The unavailability of playing venues, a congested calendar and a series of international engagements didn’t only affect the National Basketball League and National Hockey League.
The Uganda Cricket Association (UCA), too, felt the blow with Lugogo, Kyambogo and Entebbe Ovals either heavily dilapidated or overly booked out for other corporate and institutional co-curricular activities.
Although the politicking – a lately normal occurrence in Ugandan sports – cannot be ruled out, a handful of associations are entangled in a pressure cooker to wrap up the calendar events of the previous year so that they can engage 2020 on a fresh slate and in a proper gear.
The continuously rescheduled clash between Aziz Damani and Challengers dubbed ‘title decider’ finally happened at the lakeside oval in Entebbe on Sunday with the former running away as rampant winners with a commanding 8-wicket victory on the day.
Victory against their fiercest rivals on the day eased the pressure on Aziz Damani, who are eager to complete a three-peat, as they remain the only side with a 100 per cent record on 54 points, eight less than Challengers.
Eight points ahead
Challengers have 62 points with one game to play whereas Aziz Damani have the cushion of three games in hand. A win in cricket can earn a side five or six points (with a bonus point) and Damani know they will be home and dry if two of their four remaining matches are decided.
In a rain-shortened game (36 overs), Challengers set 131 in 31.1 overs with Zephaniah Arinaitwe top scoring with 22 as paceman Billal Hassun (3/37), left-arm orthodox Henry Ssenyondo (3/22) and veteran off-spinner Frank Nsubuga (2/22) prized out scalps in regular intervals.
With the ‘wet wicket’ gradually improving as the sun pierced through the skies, Aziz Damani lost Roger Mukasa Galiwango early for 10 off 15 after he was clean bowled by Richard Agamire (1/20) but the pair of Saud Islam (73* off 66) and Brian Masaba (27 off 43) grit out a 103-run match-winning partnership for the second wicket. When Masaba fell to Trevor Bukenya (1/33 in 7.5) at 124 for 2 in 20.2 overs, the remaining 11 runs were tonked by Islam as the game ended in the same over.
Challengers top order batsman Arthur Kyobe however made a plea that the league title race was not over as a contest.
Moment of reckoning
“Anything can happen. This is sports,” said Kyobe. “A game in hand doesn’t mean it’s a match won. If they were already champs, they would have taken the trophy today. Damani must still play all those games in hand including a tough one against KICC for them to be crowned champions.” For Aziz Damani CEO Siva Koti, it was a moment of reckoning as he paid tribute to his hard-working unit. “I give credit to my captain Ghulam Hunzai. He has won nine of the 10 pre-match tosses. We were really worried of the toss today (Sunday). He has kept the team motivated. We are not winning because we have a strong side but it’s because of the passion, resources and time we have invested in.”
“I have special praise for Saud Islam (326 runs at 65 per innings) too. His consistency with the bat as well as national captain Brian Masaba (278 runs at 69 per innings) have helped us over the line in many tough matches with the bat. All the other players have also done their bit and I had no doubt that we would overcome Challengers.
“By God’s grace, we will be champions. Unless something goes wrong. The secret of our club is we’re family. We work together and enjoy the fruits of our work together,” said Koti, who was a sight of joy unconfined after sharing team hurdle dance celebration with his troops.
Damani have four rubbers against; KICC, Tornado Bee, Patidar Samaj and Kutchi Tigers, to play but there is no denying that it’s a champagne-on-ice moment, for now.
NATIONAL 50-OVER CRICKET LEAGUE
TABLE STANDINGS - MEN
TEAMS P W L N/R Pts NRR
Challengers 13 10 2 1 62 2.89
Aziz Damani 10 9 0 1 54 2.94
Kutchi Tigers 13 5 4 4 37 0.58
Tornado Bees 12 5 5 2 33 -1.28
KICC 12 5 5 2 31 -0.62
SKLPS 13 4 6 3 27 -1.81
Patidar 11 1 6 4 14 -2.05
Tornado 14 0 11 3 06 -5.81