The year 2017 delivered unique success for Uganda cricket but it is the heart-breaking moments that still stand out.
There was a point when many fans did not want to hear anything about the Uganda national cricket teams.
Of unbelievable shocks.
Actually, few would want to remember the most piercing time when the senior national team - the Cricket Cranes - suffered shock relegation as Uganda hosted the ICC World Cricket League Division (WCL) Three tournament in May.
Before the fraternity could recover, their understudies - the Baby Cricket Cranes - were at it again as they bottled it on the final day to lose the available global ticket to hosts ICC U-19 World Cup in June.
It felt like cricket would not recover. Grounds men felt no reason clear the grounds, fans preferred to retreat to their shells rather than take seats at the ovals, umpires appeared for the sake and players struggled to shed off the mental stress.
Candiru’s bright candle, Mutyagaba magic
As journalists resorted to positive critiquing as well as endless banter on social media platform WhatsApp, Uganda Cricket Association (UCA) crawled across the living room and began the soul searching with an independent review of the gentleman’s game here at a workshop at Sheraton Hotel in July.
But little did UCA know that the senior ladies national team - the Lady Cricket Cranes, were plotting a renaissance for the sport in general.
Even when coach Francis Otieno was out of Namibia trip with an expired passport, his replacement Grace Mutyagaba delivered the magic wand to help the Lady Cricket Cranes lift the Africa Women’s Twenty20 title after beating Zimbabwe by three wickets.
That success in September came at the hands of an MVP performance from Gertrude Candiru. The 24-year-old garnered four player of match awards and as well the best bowling all-rounder gong.
The player nicknamed ‘Sweet Candy’ had guided Uganda to next year’s global qualifier in Netherlands with a total 15 scalps and a total 107 runs.
Interestingly, she had almost not made it to the team to Windhoek after reported friction with the technical team and her performance only vindicated her selection.
Sorry is not enough Cricket Cranes!
Candiru remains a contender for the Female Sports Athlete of the Year (if any) considering she also helped her youthful club Olila High School to the Mehta Women’s Twenty20 Cup with 187 runs, 12 wickets and seven fielding dismissals.
While Candiru had delivered something worth smiling about, it is the bitter memories of Cricket Cranes that still remain abound.
Coach Steve Tikolo ran out of words, captain Davis Karashani and team hardly composed themselves after they lost to USA by 13 runs in the six-team competition to lose the ICC WCL Div III status on May 29.
That sad afternoon in Entebbe left many broken when the Cranes failed to meet a target of 146 following familiar catastrophic batting and wobbly fielding.
Hosts Uganda won just two of the five round-robin matches like USA but the latter were better with Net Run Rate (NRR), implying that Uganda will play in the WCL Div. IV for the first time ICC Associate cricket cycle next year.
A Daily Monitor survey conducted shows that the spin-favouring wickets, asked by the team, buried the side as Oman and Canada progressed to the ICC WCL Div. II due next year.
Malaysia was also relegated while USA and Singapore retained the WCL Div. III status.
Even if Uganda recovers from this, the team may never recover from that blow.
Arinaitwe epic but Uganda sees black
The mental block unexpectedly continued to neighbouring Kenya in June with the Baby Cranes.
Captain Kenneth Waiswa and company knew they would be the next big wigs of the game had they earned the ticket to the 2018 ICC Youth World Cup in New Zealand.
They piled five successive wins on the back of opener Zephaniah Arinaitwe’s batting including a century 139 off 127 balls (17 fours) against Botswana.
But they bottled it on the final day when they were bowled out for 60 in 17.1 overs, Kenya chasing the target with 249 balls remaining to qualify via NRR.
Uganda had missed out on a third appearance at the global showpiece and even Waiswa took the MVP honour after getting 249 runs, 11 wickets and 2 catches while Arinaitwe took the best batsman honour with 281 runs at an average of 46.83, Uganda remained inconsolable.
However, that crop of talent gives Uganda’s cricket a bright future. In October, Waiswa was assistant captain and Arinaitwe was part of the Cricket Cranes team that beat the Christopher Shale XI by six wickets to win the Cricket Builds Hope T20 tournament during the opening of the magnificent Gahanga Cricket Stadium in Rwanda.
Paceman Waiswa even smiled more as his club Aziz Damani ended Tornado Bee’s four-year dominance to win the Jazz Safari National Men’s League title on the first time of asking.
Damani manager Siva Koti Reddy was over the moon as his side completed a double over Tornado Bee, including the UCA Super Cup earlier this year.
It is unfortunate the National Men’s Twenty20 League did not end because of interruption from the Afro Twenty20 Cup that did not bowl off proper this month. Overall, that Cricket Cranes relegation will hurt forever irrespective of Candiru’s star that shined bright like a diamond in the sky in a term of heartbreaks.
2017 CRICKET THROUGH THE LENS
UCA Super Cup: Aziz Damani
Jazz Safari Men’s League: Aziz Damani
Jazz Safari Women’s League: Jinja SSS
Boys’ Schools Cricket Week: Jinja SSS
Girls’ Schools Cricket Week: Jinja SSS
2017 ICC WORLD CRICKET LEAGUE DIVI3
UGANDA’S COLLATED RESULTS
Canada 234/8 Uganda 168/10
(Canada won by 66 runs)
Uganda 217/9 Singapore 151/10
(Uganda won by 66 runs)
Uganda 144/10 Oman 145/4
(Oman won by 6 wickets)
Malaysia 189/10 Uganda 193/6
(Uganda won by 4 wickets)
USA 145/10 Uganda 132/10
(USA won by 13 runs)