What you need to know:
- Improvement. Uganda twice finished 14th during the 2004 edition in Bangladesh and at 2006 do in Sri Lanka but powered to a respectable 13th finish this year.
Team Uganda returned home on last week after finishing 13th at the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup in the West Indies.
It may look far, especially with 16 teams having taken part, but, this was the Baby Cricket Cranes’ best show in the history of the championship.
Best appearance ever
Uganda twice finished 14th during the 2004 edition in Bangladesh and at 2006 do in Sri Lanka. Yet, even after being away from the global stage for 16 years, coach Ivan Thawithemwira’s boys powered to a respectable finish.
Six straight defeats left the East Africans chasing 13th place at best and they duly turned on the mojo to beat Papua New Guinea (PNG) by 35 runs and then won by 51 runs via Duckworth & Lewis (D/L) Method against Scotland last weekend.
“The experience was good for us. We tried to give the best we had in our package,” remarked skipper Pascal Murungi. He finished as the team’s best batsman with 191 runs from six innings.
And that marked the best individual batting display by any ICC Associate Member at the tournament.
“It was great to see the boys not being fazed by the occasion and putting up some great fights against the Test playing nations and also pushing, ODI nations,” former Cricket Cranes captain Davis Karashani noted.
Best Associate players
Similarly, with the ball, Uganda was exceptional. Opening bowler Juma Miyaji caught the attention of many, emerging as the team’s best with 13 wickets and best figures of 4/25 against the Scots.
“We bettered our previous performances, we got the best bowler and batsman in Associates at the tournament,” stated Uganda Cricket Association (UCA) CEO Martin Ondeko.
That is worth celebrating, if one puts many things into perspective. “We wanted to challenge the top nations for sure,” said coach Thawithemwira.
“We also wanted to show that we belong to this level. We also wanted the boys to believe in their skills and abilities.”
“So when we came here, we wanted to tick off those boxes and for sure, in many instances, we were able to do that with the exception of the game for India. The divide was so wide but with the rest of the team, we did where we could,” stated the former U19 batsman.
The gulf between Uganda and India in cricket is huge. UCA’s coffers can’t come any close to the net worth of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) - an estimated $2b (Shs7t).
Bowlers gave their all
And when Murungi opted to field first against them in the final Group B match, his bowlers stood no chance. India went on to set the tournament’s best total - 405-5 with centuries from opener Angkrish Raghuvanshi (144 runs off 150 balls) and Raj Bawa (162* runs off 108 balls).
Uganda was bowled out for 79 runs in 19.4 overs on January 22 and that is the lowest competitive total that Thawi’s team put out. Regardless, nearly every member of the team was impressed with the bowling fight. After Miyaji, both Murungi and Joseph Baguma snared nine wickets each while Matthew Musinguzi got seven wickets.
Surely, they fought with the ball and in the field. Even against India, they had had them at 85-2 after 15.1 overs before the bubble burst.
In the first group match against Ireland on January 15, a 39-run defeat in particular, Murungi rotated his bowlers to squeeze them at 95-4 after 21.4 overs but Irish wicket-keeper Joshua Cox appeared to take the game away with 113-ball 111* century.
Three days later, Thawi’s boys further held South Africa in a tight spot at 39-2 midway the 10th over but again, Dewald Brevis batted smartly to ooze a ton of 104 runs off 110 balls which inevitably brought out the difference.
Across the entire showpiece, the Ugandan fielders took memorable catches; Brian Asaba had a juggling catch to dismiss India’s Harnoor Singh, Yunus Sowobi had a sharp one to dismiss UAE’s Dhruv Parashar before a one-wicket Plate quarterfinal loss on January 25.
There was even a contender for catch of the tournament from Fahd Mutagana who back tracked behind wicket-keeper Cyrus Kakuru before grabbing Scottish opener Oliver Davidson with one hand.
