Ugandan Cricket Picked Up After Gloomy Start

The cricket fraternity followed keenly mostly online as the national cricket team floundered in New Zealand, a new executive was elected to run the game, Tornado Bees remained infallible domestically, while Roger Mukasa got his groove back to inspire the Cricket Cranes to glory.

John Vianney Nsimbe looks back at an intriguing year in Ugandan cricket…

It was not Uganda’s failure to qualify for the 2015 World Cup that surprised the cricket fraternity in January. Even Uganda’s struggles batting had been well documented prior. But the fact that the Cricket Cranes finished last in the ten-team tournament was an embarrassing stunner.

As the curtains came down on these qualifiers, Uganda were carrying the wooden spoon in every sense of the word. Abram Mutyagaba collected 130 runs in six innings, an average of 21.6 runs. For Roger Mukasa, the country’s arguably best batsman, his scorecard read 95 runs in four innings, an average of 23.7 runs.

This, by any standard, wasn’t a statistic to provide any sort of consolation or hope because had the team finished in the top eight, they wouldn’t have been relegated to division three, a real nightmare to Ugandan cricket.

Not only was Cricket Uganda losing out on a bigger financial kitty from the ICC for cricket development of close to $700,000, twice what they had been receiving, but even the national team players’ wages were going down.

In fact, a clearly disheartened Cricket Uganda boss, Richard Mwami, said then: “I am really hurt that our players couldn’t seize such a life-changing opportunity. And for me, I believe that we need to overhaul the system if we are to have more competitive players.”

For some reason, the circumstances in which cricket in Uganda prevailed weren’t deemed conducive enough to propel the Cricket Cranes to success at such a level. The league is amateur and, therefore, not that competitive to produce international players. There are few top coaches to help impart the required skills to all the players in the country optimally.

In addition, the players have limited exposure, which is why Cricket Kenya’s decision to suspend the East Africa Elite League (EAEL) this year didn’t help Ugandan players.

According to Henry Okecho, a former national team coach, the EAEL, which pitted Ugandan players against Kenyan opposition from 2011 in both the T20 and 50-overs versions of the game, helped improve our players in a competitive sense. This is because they played on different wickets and faced players with distinct technique from what they were customarily used to here.

That is probably the reason, as much as the desire, for greener pastures was abound, why Farouk Ochimi and Raymond Otim, players of the Cricket Cranes, chose to go AWOL in New Zealand, and never returned home. Yet, for all the shortcomings in New Zealand, coach Johannes Rudolph from South Africa got no contract renewal.

Rudolph was the latest head to roll because of team Uganda’s failings. Others before him like Martin Suji, Mohammed Barney and Conrad Shukri had recently been there. However, the New Zealand debacle also preceded the Uganda Cricket Association (UCA) elective general assembly.

Again, like in 2012, Mwami, who was seeking a second two-year term, was challenged by city businessman, Shukla Mukesh. Although Mwami won the election comfortably, he had a tough task ahead, especially to turn around team Uganda’s humiliating displays internationally.

A cricket fraternity symposium was held, where key issues like schools development programmes, improvement of domestic leagues, training of coaches and more international exposure, were among those enlisted as priorities to raise the game. That was quickly followed by the season opening National T20 Championship.

A platform to showcase new acquisitions, Challengers cricket club, won it, so much in large part to the batting artistry of Arthur Kyobe and Arnold Otwani whom they signed from Tornado and Wanderers cricket clubs respectively.

Indeed, Challengers looked the part. In fact, Kyobe predicted that they would be able to put up a real fight for the National League title that is played in the 50-overs format. Unfortunately, Challengers just couldn’t challenge Tornado Bees whose infallibility was showcased in the way they coasted to a second back-to-back title unbeaten in 14 games.

With spin-bowler Davis Arinaitwe, coupled with the experience of players like Baig Akbar, Lawrence Sematimba and Jeremy Kibukamusoke, Tornado Bees had created an unassailable lead between themselves and the rest of the league at the halfway stage in August.

The league break thereabout couldn’t help much to Tornado Bees’ opponents. It only gave chance for the cricket fraternity to have a glimpse of the future stars in the Schools cricket week.

After four years without success, Busoga College Mwiri won it, staving off what had been a dominant spell from cricket rivals Kololo SS.

It was always nice to see the Mwiri star, Elifaz Katungi, 15, show how far he had come since featuring for the under-12 national team a few years ago.

His and Tornado Bees’ story are synonymous with patience and elements of agony. Tornado Bees had to stay long in the shadow of domestic cricket giants Tornado.

Yet, once the league resumed in the second round, they looked invincible, and indeed they were. Atop this invincibility was Roger Mukasa, who scored 549 runs, the highest in the league and picked 13 wickets.

As opposed to his dour displays in 2013, that inevitably didn’t make him many friends, this year, Mukasa picked the award for man-of-series and a $1,000 cheque as individual prize from the UCA.

That said, the women’s game is also making tremendous strides, as the Uganda Cricket end-of-year awards showed recently. The women, like the men, are also basking in the limelight with respect. In fact, Jinja SS women’s cricket side didn’t go without recognition.

Having won the national league title unbeaten, the students, led by their star act Prico Nakitende have been the club side of the year. Beating up on more experienced teams like Charity and Wanderers women’s clubs, was a pointer to how a more strict training regime always pays dividends.

And it’s the same hard-work that saw Uganda’s under-19 women’s team return from Tanzania with the Africa Cricket Association Trophy a few days ago. They staved off the challenge of Tanzania, Mozambique, Kenya, Rwanda and Botswana.

However, although the Cricket Cranes’ year beginning exploits in New Zealand left Cricket Uganda in a state of hopelessness, with no major international outings expected until end of 2016 at the earliest, God smiled on Uganda. The ICC decided to stage the Division Three World Cricket League earlier than had been expected in October this year.

And to the surprise of many, offered Uganda a chance to host it. But after thorough security consultations, the ICC didn’t find Uganda safe enough because of the close proximity of al-Shabab in Somalia.

As a result, the tournament was relocated to Malaysia. But Uganda wasn’t to be denied all the same. South African Peter Kirsten was hired as coach of the Cricket Cranes going to Malaysia, where the star performance of Mukasa not only enabled Uganda qualify to Division II the team also received $20,000 as cash prize from UCA.

But Mukasa was crowned Man-of-series there because of his 265 runs haul and 13 wickets in six games to cap a good year ending. Now, the hope is that the national women’s cricket team leave South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Namibia in their wake at the 2015 ICC Women’s World Cup qualifiers.

By finishing first in the qualifiers being held in South Africa between December 12 and 17, they will have signed off a year that started badly for Ugandan cricket in classic fashion by making it to the AustraliaNew Zealand women’s Cricket World Cup, where their male counterparts failed to make it to.

Source : The Observer

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