Convos about Uganda’s cricket success stories have been witnessed over the years. One particular tournament keeps coming up like the cream at the top of boiled milk: the inaugural International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cricket League (WCL) Division Three in 2007.
Perfect show in Darwin
Uganda’s senior men’s team won it in Darwin, Australia thanks to a flawless five-game streak that peaked with a 91-run triumph over Argentina in the final at the Marara Gardens Oval on June 2, 2007.
Then, Italian defender Fabio Cannavaro was the reigning Fifa World Player of the Year, Joshua Cheptegei was aged 11, George W. Bush was still USA President while LeBron James had not yet won an NBA Championship ring. The triumph is consistently discussed because a number of players from the squad that travelled Down Under particularly Charles Waiswa and siblings Frank Nsubuga and Roger Mukasa, have stood the test of time with the Cricket Cranes.
“Being part of the team that won the first ever WCL Div 3 is a memory to live with for the rest of my life,” says left-arm seamer Waiswa, who has delivered a bounty of fiery deliveries at the top stage for the last decade. Then, ICC had just begun the WCL structure, a series of one-day cricket tournaments for national teams without Test status. So Associate Nations like Uganda, Hong Kong, Cayman Islands, Tanzania, Argentina, Fiji, Italy and Papua New Guinea (PNG) were placed in Division Three.
“We started preparations in February by playing warm-up matches in Nairobi,” remembers Richard Okia, who is currently a national teams selector.
Then under Henry Okecho’s tutelage, Uganda’s opposition was Canada, Bermuda and Kenya who were also preparing for the ODI World Cup in West Indies later in March.
Kenya was also planning to host the WCL Division One that included Canada, Netherlands, Ireland, Scotland and Bermuda. “The intention was to use the trip to expose us,” Okia remembers. Uganda beat Kenya and Tanzania but lost to Bermuda and Canada.
In late May, the team was off to unchartered waters in Darwin with then UCA chairman William Kibuukamusoke as team manager and legendary Sam Walusimbi as coach.
“Walusimbi and Kibuukamusoke made some bold decisions leading into the tournament. Some were not very popular but they did pay off,” recalls Junior Kwebiiha. “I was almost dropped but then I had decent shifts in the last trial games. I actually travelled on different flight from that of the team,” he recalls.
Long flight, no ceremony
“It was my first time to Australia and the longest flight I had taken. We landed in Melbourne then connected to Darwin up north,” said Waiswa. “We endured a long journey almost two days with stopovers in Dubai and Singapore before reaching and settling in Darwin,” said Okia, who now works as an auditor Director Advisory at Crowe AIA - a Global Accounting & Advisory Firm.
“Later that evening, we prepared for the opening ceremony but unfortunately, we were not picked up by the tournament organisers.”
Instead, Kibuukamusoke decided to take the team to Darwin city for the team’s own opening ceremony. “We had dinner at the ever-bustling Mitchell Street,” Okia notes. “Darwin is like the home of aborigines, the original inhabitants of Australia. So they were excited to see us. They drink a lot since they get free money on a weekly basis from the government,” Waiswa says.
Business at the oval soon got underway with Uganda opening Group B with a sweet 92-run victory over Hong Kong at Kahlin Oval on May 27. Skipper Joel Olweny, currently based in Canada, led from the front with a Man-of-Match (MoM) performance that had a 92-ball 60, which was part of an 87-run combo for the third wicket with Benjamin Musoke (48 off 124).
Kwebiiha added 39 off 26, Nsubuga made 16 off 12 while Kenneth Kamyuka stroked 22 off 14 for Uganda to set 220-5.
Olweny stole the show with ball by picking figures of 3/15 but it was Waiswa (3/18) and Kamyuka (2/23), who had cornered the opponents.
East African derby!
The East African derby against Tanzania was the next to come the following day at Nightcliff Oval. And as derbies happen, Uganda grit its teeth to a four-wicket victory after a low-scoring thriller.
It unfolded with Tanzania captain Hamisi Abdallah opting to bat first and their wheels came off thanks to Waiswa’s star bowling of three maidens and 3/7 in six overs.
Also, Patrick Ochan, who would later stay in Australia, picked 3/17 in 25 deliveries and Tanzania were bowled out for 64 in 24.1 overs.
