Goal scoring has been a big concern for the Uganda Cranes and Cranes coach McKinstry is expected to find a quick solution as the Cranes head to Chan in Cameroon this April.
For those that have watched Ugandan football vault to the upper tier of African football, the Cranes record at the African Nations Championship is one to be regretted deeply. Since missing out on the inaugural championship in 2009, Uganda has worked remarkably well as a burst of five consecutive qualifications attests.
The performances at the tournament, which is mutually exclusive to players active in their national leagues, have however been more annoying than intriguing.
They have, one could successfully argue, made the Cranes look absurdly out of touch. A return of eight goals from 12 games played across four championships is not terribly convincing. If anything it gives the distinct impression of Ugandan club football being such a dwindling prospect.
This probably explains why there has not been that much cheerleading coverage after the Cranes were pooled alongside holders Morocco, neighbours Rwanda and first timers Togo for sixth staging of the championship also known as Chan.
Uganda will play all its group matches in April at Stade de la Réunification in the Cameroonian economic capital of Douala. Cranes coach Johnny McKinstry has found himself having to shrug off suggestions that Allan Okello’s departure from the Ugandan top flight during the January transfer window will undercut Uganda’s prospects at Chan 2020.
McKinstry says that while the playmaker will be sorely missed, Uganda abounds with inexhaustible talent. The Northern Irishman intends to pay attention to the little things that impart a sense of the collective as he looks to shatter Uganda’s Chan group stage hoodoo. The general consensus — and conventional wisdom really — is that Uganda will have to win matches if it does not intend to hurry toward the exit door in Cameroon. This, though, is easier said than done. A single Chan finals win in 12 attempts underlines the fact that Uganda is susceptible to being drowned out by its own vast echo at the big time.
It also establishes the truth that goals, which undoubtedly win matches, are hard to come by in Ugandan club football. The top-of-the-table grudge match between Vipers and KCCA at St Mary’s Stadium this past week was a timely reminder of the gravity of the problem. The Uganda Premier League’s two main protagonists played out a barren stalemate, which can only be viewed as something of a compellingly chaotic statement.
Most of the goal gluts in this season’s Uganda Premier League have been mired in match-fixing claims. Matches that are mercifully free of such accusations have for the most part been adversely affected by a scant supply of goals. This boils down to the dearth of clinical strikers as well as schemers with an affinity for playing exceptionally well between the lines.
During last year’s Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup, McKinstry tried to address the deficits by deploying two playmakers. Shafiq Kagimu sat deep and Bright Anukani played in a more advanced position. With Fahad Bayo in the form of his life, the Cranes hit a purple patch, scoring 14 goals in six games. The opposition in Cameroon will, however, pack a more devastating punch than the Eritreas of this world. This is not lost upon McKinstry as is the fact that Bayo’s form has taken a nosedive.
There are genuine worries that the one-dimensionality of Bayo will not give defenders in Douala migraines. After an explosive first half of the season, defences have blunted the gangly striker’s threats this side of the year. If lightning strikes twice in Douala, where will Uganda’s goals come from? What are the other viable options up top? Million dollar questions!
Why Cricket Cranes batting remains a work in progress
The infrastructure of cricket invests heavily in a healthy contest between bat and ball taking shape. There is no secret to the fact that there is a seductive authenticity whenever bat prevails over ball. But this is not always the case. Certainly when it comes to Uganda.
Whereas low scoring games are admirable and refreshing in their way, batting failures always tend to elicit more than just cynical responses. Batsmen are not expected to run out of steam. They are instead expected to keep the scoreboard ticking because this is what tickles the fancy of fans.
So spare a thought for Ugandan cricket fans for whom low scoring matches are like ambulance sirens going off in a Kampala traffic gridlock. There was a time such a status quo posed a dauntingly opaque existential threat. Then along came Steve Tikolo, a man of formidable and almost intimidating seriousness.
As a player, Tikolo’s range of strokes garnered nearly 4000 ODI runs at a robust strike rate of 75.77. Wearing the hat of Cricket Cranes coach, Tikolo was expected to address Uganda’s batting deficiencies with a studied formality. He gave it a good shot. Fiercely condemned and defended, the Kenyan legend left his position early this year with a mixed scorecard. A golden duck here and century with a Caribbean flavour to it there.
Opinion may divide as to whether Tikolo’s coaching left Uganda in a better place, but there is consensus that the batting spluttered into life.
Although they still give into their deepest fears when facing spin, there has been a marked improvement in the application of Cricket Cranes batsmen. These green shoots have continued to pop out during the team’s tour of Qatar and India.
Save for the match against Bharuch District Cricket Association where a team laden with upstarts folded for 92 in pursuit of 150, batting performances in Qatar and India have been credible. It would, however, be recklessly optimistic to conclude that a lasting solution has been chanced upon. Hope and despair continue to live side by side.
Last Sunday, this column put its finger on the pulse of Roger Mukasa’s travails. Unfortunately, just as in the Persian Gulf, Mukasa’s batting influence has diminished rather than increase in the subcontinent. The 30-year-old is not the only batsman whose batting capitulations have met a less enthusiastic audience in Uganda.
The lack of firepower in the middle order has also been exasperating for many a Cricket Cranes faithful. All of which means that the next substantive Cricket Cranes coach must exude seriousness and intensity in an attempt to finish what Tikolo started.
What we now know....
We now know that the Uganda Sevens finished seventh in the first round of the inaugural World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series. Sixteen countries congregated in the Chilean coastal resort city of Viña del Mar to vie for top honours last weekend.
We also know that after Germany ruled the roost in Chile, the second round of the series moved to the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo on Saturday. The Uganda Sevens were expected to make it out of a pool that included Hong Kong, Jamaica and Brazil, with the business end pencilled in for today.