Nearly two years ago, Uganda miserably failed to utilise home advantage and got relegated during the ICC World Cricket League (WCL) Division Three.
That sparked urgent change of guard in the senior men’s national team set-up and Fred Achelam was handed the opportunity after a short while on the fringes.
By the time the WCL Div. Four in Malaysia came around in April last year, he had emerged as the best candidate to take up the wicket-keeping role for the Cricket Cranes. Uganda won the tournament in Asia and earned a place at the WCL Division Three but Achelam painfully missed out on the subsequent trip to Oman last November. “I missed Oman because of a fractured finger on my left hand that I got while on duty in South Africa,” the Aziz Damani player recalls.
But for a man who had consistently built rhythm in the national colours since 2017, the omission hurt Achelam in a way, the wide smile that illuminates his face inevitably vanishing.
“I was disappointed I couldn’t make the side because of injury,” he says. “But I also thought the selectors had picked the best men available.” Here, on a sunny morning at Lugogo Oval, Achelam has offers time to chat with this reporter before another day of training.
Six months after missing the Oman showpiece, Achelam has recovered and made it back to coach Steve Tikolo’s final 14-man unit that will represent the nation at home during the ICC Africa Men’s Twenty20 Cup beginning Sunday.
“It’s (recovery) been a process [that] I had to go through while training still because I couldn’t just sit back,” Achelam notes.
And it has not been mere training. Achelam raised the bar by stroking 317 runs in 11 innings for his club Damani in the Divisional T20, a tournament tentatively put on the Uganda Cricket Association calendar to help players gear up for the imminent ‘African Carnival’ show.
Those figures left him third on the batting charts behind teammates Saud Islam and national skipper Roger Mukasa. “I feel I want to be one of the best players this season,” Achelam states. “And after the scores that I put up in Malaysia, I think that was a mind opener that has kept pushing me since then.”
In Malaysia, he took the match award after making 48 runs against Denmark, he had a 11* against Vanuatu and 36 runs against the hosts. He wants more in front of his own fans.
“Winning games for my country would be the first priority,” Achelam speaks with a stern look.
Batting duties aside, Achelam appears as the first choice for the wicket-keeping role notwithstanding options in Mukasa and Arnold Otwani.
“Taking that spectacular catch that changes and wins the game is what I am always going for,” he notes before saying something about his teammates. “The heart to die for each other and agility on the field is what I see is unique with our team when fielding.”
Achelam wasn’t in 2017 pressure cooker on home but one wonders, doesn’t the team feel pressure playing at home?
“Hmmm it’s tricky,” he states. “Though, there is always that pressure despite of the home support but guys do not talk about it,” he adds.
Hosts Uganda will compete against Kenya, Botswana, Ghana and Nigeria for two coveted places to the ICC T20 Global Qualifier due October 11 - November 3 in UAE.
ICC AFRICA MEN’S T20 CUP
May 17: Teams Arrival
May 18: Official Practice,
Captains Trophy Shoot &
May 19: Uganda vs. Kenya
May 20: Uganda vs. Botswana
May 21: Namibia vs. Uganda
May 23: Uganda vs. Ghana
May 24: Nigeria vs. Uganda