A ride in Team Uganda’s bus after a heart-wrenching defeat over the years is a scenario that can only be likened to a funeral of young man who has just graduated with a first-class degree and assured of a corporate job.
Everything is promising for the young man, like was the case for Uganda, only to be curtailed by evasive forces of nature.
Yesterday’s ride after Uganda snatched defeat from the jaws of victory to go down to Nigeria by 30 runs on Match Day Three of the International Cricket Council (ICC) U-19 Africa World Cup Qualifier was quiet wierd. It was horrific to say the least. No one said a thing - the silence was deafening and this reporter’s attempt to steal a quick glance into bus was meant by scowls that could boil a cup of tea to 100 degrees celsius on the players and officials’ faces.
The loss means that the chance to qualify for the ICC Youth World Cup scheduled for early next year in South Africa was no longer in the Baby Cricket Cranes’ hands.
But Uganda will look back and rue a golden missed opportunity whilst asking themselves some questions.
“Why did we win the toss and elected to bowl first when we have been winning while batting first? Did we expect to win after dropping eight catches? When shall we ever bat out 50 over consistently? When shall we ever take instruction from the coaches and execute game plans to the dot,” will be the question rolling in the Uganda contingent’s heads if they miss out on this golden opportunity to play at the biggest stage for only the third time in the history of Uganda Cricket Association (UCA) - after the coveted back-to-back appearances in 2004 and 2006. One, though, has got to give it up to Nigeria’s never say die attitude. On a newly prepared wicket that was tough to bat on, they scored one run per-over for 19 overs and only 50 runs in the 37th over with already five wickets down.
Samuel Mba who walked in at 2 for 2 departed for a pedestrian but all-important 54 off 139 balls with just six boundaries have batted for 46 overs to guide his team to 104 for 8 by the time he fell to Trevor Bukenya (4/24 in 9). Captain Samuel Okpe, who was also dropped on zero by wicketkeeper Ashraf Ssenkubuge of pace-man Juma Miyagi, made the Ugandans pay with another solid and steady knock of 26 off 72 balls as Nigeria set 110 runs all out in 48 overs.
Those two knocks turned out to be the difference in the low scoring match that saw Uganda get bowled out for a paltry 80 runs in 25.1 overs.
But how did Uganda get here in the chase? The Cranes were actually cruising home at 38 runs for 1 wicket in 5 overs by the time the umpires called lunch. Even after lunch, Uganda were cruising at 57 for 1 in 8 overs. But hell broke loose.
And it was the most senior player on tour Zephaniah Arinaitwe that took the blame for playing a loose shot to midwicket to get dismissed on 28 yet he had just been dropped by the Nigerian wicketkeeper Sulaimon Runsewe on 25.
They say; “When it rains, it pours.” And that is exactly what happened to Uganda’s innings with the last nine wickets tumbling at neck-break speed for just 23 runs. Unbelievable! They were two golden ducks and other zeros as Uganda’s ship sunk deep into Windhoek’s neighbouring Atlantic Ocean.
Nigeria’s heroes for the day with the ball were left-arm medium pace Mohammed Taiwo who bowled a nagging line and a bagful of yorkers in his beautiful spell of 4 for 24, Rashid Abolarin (3 for 33) and spinner Isaac Danladi (3 for 9) who willingfully flighted the ball to trap Uganda’s tail-enders. But Uganda’s coaches remain full of belief despite fate not being in Uganda’s hands anymore.
“We were in a good place and victory should have been ours,” said assistant coach Lawrence Ssematimba. “We started well in this tournament but see what has happened today. I remain confident that we still have an outside chance. Our boys have not yet lost hope. Nigeria need to just lose one game and Namibia also haven’t yet played Kenya and we need to win our last two games against Sierra Leone and Namibia.”
For coach Jackson Ogwang who promised to ring changes ahead of the game against Namibia, it was a big learning curve for the Baby Cricket Cranes.
“Tough loss to take today,” said Ogwang, who is also the assistant coach of Uganda’s senior team. “We were in a good position to pick up a third win but let it go. We have to pick up ourselves for the last two games. We may however need some maths to qualify too.”