Controversial Covid results bury World Cup dreams of teenage duo

Shattered dreams. Munir (centre) with team-mates during a past tour. Inset, Nsubuga goes for pace for the Baby Cricket Cranes. Photo / Eddie Chicco

What you need to know:

  • The Baby Cricket Cranes entered a residential camp at Hawaii Resort in Entebbe after Christmas Day and they were occasionally tested.

Featuring at the World Cup is an ultimate goal for many Ugandan sportsmen. Those precious moments at the pinnacle of global sport rarely come by in this part of the world.

Youngsters Akram Nsubuga and Ismail Munir believed their life-changing opportunity had come. But, they have endured a past week of misery after they were painfully dropped from the junior men’s cricket team to the Caribbean for the ICC Under-19 World Cup.

Tearful week, disbelief

At lunch time on New Year’s Eve, with nine hours left until their departure for a trek to the West Indies, team manager Sylvester Rokani announced the pair had returned positive Covid-19 PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test results.

The rest of the group converging at Entebbe cricket oval had negative test results and to fill their voids, exciting all-rounder Yunus Sowobi and top-order batsman Fahad Mutagana were added as replacements.

“I just can’t believe it,” with a shaky voice, Nsubuga expressed his disappointment. “Whenever I recall that announcement, tears just roll down my cheeks,” the 17-year-old wept.

Munir had been the team vice-captain and his omission, on a day he had turned 16, hit him hard. “Ever since they started testing me in preparation for the West Indies, I had never returned a positive result. How come I turned out positive just before departure?” he pondered in disbelief.

The Baby Cricket Cranes entered a residential camp at Hawaii Resort in Entebbe after Christmas Day and they were occasionally tested.

Controversial results

On December 27, Rokani told the camp that Ronald Lutaaya, Nsubuga and assistant coach Robinson Turinawe had flu-like symptoms and the trio was kept apart for 24 hours before being cleared.

Nsubuga and Munir’s test results have however been questioned. If one tests positive, the individual is normally meant to be isolated. But the pair were shown their results nearly four hours after the announcement, yet they still freely mingled with the departing contingent and even helped them pack up before parting ways at about 7pm.

Both formed part of the fabric for coach Ivan Thawithemwira’s team and often received praise for their contribution to successful regional qualifiers back in October.

Opening bowler Nsubuga’s pace yielded the overall second best team economy of 2.32 after picking figures of 3/62 and nine maidens from 26.4 overs.

Munir, however, struggled with the bat, making just four runs in four matches but had bowling figures of 2/56 and four maidens in 18 overs.

In the decider against Tanzania, coaches and manager Rokani begged an ill Nsubuga to play and he picked 1/8 and four maidens in six overs for an economy of 1.33.

But Munir’s 1.25 was the best after picking 1/5 and a maiden in four overs. They bowled out Tanzania for 51 runs in 26.5 overs before chasing for the loss of two wickets within 62 balls.

Negative test results, discontent

This paper understands that after Rokani broke the sad news, he, among other Uganda Cricket Association (UCA) officials, told Nsubuga and Munir that in case their subsequent results turned out negative, they’d be considered to fly to the West in company of Alvin Bagaya on January 12.

As Uganda’s contingent were en route to Trinidad & Tobago, Nsubuga took another Covid test on New Year’s Day and it turned out negative.

The result was the same after another test on the next day and even when UCA tested him and Munir in company of the senior national team at Kyambogo oval last Monday, the results were the same: negative. Strange as it is, this appeared to arouse discontent!

With humble beginnings in the low-scale suburb of Naguru, Nsubuga and Munir used to run around Lugogo Oval on different evenings while playing out with used up bats and old balls or tennis balls.

While in Primary Six at Naguru Katale Primary School, Nsubuga used to frequent Lugogo for tennis but one day in 2014, cricketer Franklyn Najjumba lured him to the gentleman’s game.

“She told me to come learn. Then on some days, my peers and I would help her and they would sometimes give us food and t-shirts,” he recalls.

 “With time, I would help John Tumusiime to throw balls for the Indians he was training in the nets then I learnt how to bowl pace. Coach Jackson Ogwang then improved my skill at the Aziz Damani youth team.”

‘Tasteless KFC meal’

Munir had learnt cricket much earlier in 2007 when his friend Abdallah Mohammed invited him to Lugogo. “During holidays, coach Ogwang used to train us then sometimes John Trust Mayeku would give us t-shirts so I gave the game a lot of attention.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Nsubuga and Munir were invited for a meeting by UCA chief executive Martin Ondeko, outgoing operations manager Mayeku and Bagaya at KFC restaurant in Lugogo.

The players thought the officials had come to fulfil their promise and take them to the West Indies, after successive negative Covid-19 test results.

“But Ondeko and company instead told them that they would not be flying out because a final 15-man list had been passed to ICC and instead, offered each $800 (Shs2.8m) as compensation for their allowances,” a source within UCA told this paper.

Dreams can’t be bought

Whereas some teams like England, India, Australia, Pakistan and South Africa have carried reserves to Caribe, the source explained that UCA would not be willing to spend a total $14,000 (Shs50m) on the pair’s logistics.

Each Baby Cricket Cranes player is entitled to a daily allowance of $80 (Shs282,200) from January 1-31 or $2,480 (Shs8.7m) for the month for each teenager. Their business starts later today with a warm-up match against Scotland in Guyana.

This paper understands the disappointed Nsubuga and Munir rejected UCA’s money at the meeting and insisted that at least even if they didn’t go to play, they just wanted to travel and witness their World Cup dream.

A third party that had offered to contribute to the duo’s late travel, fell out with UCA on the matter, another source revealed.

Nsubuga lives with his sister and mother Aisha Nazziwa in a one-room wooden house in Naguru and had hoped to use the trip to the West Indies to change their lives.

“I had told my mother that I would give her all my money from the trip to be able to put up a better home for us but now that won’t happen,” he said.

Goodbye cricket?

Munir, whose mother recently got a job as an office cleaner, is meant to be in Senior Three this year but because of an education lull due to the pandemic, he will sit Primary Leaving Examinations at Noble Junior School in Naguru.

His father is a builder who is often away and only returns at the weekends.

“I wanted to perform in some matches and probably get noticed then get a scholarship which would change my life and that of my family,” Munir stated.

“I had planned to buy some land and move our family with the money from the tour. It hurts that God gave me a chance but at the very end, I turned out positive.”

UCA’s offer at the KFC was an open cheque for the pair but with their dreams expensive and shattered, a return to a sport they had fallen in love with may be tough. “I will still play cricket again but with this situation, I need to first give it a break,” Munir added.

“I do not know if I will play again. The most disappointing thing is that we gave our all for this but we won’t be able to witness our dream,” Nsubuga says, breaking down.

“Near home, people are calling me a World Cup failure and I now don’t know where to go because it just hurts.”

Sources close to Nsubuga say the Kololo Secondary School student was twice restrained from committing suicide as he battled with the resultant depression.