A look at Prosper Useni’s picture either while playing cricket or posing for a photograph, it’s easy to categorise him among the experienced players donning the colours of the Yellow Greens.
However, Useni is just a 17-year-old lad, who didn’t even have any background some five years ago.
In 2019, he was one of the pioneer set of players that took part in the Nigeria Cricket Federation National U-17 Championship, where he captained the South-South team to victory.
“Playing in that tournament was one of my biggest moves because the experience was massive. I was always performing at my best and the tournament built my confidence,” Useni told PUNCH Sports Extra.
“It exposed me to some level of cricket around the country and taught me how to lead as a captain. It opened doors for me because from the tournament, I was invited into the national U-19 team and from there to the senior national team.”
Like many of the chaps that have gone through the NCF U-17 Championship, Useni competed in 2019 and 2021. National coach of the NCF, Clive Ogbimi, explained how Useni became a national team player for the tournament.
“He was a player with incredible abilities at such a young age. He was a fast learner and that made it easy for him to transition. So, he wasn’t only learning from the coaches, but from the players as well,” Ogbimi said.
In any sport, a skill sets a player aside and in cricket, a fast way of preventing your opponents from chasing your runs is to get their wickets with a single ball. In doing that, Useni stands out as one of the best hands the country can rely on when it comes to bowling.
During the division one qualifiers for the 2024 ICC Men’s U-19 World Cup in Abuja last year, Useni showed his bowling prowess, to the delight of his teammates, getting wickets when it mattered as Nigeria finished second behind Kenya and moved to Division Two of the qualifiers.
“It’s training and consistency,” Useni told PUNCH Sports Extra.
“It takes a lot to aim precisely and you must keep working everyday to achieve that. The result gives you pure joy because it makes the job easier for your team.
“I am a bowler and I also bat well. As a cricketer, generally if you are a good batter and bowler, you must add fielding to it for support because it’s as important.”
Having featured for the senior national team, Useni, just like some of his U-19 teammates, have valuable experience for their age, even as he sets his models from the local to the international stage.
“My role models include Peter Aho, my teammate and a very good bowler, who holds the Guinness World Record for the best bowling figure in the world. Our captain Isaac Okpe, who has played a huge role in my development. I also have our ex-captain Ademola Onikoyi and outside Nigeria, someone I want to be like is Australian Mitchell Starc and he is a left-hand bowler.”
Useni, a 100-level student of Political Science at the Benson Idahosa University, Benin City, Edo State was part of the U-19’s recent training tour of India.
“It’s difficult to combine education and cricket especially when things clash. I’ve tried my best to balance it as well because I am trying to stay on top in both. Imagine I’m even granting this interview after sitting for an examination. I am trying my best and the federation understands,” he said.
Ahead of the Division Two qualifiers for the 2024 ICC Men’s U-19 World Cup, which will be held in Tanzania from July 23 to 29, Used is setting his sights on helping Nigeria reach the World Cup for the second time.
“My aim right now is the World Cup, I want to be there with Nigeria and showcase my talent. That will be one of the greatest things in my career. I also want to play in the international leagues and be a role model to others as well.”