The chase was equally tough for Uganda who were 16-3 under Tanzania’s inswing opening bowler Benson Mwita’s control, who would finish with five maidens and 4/23 in his 10-over spell.
But, Musoke (12) and Kwebiha (13) shared 24 runs before wicket-keeper Lawrence Sssematimba (9* off 13) and Kamyuka’s late show (13* off 28) saved Uganda’s blushes.
“Within a few days of winning games the Uganda Team had won the hearts of the Australian supporters,” Okia adds.
Kwebiiha the man
Two days later, Uganda faced unbeaten Cayman Islands in the group decider and Walusimbi’s boys delivered once more with a 26-run victory at Marrara Oval No.1.
Left-hand opener Arthur Kyobe top-scored with 37 runs off 64 balls, Kwebiiha hit 30 off 62 while Okia got 17 off 46 to help set 153 all-out after 48.3 overs.
Right-arm medium pacer Kwebiiha claimed his MoM honour with 4/11 and a maiden from 8 overs. Waiswa picked 2/31 while Kamyuka, Nsubuga and Ronald Ssemanda each got a wicket to bowl out the opponents for 127 runs.
“I had been given the ball as bowler number seven. I remember telling Olweny to pack one side of the field. He backed me up and I was able to also back myself up,” said Kwebiiha. By topping Group B with six points, the semi-final pitted Uganda against Group A runners-up PNG. Uganda won by a whisker with a wicket in hand and four balls to spare after meeting the target of 204 runs at Tracy Village Oval on May 31.
PNG’s Mahuru Dai had made a half-ton of 86 off 93 and Uganda’s bowlers were off-colour, only Waiswa picking 2/17 and two maidens.
The batting Achilles heel almost bit Uganda in the chase but opener Mukasa came to life with seven boundaries and a six in a quick 34-ball 43 and shared a 74-run second-wicket partnership with Olweny (36 off 50).
Kwebiiha made 22 off 67, Ssematimba added 30 off 64 and Kamyuka sealed the job with a solid unbeaten knock of 43 off 42 - also worthy the MoM award.
“Always hard to play PNG because they are swingers of the ball. The entire team was rallying behind Kamyuka as he carried the mid-order through. We all kept giving Waiswa a pep talk as he got in to bat at 11. Ugandan Cricket never disappoints when it comes to nail biting games,” says Kwebiiha who would later become the team skipper.
Nsubuga’s day in Darwin
Uganda met Argentina in the final which belonged to MoM Nsubuga on June 2. Olweny elected to bat first and Kyobe made 19 off 52, Raymond Otim made 24-run-a-ball and Ssematimba had 39 not out off 76 balls.
The latter’s 110-minute innings had him share an 80-run partnership with Nsubuga (55 off 38). Ssematimba again rotated the wicket for Ochan to smash four maximums and a boundary in a 34-ball 56 to help Uganda to 214-8. Nsubuga picked 4/27, Ochan had 3/25 and three maidens, Kamyuka got 2/26 while Waiswa (1/22) finished as the team’s best bowler with 11 wickets. The men from Buenos Aires were bowled out for 150 in 46.3 overs.
“Ochan and Nsubuga played a strong end and helped post a good number to defend. On a whole, I loved every time I wore the jersey, the trips in themselves were exciting , chats and discussions on the flights. The relationships we had built as a unit was always enjoyable,” added Kwebiiha.
Uganda qualified for ICC WCL Division Two showpiece but Jimmy Okello and Ochan stayed in Australia, to-date, after the tournament.
Joel Olweny (C),
Kenneth Kamyuka, Junior Kwebiha, Arthur Kyobe, Roger Mukasa, Benjamin Musoke,
Frank Nsubuga, Patrick Ochan, Jimmy Okello, Richard Okia, Raymond Otim,
Ronald Semanda, Lawrence Sematimba, Charles Waiswa
HEAD OF DELEGATION: William Kibuukamusoke
Junior Kwebiha (109 runs in 5 innings)
Joel Olwenyi (105 runs in 5 innings)
Lawrence Ssematimba (86 runs in 4 innings)
Kenneth Kamyuka (85 runs in 5 innings)
Frank Nsubuga (84 runs in 4 innings)
Benjamin Musoke (79 runs in 5 innings)
Arthur Kyobe (67 runs in 5 innings)