Rugged Victoria Pearls’ change clouds UAE preps

Consy Aweko will no longer lead the Victoria Peals. PHOTO/JOHN BATANUDDE 

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Under three weeks to the Victoria Pearls’ biggest tournament in more than half-a-decade, UCA media channels announced that the team will have a new skipper.

It is true change is life’s permanent constant. But, a majority struggle to handle or accept it. And it appears Uganda Cricket Association (UCA) and the technical wing of the senior national women’s team is in that state.

Under three weeks to the Victoria Pearls’ biggest tournament in more than half-a-decade, UCA media channels announced that the team will have a new skipper.

Janet Mbabazi is the new captain as the Pearls prepare to participate at the ICC Women’s Twenty20 Global World Cup Qualifiers in the UAE later this month.

Mbabazi, commonly rated as a batting all-rounder, takes on the reins from the team’s most experienced player Consy Aweko ahead of duty in Abu  Dhabi from April 19 to May 2.

“Mbabazi has been vice-captain of the side since 2017 and has been elevated to lead the side replacing Aweko. Rita Musamali is the new vice-captain  of the team,” in part, read a statement issued by UCA’s communications officer Denis Musali.

“It’s such an honour for me,” said Mbabazi, “And also, I would like to say, ‘thank you to Consy’ who has been our captain. We are very grateful for her time.”

The change sparked fresh debate in the fraternity. The Pearls under Aweko, head coach Lawrence Ssematimba and his assistant Deus Muhumuza, were stunned when they missed out on a medal at the African Games in Accra, Ghana three weeks ago.

In a bronze medal match against Nigeria, Uganda batted wobbly to set 76-8 before they lost by three wickets with four balls to spare at the Achimota Oval A, Accra on March 13.

Interestingly, Aweko had picked figures of 1/9 and a maiden, earning her 100th wicket in T20 International matches. But in part, the day could have buried Aweko too. She conceded a pivotal boundary while fielding at the rope which led Nigeria to victory.

We understand that for about two years, Aweko’s command had been threatened by some voices in the UCA and technical hierarchy. And not that it is the first time though.

There have been six previous Pearls’ captains beginning with Belinda Nakiganda in 2001 but a majority of the changes of guard from Christine Aryemo, Barbara Mukankusi, Naome Kayondo, Kevin Awino and to Immaculate Nakisuyi were never rosy or fully well-spirited.

During the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup Africa Qualifier Division One tournament in Entebbe last December, questions about Aweko’s field set-ups got louder despite her seniority with the ball manifesting often.

Muhumuza opines differently though. “Based on future team plans... time was now,” he explained the decision and its timing. 

“Going forward, we expect a better attitude from them. There are some tactical changes we have had. There are some discussions we have been having over this past period since Ghana. We hope for better performance and qualifications, come Abu Dhabi,” Muhumuza spoke in another video message.

The recent training tour to the Omtex Academy in India and the African Games humbled the Pearls quite a lot and whereas all made it deemed fit for the change, some voices feel the timing wasn’t right or even Aweko isn’t the team’s problem, views expressed via a vibrant cricket online chat group.

Besides, Aweko captained 57 T20Is, winning 36 and four Series while losing 21 matches since 2022 but at 32, the change could psychologically be an entire goodbye for her from the largely youthful set-up.

“Players should be given a chance to resign from the captaincy. It is not a good idea to just take away the captaincy. You need to accord them some respect. They’ve carried the burden for some long time. There is a better way to do it honourably,” said one player, choosing to prefer anonymity for fear of any reprisal.

“And then, cricket has not given senior players an opportunity to retire from a game they have served for some years. The game involves our prime years. UCA should be doing something better.

The system should not push out some people and the people should not just walk away. As cricket, we deserve to do better for our players,” the individual added.

From the Omtex and Accra group, Aweko is still a part of the squad headed to Abu Dhabi but only top-order batter Proscovia Alako is in for Immaculate Nandera.

In Abu Dhabi, Uganda must finish among the top two sides of Scotland, Thailand, USA and Sri Lanka in Group A to reach semifinals. The two finalists will earn slots at ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in Bangladesh  come September.

Uganda faced Thailand and Scotland at the 2018 Global Qualifiers in the Netherlands, where they finished sixth.


Full Team: Janet Mbabazi (Captain), Rita Musamali (Vice-Captain), Consy Aweko, Kevin Awino, Stephanie Nampiina, Immaculate Nakisuyi, Evelyn Anyipo, Sarah Akiteng, Phionah Khulume, Proscovia Alako, Gloria Obukor, Esther Iloku, Lorna Anyait, Malissa Ariokot, Sarah Walaza.