Saturday April 5 2014

Venturing into state of cricket and way forward

Left hand opening batsman Arthur Kyobe pulls off a blinder

Left hand opening batsman Arthur Kyobe pulls off a blinder in the deep mid-wicket region during the game against Scotland at the ICC T20 World Cup qualifier at the Global Academy Grounds in Dubai. Ugandan cricket has been on a downward trajectory since. Photo by Innocent Ndawula 

By Andrew Mwanguhya

This has hardly been a year to hymn about for cricket, let alone Ugandan sport. But it is Cricket Cranes’ abject performance at the ICC World Cup qualifiers in New Zealand in January-February that opened an inquest into all forgotten ‘evils’ if you like.

Questions of what next with the current generation headed out were before us with few quality youngsters coming though. Uganda Cricket Association (UCA) CEO Justine Ligyalingi admits the disparity is a concern.

“It is not that there is no one coming through,” he says, “Only that there is a gulf in class between the two generations. As for now we are trying to match the quality of the current generation with the group coming through. That is the concern - the quality.”

Schools cricket
Ligyalingi, an ICC Level 3 license coach trained in India and South Africa, was a teacher and cricket tutor at Mwiri when the Eastern Uganda powerhouse churned out one quality cricketer after another.

But while newly rejuvenated forces Jinja SS continue to steal Mwiri’s former thunder, and Mukono and Kololo step up to the plate, questions have been asked of what has gone wrong in most traditional schools that were uncontested talent conveyor belts.

“The issue of having a school administration dedicated to the game and a committed cricket teacher comes into play,” Ligyalingi explains.
“During my time at Mwiri, I was there full time and we had unreserved support from the administration.

“That now could be said of Jinja. They have two dedicated coaches; they have structures from S1 to S6, and a team in the First Division, where they use their students.

“That is the model we had at Mwiri. But having lost dedicated teachers without necessarily replacing them, it has been difficult for them.

“That is not to say Mwiri are gone. They, together with Budo, Kibuli and others continue to grow the game and we continue to support them.”

But how does UCA claim to continue supporting grass roots yet they are the same body that starved schools and development cricket of funding last year at the premise of facilitating the men’s national team?

National team funding
UCA invested heavily in the national team’s quest to, well – forget the high ladders of qualifying for the ICC World Cup, but to at least move to Division II, a venture that would tremendously increase funding from the world cricket body.

Actually, they spent about 60 per cent of their 2013/14 budget on the national team preparations and campaign, a campaign that saw Cricket Cranes failing to win a single match in New Zealand.

That display saw Uganda remain in Division III and miss out on increased funding in excesses of $1m (Shs2.475b) courtesy of the ICC High Performance Program (HPP).

Uganda and Div III members receive $330,000 (Shs825m) annually but now have access to a percentage increment to cater for HPPs.

Ligyalingi admits they spent in overdrive on the national team at the expense of grassroots development but says they are now going back to prioritizing youth development.

“As UCA we needed to invest in the national team to achieve a certain level so as to also increase funding from the ICC,” he tells SCORE.

“Our funding of the national team for the 2013/14 budget is actually the biggest ever.” Of the Shs1.2b budget for UCA in 2012, Shs563m was spent on the men’s national team.
But increased figures the following year saw over Shs1.1b of the Shs2.3b budget spent on the national team.

Back to basics
“We spent a lot on kitting, equipment, allowances on tours and build-up matches, paying a physio, coaches and assistants and acclimatization tours.

“It is something that if we had qualified to Div 11, it would have paid off. But that we didn’t yes, you could say it backfired. “But now we have changed approach. We are prioritizing development and we have come up with programs putting emphasis on schools cricket, the U19s, women and youth, especially now that the national team is briefly out international engagements.”

Going forward UCA will appoint a development manager, who will work with four officers in as regions in the country to fast track talent development in schools, with some ‘Lugogo boys’ also set to benefit.

“Under the same project we have a development support coaches program where we are using mainly our national team players.

“These players will visit the different schools in the four regions of the country. We thought it would be good for us as UCA, the players and the kids, especially now that the national team is inactive. They get to earn something while we also tap into their expertise as they impart kills on the young cricketers.”

The UCA executive at the same retreat agreed to start a T20 university league sometime this year which should serve as transition from youth to the senior team.

Makerere, Kyambogo, UCU - Mukono, Uganda Martyrs - Nkozi, Nkumba and Mubs are the universities earmarked to pioneer, with the Africa Cricket Association (ACA) set to sponsor the inaugural season.

Foreign players a quick fix?

Yet some questions still linger regarding the build-up to New Zealand in which Uganda’s arguably best batsman at the time, Arthur Kyobe, was dropped without clear reasons, and some even queried foreign players’ inclusion at the expense of locally bred stars.

Actually, one would be forgiven to think the inclusion of South African-born Ugandans Abraham Ndhlovu Mutyagaba and Philemon Selowa Mukobe is a clear indictment on UCA’s failure to nurture their own.

But Ligyalingi disagrees. “It is a global trend and countries have invested a lot in bringing in quality foreign players,” says the former wicket keeper batsman.
“Even if we had quality players in place of those foreign ones, with the quality of our international opponents, we still have to up our game.

“The level at which we want to be is very high and even with these players you call foreign, it may take us two to three attempts to get there.”

