Nagenda: Close of play for World Cup hero’s innings
What you need to know:
An evening with Nagenda, meant a night of learning Uganda’s history and more so of the journey of sports development in the Pearl of Africa with sumptuous meals and exotic drinks in tow.
Another deserved century withered away at close of play on Saturday, February 4. John Mwesigwa Robin Nagenda fell 16 runs short of his ton whilst aged 84 years with the bowling (illness) unfortunately not at his mercy.
But what a life he lived! One to celebrate, cherish and castle champagne bottles to. After he battled illness for long spells, in and out of medical facilities over the past five years, the cricket fraternity, like any witty captain of the gentleman’s game, read the script early for a premonition.
On December 3 last year, Uganda Cricket Association (UCA) and a buddy group of cricketing friends from yesteryears’ golden generation – Kisementi Jazz - went overboard with a John Nagenda Commemoration Day at Lugogo Oval codenamed ‘Great is Great’.
Outspoken and never shy to make his presence felt, Nagenda was a no-show at his own party as he was tucked away in an intensive care unit after choking on some food in early December 2022. His family made an appearance as the cricket family united for a good old game filled with bottomless banter and frothy bitter till the wee hours of morning – just as the deceased Senior Presidential Advisor on Media and Public Relations would have loved and forthwith done.
Career of firsts
History wasn’t his forte, it was the English language that took him places and earned him the stripes that made him extraordinaire at the time of his demise.
An elite writer of poetry and political satire since his time at Makerere University where it is purported that he was one for the first men to earn a first class honours degree in English, Nagenda also made history as the first Ugandan cricketer to score a double century – 201 for Makerere University against one the local clubs in 1960.
But he wasn’t just a cricketer, the fearless giant was the arguably the first indigenous Ugandan tennis player that hustled Asians and expatriates for honours on a regular basis way before the legendary John Oduke – 12-time Uganda Tennis Open winner - era.
Although it was his real love – cricket – that got him his biggest accomplishment as an elite sportsman. In 1975, Nagenda was one of two Ugandans with the iconic Sam Walusimbi to play in any sort of World Cup.
With South Africa banned over its continued and bizarre existence of Apartheid, an East Africa Combined XI was drafted into the inaugural International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup in England.
Nagenda, aged 37 then, was easily the most prolific speedster in the region and whereas Sam Walusimbi (27 then), boasted of all-around abilities; agility in the field, stylish with the bat and ambidextrous as a bowler, where meritoriously drafted into the side to fly the airbus to Buckingham.
As he takes his wit and wisdom to the angels in heaven, Nagenda doesn’t leave behind any ‘reported’ biological children but that never deterred him from showing his love. He adopted a handful and paid many a bill; from school fees, training allowances to clothing for many less-privileged in his walks of life including current cricketing ace – 42-year-old Frank Nsubuga.
An evening with Nagenda, meant a night of learning Uganda’s history and more so of the journey of sports development in the Pearl of Africa with sumptuous meals and exotic drinks in tow. Yours truly, who played alongside him as a teenager for the Media Cricket Club (MCC) in the defunct Corporate Cricket League in the mid-2000s, can attest that even when the powers of Nagenda had truly waned as a livewire on the field, his motor-mouth could literally hurl a batsman off the pitch after some sharp sledging.
The writer describes him as captain who didn’t want to lose many as it would water down his post-match banter – something many of his Uganda teammates will attest to his persona during his short stint as national skipper during East and Central Africa Quadrangular in Malawi.
He captained Uganda between 1986 and 1987, and through his media company Connect as well as British American Tobacco (BAT) Board membership, the latter sponsored UCA activities.
The Nagenda in suits was a sharp-shooter who mixed aggression and passion with admirable control. A former chairman of UCA, Nagenda takes credit as part of the elite team that ensured Uganda become an Associate Member of ICC in 1998, get the first modern standard playing surface – a grass wicket in Lugogo in 2004 and at many fronts represented Uganda at ICC meetings in London where his diplomatic and lobbying skills came to the fore to help Associate cricketing nations get more funding to develop the game.
As a Uganda Tennis Association (UTA) chairman, Nagenda, then a trustee with UCA, was in never-ending ‘fights’ with National Council of Sports (NCS) over issues of governance and allocation of funds. The then general secretary Jasper Aligaweesa felt his wrath especially when it came to permission to use Lugogo tennis courts, club renovation and national team logistics for international engagements like Davis Cup.
Nagenda was ingrained with a lion heart and a stomach for fight. Unfortunately the last fight was a sucker punch that left him for dead – a brutal bouncer that forced him to breathe his last at Medipal Hospital in Kololo where he was bedridden for weeks.
The series of vigil services started yesterday at his Muyenga home and will continue today at his family’s burial grounds in Buloba with the humorous man’s burial scheduled for Tuesday midday.
Nagenda, go show them some true swing and pace with fivers at the heavenly ovals!
NAGENDA AT A GLANCE
Full Name: John Mwesigwa Robin Nagenda
Born: April 25, 1938, Ruanda-Urundi
Died: March 4, 2023
Batting style: Right-hand
Bowling: Right-arm fast
Sporting Roles Held
UCA Chairman, UTA Chairman, UCA Trustee, UTA Patron, Cricket Cranes Captain
Books: The Seasons of Thomas Tebo, Mukasa, One Man’s Week
Started Writing: 1950 at King’s College Budo
Education: Makerere University
Parents: William Kyanjo Nagenda (father) & Sala Maliamu Bakaluba (mother).
CLASS OF DOUBLE CENTURIONS
1960/61: John Nagenda (201) - RIP
1992: Yona Wapakabhulo (212) - RIP
1993: Himanshu Jadav (262)
1994/95: Guy Kimbowa Lutaaya (204*) & (225*)
2005: Arthur Kyobe: (225)
2014: Nanji Pindoriya (214)
2019: Falak Sher (200)
In his own words
“We took over when the place was in a bad state and we have done a lot to bring it in order. We have spent Shs450m and $35,000 (approximately Shs70m) since 2007 and the principle of getting money from us as tenants is not right. One of the reasons we are being molested is because me and my colleagues are determined to rid NCS of corruption and won’t rest until that goal is achieved,” UTA chairman Nagenda’s scathing attack on NCS General Secretary Jasper Aligaweesa in March 2010 at a presser when NCS had reportedly denied UTA Shs28m to send a national team to Morocco for the Davis Cup.
“I told them we don’t want anything from their country. The green and matooke here is something of envy to them. The less I say about our weather and theirs, the better,” UCA trustee Nagenda when UK Embassy had denied half of the Cricket Cranes contingent transit visas through England to Bermuda for the ICC World Cricket League in April 2013.
"I feel sorry for those of you who don’t drink. How do you celebrate your wins (in life) and refresh your brains?” Nagenda said many a time when he found certain individuals opting for soft drinks on a social evening.