches.
Among the youngsters keenly devoted to uphold the dignity of a sport in a country where football continues to attract greater attention, George Edward Ngegba, a genuine all-rounder, is leading the ascension for Sierra Leone in a vastly-competitive sport where dearth of financial support is an every-day reality, prosperity due to cricket- not so much.
At a time where the youth, as a result of a lack of proper guidance, mentoring and hand-holding can loose the plot and long-term focus, George Edward Ngegba, yet to turn 19, speaks about cricket with a calmness and sense of purpose rare to find in youngsters of his age.
In an exclusive to Caught At Point, the right-hander who also bowls spin mentioned, “As a people, we are resilient and we replicate same in playing with fielding, bowling and batting as our plusses. In a nutshell, we are a well balanced all round team but lack the facilities to optimise our potentials. For now, most of the key players are emerging players from the U19 squad. However, we also have senior players like Lansana Lamin, Abubakarr Kamara, Abass Gbla and Solomon Williams who are the current key players in the National team.”
His words echoed a sense of purpose and never seemed to meander into the cliched or random as he went on to narrate how he got into the sport and spoke of what some of his earliest challenges were.
As I learned about these, I was as heartbroken as determined to make a case for an able young man who shared that even today, despite captaining the Under-19 team, the November-born hasn’t been able to afford himself a cricket bat, let alone proper cricketing gear that could assure him of the necessary physical infrastructure needed to hone his able craft.
For the majority of our conversation, his kind responses, not to forget prompt replies, to all I wanted to know about him and his life were punctuated, repeatedly, by a particular frequent request, which did in the end perturb me into thinking if all was fine.
But it wasn’t as it didn’t take me long to understand that over and above his story, he wanted me to mention a vital need of the hour- a genuine heartfelt appeal to all those who could step up and offer support to him to acquire bats, batting gloves, helmets, thigh pads, armguards, abdomen box and even sunglasses, all of which helps one understand just what all lacks in a talented cricketing country that can achieve so much only if the basic requirements were met.
Speaking with unbridled passion about those who’ve helped the noted cricketer, who does have an ESPNCricinfo page on him, George spoke about how the future of Sierra Leonians in cricket can stem from the bright Under-19 lot.
When asked about who some of the key players in the team are, those around whom the contours of cricket is shaped, without batting an eyelid, George replied, “We do have players like John Bangura, Eric M. Turay, Emmanuel Akpoh, Raymond Coker, Alusine Turay, George Sesay, Karim Kamara, Ibrahim Sheik Kamara and Mohamed Kamara. They are the current key players we are trying to develop before the next U-13 World Cup qualifiers. John Bangura and Eric M. Turay are believed to have being the most experienced and matured players in the team. For the Patriots national team we have players like Lansana Lamin, Abubakarr Kamara, Abass Gbla, Mohamed Khan, Solomon Williams and Chernoh Bah who are among the best set of players we can currently boast of and expect so much from them for any tournaments. Lansana Lamin and Abubakarr Kamara are the two most experienced players in the current squad and are much more talented.”
But make no mistake.
George himself has picked up quite a few awards, which sooner or later, are going to go a long way to encourage youngsters to take up a sport and hence, increase the participation in the bat and ball route.
Take, for instance, in their just-concluded domestic premier league, T20, George Edward Ngegba won the “best bowler of the competition.” Besides this, he was also adjudged the “most valuable player of the competition,” excelling with both bat and ball, taking 35 wickets from 15 games wherein he’d also score 167 runs (from 9 games).
Not that this was a flash-in-the-pan performance; as right after the mini IPL-like T20 league within Sierra Leone, of its noted sons won the “Best Batsman,” along with “Best Bowler,” and the “Most Valuable Player” of the SLCA’s Men’s Elite Franchise League. During this contest, he led his team as captain to become the Champions of the league. Leading by an example, he scored 184 runs in 5 innings, took 18 wickets along with 5 catches in the competition.
For those who’d have wondered what his ICC records are- George Edward Ngegba has already grabbed 68 wickets plus struck 647 runs (and 17 catches) having first wielded the game in an international in 2016.
Upon poking him more about his cricket, when he could well have boasted about it given the teenage years and that impressionable age, George coyly admitted, “I’m the current leading runs scorer for the Sierra Leone Men’s National team in all ICC tournaments and also the leading runs scorer and current highest wicket taker for Sierra Leone in all ICC organized tournaments.”
His delight stems from the fact that at his disposal is a well-balanced and capable team, though the plight is that it lacks the necessary cohesive physical infrastructure so that a band of talented neophytes can find their footing in a sport where one’s keen to trample over weaklings.
George’s formative years saw his uncle play a handy part in his journey, a highly capable and skilled carpenter who introduced him to the game, having given him a wooden bat shaped out of a coconut tree. A bit of a Brian Lara tale in that- right? Though he was just 6 when George Edward Ngegba was taken into a cricket seminar by his elder brother, which lasted for three full days. Back in the mid 2000s, he was the youngest in the entirety of Sierra Leone to attend that cricketing event.
So what happened next in the life of a man who closely follows developments in Indian cricket?
“I was carefully trained and specially nurtured by Coach Ibrahim Omarr Sesay who was my first Coach since I was introduced to the game. He was not a Coach to me but also a Teacher and a Mentor to many of us who played under him and was fortunate to watch him play for a little while.
After Coach Ibrahim O. Sesay’s tenure Coach Mustapha Kallon who played a great role to help develop me as a Spinner and a proper All Rounder again trained me. From 2012 to date I’ve being well managed and schooled by my Team Manager in the person of Daniel Koroma who has tremendously contributed in my career and greatly help me to make the Senior national team in 2016.“
All of this, suggests something distinct about the Sierra Leonian. Having already tasted success in the sport despite these being early days, he’s willing to give respect to those who helped him find his bearings. It’s quite how Kimani Melius recollects the awesome contribution of coach and mentor Alton Crafton of St. Lucia.
It’s always great when a young man recollects about those who held his hands and ponders about what might the future hold of him. Just like it’s beautiful to imagine all that George Edward Ngegba can achieve should necessary support find its way to assist a man who lives for the game he’s passionately serving in Africa.
I can’t help but wonder how might that moment be when George will get to play against someone he’s really fond of in the current context of the sport: Rishab Pant?
How brilliant will that day be for one of Sierra Leone’s best exports to the game, one who couldn’t possibly have chosen a better role model than Yuvraj Singh?Note: In 2020, pitted against famous footballs, George won the “Best Sports Man Of The Year Award” In Sierra Leone’s National Entertainment Awards.
Reach out to George here: