Cricket is one of the disciplines in Uganda that has had many heartbreaks yet few fond memories. The sweet side is highlighted by the senior men’s national team triumph at the inaugural ICC (International Cricket Council) World Cricket League (WCL) Division III success in 2007 in Darwin, Australia.
Another feat in almost equal measure came last November when the Cricket Cranes won the first round of the ICC World Cup Challenge League (WCCL) B in Muscat, Oman.
A rare World Cup
But Uganda’s history at World Cup tournaments for team sports is scanty. In cricket, it is even tougher to play at such an event owing to the structure set up by ICC.
The bigger cake at the Twenty20 or 50-Over World Cup is first shared by the 12 ICC Full One Day International (ODI) Members before Associate Nations like Uganda take a share.
It is why the East African nation will hold in high regard its two appearances at the ICC Under-19 World Cup.
The 2004 edition played in Bangladesh was Uganda’s bow and perhaps, one of those golden moments for the gentleman’s game.
“It was a good experience for all of us and we are lucky we had the opportunity,” Clive Kyangungu recalls. He was team captain and the teenagers were under the guise of Kenyan coach Tom Tikolo.
It was a rare experience in the lives of this group. “The whole experience was surreal,” says Denis Musali who was one of the team’s three wicket-keepers. The main gloves man was Michael Wambudhe Kintu while Fred Isabirye kept for one match of the six.
“We spent about a month in camp in Lugogo before travelling to India for two weeks and connecting to Bangladesh.” This happened in December, 2003 into early 2004.
Uganda won just one match, actually its last, a five-wicket victory over Canada which ensured it finished 14th out 16 teams.
Pricey Uganda flag
But it could have been better only if the pre-tournament trip to India had delivered desired results. “The Indian experience was not a very good one,” Musali states.
“We were based in Chandigarh which was very cold and we failed to win any of the warm-up games. The food was also strange plus it would get dark by 4pm and sunrise by 4am. Everything was against us in India.” “Acclimatization during the Monsoon period was also a problem. We spent a lot of time in the hotel instead of the pitch. The weather was terrible and mentally, it was not good for us to get in the zone,” Kyangungu, currently working as an aircraft engineer in the Middle East, remembers.
When the team landed in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, it was received warmly. “We attended one of the best opening ceremonies I ever saw. Since it was the first time for Uganda, they had challenges finding our flag. The flag they got had a weird looking crested crane and thank God we had carried our own to save the day,” Musali memoirs.
Kyangungu and assistant captain Hamza Saleh attended the customary tournament captains’ meeting before the first ball.
“Standing shoulder to shoulder with other captains from Test playing nations knowing I am representing my country was the proudest day of my life personally,” Kyangungu adds.
On February 15, 2004, Uganda’s youngsters played their first match against South Africa where they were bowled out for 125 runs in 48.4 overs before losing by eight wickets at the Chittagong Divisional Stadium.
The opponents had future Proteas like Vernon Philander, Divan van Wyk, Craig Alexander and Andrew Birch. Saleh had top-scored for Uganda with 26 runs off 34 balls while Kyangungu was the only bowler to take a wicket. “We had a good set of players,” Kyangungu acknowledges. And rightly so, that group has been part of the Cricket Cranes’ set-up for the last 16 years, albeit lulls therein and a few names hanging on like Daniel Ruyange and Emmanuel Isaneez.
Facing Sir Alastair Cook
“Different characters in the team and everyone brought something special to the team. We failed at the first hurdle though. After qualifying for the tournament in Namibia (October 2003), we immediately switched off.”
“But whenever we took to the field, we played like we knew it wasn’t for our schools or clubs but our country,” said Kyangungu who had just left Ndejje Secondary School.
The biggest game for the side was on February 16 against England at the MA Aziz Stadium in Chittagong the following day. England was led by captain Sir Alastair Cook who was in company of Ravi Bopara, Tim Bresnan and Liam Plunkett, who won the ODI World Cup last year.
Kyangungu beat Cook to the toss, asking them to bat first. Raymond Otim, who would later stay in New Zealand after the 2014 World Cup Qualifier, caught Cook at covers for 27-run-a-ball.
And even if Davis Karashani picked 3/53, England set 259-7 thanks to Luke Wright’s 111-ball 70. Uganda was bowled out for 46 runs with only Ronald Ssemanda hitting double digits.
“Facing the England bowling attack will stand out. Like nothing we had faced before. It was like a turkey shoot,” Kyangungu narrates.