Countries like England field players of Pakistani, Indian, South African and West Indian origin in the three codes of the game like Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott, Moeen Ali, Chris Jordan and Monty Panesar among others.

“We are not an exception and besides, the ICC rules on player illegibility back us.”

The ICC player eligibility rules allowthose born in the said country, passport holders, or those that have stayed in a given country for a given period. Mutyagaba and Mukobe earned their right to play for Uganda after UCA capitalized on the latter requirement.

Actually, Ligyalingi believes decreased numbers of foreign players in the national league partly accounts for fallen standards as we get to compete only against our own standards.

Kyobe’s controversial omission
“The league has had its ups and downs and we no longer have foreign based players. Now that is something only clubs can do something about it.”
On Kyobe’s controversial omission from the New Zealand mission, Ligyalingi echoed his boss’ explanation. Richard Mwami, the UCA chairman, alluded to a “disciplinary issue” as the reason Kyobe was omitted while appearing at one of the NTV Sports Bar shows recently, but without necessarily saying which disciplinary issue. “If the chairman hinted at discipline, then so be it,” says Ligyalingi, “But we just didn’t want to talk about it (the disciplinary issue) because the selectors had done their job.”

It is that indifference on a player whose omission could not be tagged on form that led to all theories you can think of, a fact Ligyalingi admits they could have handled better. “Yes, you are right. May be we should have explained the decision.”
However, SCORE learnt that Kyobe was reportedly dropped because he didn’t ‘gel in well’, according to one of the selectors.
It is claimed Kyobe ‘brought negative energies’ around the team as he deemed himself to be in a ‘league of his own’ as one of his teammates, who preferred anonymity, shared with us.

ICC grant and Brian Lara money
Bossing an aura of authority as he leaned back in his swivel chair at the UCA offices in Nakawa, Ligyalingi, who assumed office in 2010, was not about to stop explaining.

We have a $250,000 grant from the ICC to construct an oval still a mystery, at least before the general public, and the famous Brian Lara Foundation money, which – apparently – was meant to erect a cricket home.

During a dinner for Lara on his visit to Uganda five years ago, several pledges were made towards the former West Indies’ batsman Foundation, with proceeds apparently dedicated to the construction of an oval.

Some $16,268 (Shs40m) in pledges was collected by UCA while only Shs19m out of Shs88m (pledges in shillings) has been collected to date.

“Moringa, the agency we used, had some shortfalls and as UCA we had to settle some of the expenses using some of the pledges collected,” explains Ligyalingi
“But two people with outstanding pledges (one with Shs39m and the other Shs30m) have failed to honour their pledges up to now, so what do we do?” Even then, the uncollected Shs69m would hardly construct a cricket stadium.
Onto the $250,000 grant to construct an oval, to which UCA secured a 14-acre land in Kisubi, Kawuku off Entebbe Road after the initial one in Kakiri was reportedly turned down by board members for distance reasons.

Earth works are already underway on the said land but queries abound that the project has stalled, with some questioning accountability of the grant approved during Dr Kato Sebbaale’s tenure as chairman.

However, Ligyalingi quashes those allegations. “What our public may not know is that this grant is given in phases, ICC does not give it up front.
“And it is what we call a match-up grant in that ICC gives you the first installment and you meet the other end of the bargain to hit targets of what is entailed in the first phase of the project.”

The first phase includes acquiring land, leveling and planting grass among others. As you read, UCA are leveling the land and filling part of the swampy area with murrum.

“We got $100,000 of the $250,000 as the first installment and we are doing our best to fulfill all the conditions in phase one. We shall then do a report on that to get the balance to start on phase two, which includes building a perimeter fence and doing constructions on the oval.”

According to Ligyalingi, works on the site had by last week cost $72,000. UCA will, however, dig into their coffers for the $28,000 balance – on top of their own match-up contribution – as it was also spent on national team preparations.

Sponsorships
Meanwhile, UCA are in frantic search of new sponsors for the national league after Multiple Industries threw in the towel midway last season although their brand continued gracing scoreboards till the end of the campaign.

This trend of sponsors quitting without clear reasons continues following Stanbic Bank and MTN pulling out of mini cricket a few years back. Coca Cola also pulled out of schools cricket but fortunately, rivals Pepsi came in.
“It’s true we have lost some sponsors, but it is also true that we continue to attract big sponsorships.

“Coke covered only boys but when Pepsi came it, both boys and girls are now covered. Then we have a three-year deal with UK Sport sponsoring our Northern Uganda development program, we have Mehta sponsoring the national teams of men and women to a tune of Shs116m, and we are in discussions with potential sponsors for the national league.

“We are also in a partnership with an Australian club, Bankstown Sports Cricket Club, which delivers a full container of equipment every year.”
Brian Freedman, a former president of the Bankstown Sports Cricket Club, has spearheaded the project with annual dispatches of cricket gear to Uganda that have catered for all national teams, local franchises, clubs, umpires and schools as well.

THE NUMBERS

Shs1.2 billion: UCA budget, in shillings, in 2012, of which Shs563m went to the men’s national team.
Shs1.1 billion: UCA budget Shs2.3b for 2013/14, of which over Shs1.1b went to the national team.
$100,000: First installment, in US dollars, UCA received from the ICC Facilities Development Grant
$250,000: Money Uganda won from the ICC Facilities Development Grant
$330,000: Annual funding to ICC Div III members
$1m (Shs2.475b): Money Uganda would have received annually had they made Div II

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