Actually as India beat England in the final on Saturday , Kakuru topped the wicket-keeping charts with 15 dismissals with 12 catches and three stumpings.
“When I scored a half-century (65 runs off 59 balls) against PNG and also when I got five dismissals against Scotland,” Kakuru said of his best tournament moments.
Proverbial batting problems
Whereas the bowlers and the field fought, the batsmen never turned up as desired. And probably, that is Uganda’s story in cricket - a proverbial batting Achilles heel.
“We would have gone far at the biggest stage if we had strengthened our batting. Our bowling was good but when it came to batting, we lacked a bit,” Murungi reckons.
Thawi said: “The disappointment on my part is that when we played against these countries, we saw the gap wasn’t too wide and if we had given ourselves a genuine chance then we would have been top contenders but it is what it is “.
So what should have been done better? “Those guys (opposition) were really very prepared and it’s the thing they were better than us. We had all the skills but just lacked some bit of preparation and some more games, some more competitive sides,” left-hand batsman Ronald Lutaaya opined.
His coach Thawi didn’t differ. “I think the preparation was very inadequate to be very honest. Five months is a very short time, of course we had interruptions from Covid-19.
“To prepare for a World Cup like this, you need more time otherwise you’ll be so exposed. And then we didn’t have any tours abroad to expose ourselves to these kinds of intense competitions,” the man from Fort Portal added.
After the teens conquered the continent’s qualifiers in Rwanda, UCA had initially set out a preparatory trip to Asia with a two-week tour to Sanjay Farm and another week at the Omtex Academy in India before going to Sri Lanka.
But team manager Sylvester Rokani explained to this paper in December that there were changes in the visa application process for India and owing to the Covid-19 Omicron variant, the visas were denied. Some parties in the fraternity disputed this, then.
However, by missing out on those competitive trial matches, Thawi had to take experiments to the Caribbean.
He changed the opening batting pairings for the first three matches; from Ronald Opio and Lutaaya against the Irish, to Ronald Omara and Mutagana against the Junior Proteas before letting Isaac Ategeka and Asaba face the new ball against India.
It is during the Plate competition that Opio and Mutagana combined to open against UAE, PNG and Scotland with Lutaaya coming at number three.
The latter had appeared to get comfortable against the Scots, scoring a half-ton of 64 runs off 78 balls to help set 226-10, the best total by Uganda at the show.
“The boys learnt a lot from the experience of playing against quality teams. We know we have to play more to get better and compete at that level,” added Ondeko.
During the team’s stay in the West Indies, Uganda was blessed with visits from India legend Sai Laxman, Sri Lanka’s technical team, South Africa legend Neil McKenzie and former Cricket Cranes’ coach Conrad Shukri.
“I hope links and opportunities were discussed with other nations on how Uganda can tap into their resources,” Karashani added.
ICC U-19 CRICKET WC
13TH PLACE PLAY-OFF
Uganda 226/10 Scotland 170/10
(Uganda won by 51 runs via DL)
PLATE PLAYOFF SEMI-FINALS
Uganda 123/10 PNG 88/10
(Uganda won by 35 runs)
Ireland 236/9 Uganda 197/10
(Ireland won by 39 runs)
South Africa 231/9
Uganda 110/10 (33.4 overs)
(South Africa won by 121 runs)
India 405/5 Uganda 79/10
(India won by 326 runs)
Uganda 123/10 UAE 127/9
(UAE won by 1 wicket)
TEAM UGANDA STATS
Pascal Murungi 191 runs (6 innings)
Cyrus Kakuru 168 runs (6)
Ronald Lutaaya 99 runs (5)
Juma Miyaji 13 wickets (231 runs)
Pascal Murungi 9 wickets (209 runs)
Joseph Baguma 9 wickets (216 runs)
Matthew Musinguzi 7 wickets
Brian Asaba 4 catches
Fahd Mutagana 4 catches
Cyrus Kakuru 15 dismissals