The third group game against Nepal had Uganda mathematically out of the Cup chase but Tikolo’s charges showed fighting character.
Opener Wambudhe made 46 off 95, Musali hit 32 off 75 at number three. Saleh, Karashani and Otim each posted 20 runs for Uganda to set 194 runs.
But the Nepalese who had today’s star man Paras Khadka stole it with their captain Shakti Gauchan hitting an unbeaten 80 off 126 balls to win by five wickets with 11 balls remaining. Ssemanda had picked 2/26.
“We were in awe of Test playing nations such as England. But when we came against Canada and Nepal, we had our tails up and knew we had a chance against teams we considered our equals.” Kyangungu says.
“Those games we fought until the end because we believed in ourselves as players and as a team. Against the Test nations, we were beaten before we even boarded the bus to the ground.”
Uganda dropped to the Plate Cup and were grouped with hosts Bangladesh, Ireland and Canada.
On February 23, Uganda couldn’t stop the Irish batting blades. They conceded a 129-ball 117 century by Eoin Morgan and another 70 runs by Kevin O’Brien as Ireland set 329-9.
Morgan would later change to play for England and was the captain as they lifted the elusive ODI World Cup trophy last year.
Uganda was brave enough to chase 206 runs in 45.2 overs with Karashani making 42 runs while Saleh scored 40.
Two days later, the fifth match against the hosts Bangladesh had Uganda fold meekly, bowled out for 78 runs in 33.3 overs.
But the lads fought again, this time Isaneez dishing out fiery medium pace enroute to worthy figures of 6/37 and two maidens in a 9.5-over spell. The Bengali however won by four wickets with 181 balls left. Uganda’s consolation was that Isaneez was adjudged Man of Match for his disciplined and economical spell.
In the final group match against Canada, Uganda’s persistence was rewarded with a win on February 27.
The Canadians set 231 but when Kintu went for a duck on the third ball, his fellow opener, Martin Ondeko, present day Uganda Cricket Association (CEO), conjured nine boundaries to produce an unbeaten half-ton of 99 runs off 148 balls in 185 minutes.
That was Uganda’s second MOM accolade in as many days and it put a smile on the faces of many back home.
Saleh, too, hit a half-century off 67 balls and there had been 41 extras to give the boys a respectable finish to the ride in Asia. “Ondeko failing to get to 100 broke our hearts. Fighting and fielding with pride against Ireland made us proud even though we lost, it reminded us of our strongest cricket discipline,” Kyangungu notes.
“The solace for us was beating Canada. The whole experience was amazing and eye opening. Today, we see the guys we played against playing Test cricket,” Musali adds.
Then, Dinesh Karthik was India’s skipper and he led tournament’s best player Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina and Robin Uthappa. Eventual finalists West Indies had Ravi Rampaul and Dinesh Ramdin. Australia had Tim Paine and Moises Henriques.
Meanwhile, Kyangungu had spent the whole tournament facing the heat from the international press.
“As a captain, I was very unprepared. I hadn’t had any media training, I was thrown in the deep end and this just further played on my confidence as reporters were eating me for breakfast after every game.”
Uganda returned to the tournament two years later in Colombo, Sri Lanka but the route to that global stage got harder and the country has never returned.
MATCHES & RESULTS
UGANDA U-19s SCORECARDS
Feb 15, 2004:
Uganda 125/10 South Africa 126/2
(South Africa won by 8 wickets)
Feb 16, 2004:
England 259/7 Uganda 46/10
(England won by 213 runs)
Feb 19, 2004:
Uganda 194/10 Nepal 195/5
(Nepal won by 5 wickets)
Feb 23, 2004:
Ireland 329/9 Uganda 206/10
(Ireland won by 123 runs)
Feb 25, 2004:
Uganda 78/10 Bangladesh 79/6
(Bangladesh won by 4 wickets)
Feb 27, 2004:
Canada 231/10 Uganda 235/5
(Uganda won by 5 wickets)
TOP FIVE BATSMEN
1. Hamza Saleh
(157 runs in 6 innings)
2. Martin Ondeko
(117 runs in 4 innings)
3. Davis Karashani
(104 runs in 6 innings)
4. Michael Kintu
(76 runs in 5 innings)
5. Raymond Otim
(70 runs in 6 innings)
TOP SIX BOWLERS
1. Emmanuel Isaneez
2. Patrick Ochan
3. Davis Karashani
4. Ronald Ssemanda
5. Jimmy Okello
6. Hamza Saleh