Your columnist has never masked the fact that he gets a great thrill out of watching cricket matches. Yet to the vast majority of Ugandans, this open-air game remains as boring as anything anyone could ever encounter. Cricket might meet a less enthusiastic audience than football as well as even rugby and basketball, but whatever it exudes captivates.
The product of an elaborate contest between bat and ball, cricket is known to spew an interminable number of subplots. And so has been the case following its return after a pandemic-enforced hiatus. There is a beauty in watching a batsman collapse their knee to manufacture more swinging room for a shot. Add to that the wristy flick here or back-foot drive there and you have enough ingredients to electrify the crowd.
Bowlers too have their moments. Observers always put in a good word for bowling units when they get their cross-seamers and slower balls to hold in the pitch. Yet there is no running away from the fact that it is batsmen that provide pure entertainment. At least when it comes to cricket’s shortened variant – T20. Each eerie expectant silence awaits the crash of bat smiting ball.
Yet super bowling performances have been a common thread during the Uganda Elite League. The league was touted as Uganda’s answer to the fabled Indian Premier League (IPL). Its first staging, though, affirms that – far from being an answer to – the Elite League is a woefully poor version of the IPL. Poor in every sense of the word. Certainly financial, but also when it comes to its on-the-field offerings. For one, the three franchises that contested the league’s maiden season found it terribly difficult to score at a rate of knots.
Some number crunching reveals what has been emblematic of Uganda’s wider struggles across different formats of cricket. The average first-innings score from 10 Elite League matches has been 102. While a revisionist takedown will conclude that months of inactivity left batsmen rusty, such low run rates shouldn’t be viewed as an aberration. The vast bulk of batsmen in Uganda struggle to build an innings by going after bowlers from the get-go. They also find it difficult to crank up the tempo in the slog overs.
Bowlers should not be quick to take credit for preventing batting carnages though. Whereas it is true that T20 competitions tend to be won by teams with the strongest bowling unit, the Elite League has encapsulated the limited range of batsmen in Uganda. The numbers pretty much tell the story. The 73 sixes and 82 boundaries notched from 10 matches considered prove that batsmen have attacked bowlers only rarely.
Wasim Butt is the only batsman that reached double figures on the count of sixes (13) and fours (14). True, Butt was a significantly faster-scoring player than his peers because he has no choice but to attack in the powerplay. It is however important to note that other batsmen given similar carte blanche floundered. This wasn’t for want of trying. The implications of this unfortunately lap far.
On the international scene, Uganda approaches its white ball cricket by batting conservatively early on, aiming to minimise wickets lost, and accelerating later. At least this was the centrepiece of Steve Tikolo’s approach.
Cricket Cranes players, however, struggled to assert themselves in a meaningful way even with wickets in hand. Reason? There was simply no batting firepower. The Uganda Cricket Association (UCA) had to look outside to plug a gaping hole. Finishers like the naturalised Dinesh Nakrani have since brought temporary relief. Steps though have to be taken to ensure that solutions come from within.
UCA will point to the emergence of Frank Akankwasa. The destructive finisher who has a genius for boundary hitting has emerged following the decision to play school cricket competitions off a T20 format. There was a time when your columnist strongly believed that T20 cricket would be to the detriment of associate teams. While a few vestiges remain, it would be disingenuous to say no good has come of T20 cricket.
Clearly, this shortened format needs to be explored more. But if Ugandan cricket intends not to be left in the wake of rugby and basketball, batsmen will have to put up their hands. Fans live for the hard-driving impact of action moments. They tend to get these in rather heavy doses in rugby (big hits) and basketball (dunks in traffic). Cricket though dishes such moments out piecemeal. This ought to change.