Massive year for cricket

Photo Of The Year. The Cricket Cranes shocked their juniors (Baby Cricket Cranes) when the latter arrived at Entebbe International Airport by offering them a guard of honour after they qualified for the World Cup. PHOTOS/EDDIE CHICCO

What you need to know:

  • Season Of Highs. The Cricket Cranes won two ICC T20 tournaments to qualify for the ICC T20 World Cup Global Qualifier in Zimbabwe next year whereas the Baby Cricket Cranes (U-19s) will be in the Caribbean this month to make the nation’s third appearance at the big showpiece.

For all that cricket didn’t get at the regional and global stage in 2020, certainly because of the coronavirus pandemic, the sport achieved in 2021.

Covid-19 in 2020 prematurely ended national teams’ activities and it was followed by tournament postponements. The events which came this year, Uganda Cricket Association (UCA) must have felt the financial pinch of flying out one contingent after another but it eventually yielded the desired results.
Teens steal thunder
The biggest of them all went to the junior men’s national team - the Baby Cricket Cranes - who ended a 15-year wait to grab a ticket to the ICC Under-19s Cricket World Cup. Under the guise of coaches Ivan Thawithemwira and Robinson Turinawe, the youngsters led by skipper Pascal Murungi did the unthinkable to emerge from false start to win the regional qualifiers played in Rwanda from September 30 - October 6.

The triumph, which guaranteed the country’s third appearance at the global showpiece, was welcomed with both delight and relief. Uganda last featured at the Youth World Cup at the Sri Lanka 2006 edition under coach Sam Walusimbi. Many generations had come after but they couldn’t unlock that door of opportunities and many voices in the fraternity still say the U19 classes of 2004 and 2006 have held the Cricket Cranes’ mantle since, which had been long overdue. 

With Murungi and his counterparts displaying character to book the ticket to West Indies 2022, it could have opened a new chapter for the gentleman’s game in Uganda.

Classic Murungi, Kakuru
The Baby Cricket Cranes had to recover from an opening seven-wicket loss to Namibia in Kicukiro on September 30 before winning the other three matches to wrestle permutations via Net Run Rate (NRR) for glory.

Uganda responded with a 100-run victory via Duckworth & Lewis (D/L) Method against Rwanda thanks to Cyrus Kakuru’s 11 boundaries in a 102-ball 116 ton which largely built a 152-run fifth wicket partnership with Murungi (66 runs off 68 balls). They led the side to 311-9, the eventual tournament’s biggest batting total.  Then they turned on the guns again to beat Nigeria by 82 runs and here, right-arm off-break bowler Joseph Baguma, who later took the tournament’s best bowler gong, took figures of 5/22 to disarm the West Africans in pursuit of a target of 208 runs.

Those two wins elevated the NRR to 1.292 and the final hurdle meant the Cranes had to scathe unbeaten Tanzania whose NRR was 1.560 at Kicukiro’s turning wicket.

Upon electing to field first, Murungi who finished as tournament MVP with 134 runs in 3 innings and picking five wickets for 38 runs, claimed figures of 4/9 in 23 deliveries to floor the Tanzanians for a paltry 51 runs in 26.5 overs.

Uganda needed to seal the win inside 12 overs and Ronald Opio (16 off 18) together with Isaac Ategeka (28*-run-a-ball) did it with just 62 balls to send their nation to heaven.

Kudos Mahatlane
And that success in Rwanda seemed to charge up their senior counterparts - the Cricket Cranes.  Coach Laurence Mahatlane did not have much to do except master the craft of the game here for the second half of last year after he was announced as a permanent replacement for Kenyan Steve Tikolo.

And the South African looks to have passed the test for his first year. His team emerged triumphant at the 50-Over Derby Trophy against Kenya and the ensuing Pearl of Africa T20 Tri-Series which comprised Nigeria.

That inevitably ticked the boxes to spur the Cricket Cranes to win the sub-regional and regional ICC Africa Men’s Twenty20 Qualifiers in Rwanda.

Rwanda hunting ground
The year however did not get off well as the Cricket Cranes were first white-washed 5-0 over the T20 and 50-Over formats in their Tour of Namibia from April 3-8.

The lockdown in June appeared to stab Mahatlane’s plan but when UCA agreed to host the Derby Trophy and the Pearl Tri-Series in September, the Cranes were guaranteed some fine preps before heading to Kigali.
 In the latter showpiece, the team appeared to be clicking with Frank Akankwasa and Simon Ssesaazi starring while Saud Islam’s blade was razor-sharp. Unfortunately, skipper Brian Masaba got injured, paving the way for Deus Muhumuza.  Masaba also missed the first trip to Kigali in October for the sub-regional Group A but Uganda swept opponents Malawi, Rwanda, Lesotho, Eswatini, Ghana and Seychelles to book a ticket to the Africa Finals.  When Uganda returned to Kigali in November, it was all-rounder Riazat Ali Shah who put up an MVP performance with 106 runs, eight wickets and four catches which led his side to ultimate victory, sealing a ticket to the global T20 World Cup qualifier next year.
Sorry Karavadra!
On the women’s front, UCA managed to stage the annual Women’s T20 League which was won by Aziz Damani and then the Thunder franchise won the UCA Women’s Elite T20 League in December. However, the story was a sad one on the international front as the Victoria Pearls bowed out of the quest for a ticket to the 2023 ICC Women’s T20 World Cup via the regional qualifiers in Botswana back in September.

Here, coach Suraj Karavadra’s team lost by 14 runs to Zimbabwe in the semi-final and were also broken before losing by nine wickets to Tanzania in the third-place play-off.  The UK-bred Indian-born coach had been hired in May but UCA terminated the relationship eight months later with CEO Martin Ondeko saying the two parties were not aligned in terms of direction of women’s cricket.

But this paper learnt that Karavadra and UCA selectors had clashed about the team selection before Gaborone and whereas the former maintained ground on his choices, it did not yield the results.
Regardless, a massive year for Uganda on the crease!

Milestones in 2021

U-19s (Baby Cricket Cranes):
African Champions and Going to 2022 World Cup in West Indies
Senior Team (Cricket Cranes):
African Champions and Going to 2022 T20 WC in Oman/Zimbabwe
Senior Team (Cricket Cranes):
16 wins (second in T20Is in the world)
Individual - Dinesh Nakrani
30 wickets - Best Bowler in the World in A Winning Cause
MVP at ICC Africa T20 Finals
Riazat Ali Shah of Uganda (106 runs, 8 wickets & 4 catches)
MVP at ICC Africa U-19 WCQ
Pascal Murungi of Uganda (134 runs, 5 wickets & 2 catches)