An invaluable exposure for the young Africans
Blame the ICC for poor organisation, bad scheduling, insensitivity to the public, and most weather-related goof-ups but don't blame it for not doing enough to take cricket where the game has not gone before. Its development officers have brought bats, balls, and perhaps even the abstruse Duckworth and Lewis rain-rule to countries like Uganda, Tanzania, Argentina and Papua New Guinea.
Cricket might not yet be the most popular sport in any of these countries, but the fact that two Tanzanians and two Ugandans have made their way to Bangalore for the Afro-Asia Cup could well be a harbinger of an exciting future.
Opening the tournament will be a Twenty20 game between Asia and Africa women - a game meant to be a curtain-raiser to a similar men's fixture. In the Asian side there are six players from India, three from Sri Lanka and two from Pakistan. The Africa squad is more balanced with four South Africans and two each from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe including the 12th man. India's performance in the recent Quadrangular tournament and the fact that they are No. 2 in the ICC rankings, after world champions Australia, suggest that the home side have a huge advantage. But for many African players this is a chance to expand their horizons and face tougher opposition than they have before.
For Christine Aryemo, 23, and Franklin Najjumba, 19, both Ugandans, who have only played Kenya, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe in internationals, the Afro-Asia Cup is a whole different ballgame. Facing Jhulan Goswami - currently one of the fastest bowlers in women's cricket - means they will be tested like never before.
Talking about cricket back in Uganda Najjumba said it was in 2001 that cricket was introduced in schools across the country, though it is still mostly an amateur sport. For many of them it is straight from school to the national level.
The domestic system in Uganda is now based on club cricket. The format started this year and playing for a club doesn't pay one's bills. Aryemo and Najjumba are students, as are most others in the Uganda national team. When she isn't sweating it out on the cricket field, Aryemo pours over her university books. She plans to get a degree in business studies and is isn't sure if full-time cricket is an option.
There aren't any Ugandans or Tanzanians in the men's side and does that mean these girls enjoy a bigger profile back home? Aryemo does not believe so. "The men have been playing another tournament [World Cricket League] in Australia," she told Cricinfo. "I think it's that they were too tired to make it here." In fact Uganda, along with Argentina, have been promoted to division two of the World Cricket League after they beat Argentina in the division three final at Darwin on June 2.
Like for women cricketers elsewhere, not being paid enough is an issue. "We get paid, but not much," says Aryemo. "They [Uganda Cricket Association] say they have little funds." How much do they train and play as a side? "Not much," says Aryemo. "We get together two to three weeks before a tournament. It isn't enough."
|Aryemo and Najjumba are students, as are most others in the Uganda national team. When she isn't sweating it out on the cricket field, Aryemo pours over her university books. She plans to get a degree in business studies and is isn't sure if full-time cricket is an option|
Again, not training together is a problem that many other women's sides face - not helped by the fact that overall they play little cricket together and the chance to improve is reduced further. "A 21-day camp before a tournament would be ideal," suggests Sudha Shah, the Indian coach. Indian players train by themselves in the off-season as per a schedule drawn out for each player by the team's trainer.
Not training together also means team bonding is low, according to Aryemo. When asked what makes the Ugandan side unique, she instead explains what threatens their existence as a side. "Most of the time we don't work as a team," she says. And why is that? "Some people think they are better than the rest and that makes things difficult." Yet she continues playing because she likes the game.
Coming to play one short game in India would seem fruitless to many. In fact all the star players who pulled out of the tournament would have thought exactly that. But to Aryemo, Najjumba and their Tanzanian team-mates it is a peek into how the big boys and girls do it. If, as expected, rain does not spoil their party, they will have plenty of stories and experience to take back home.
Asia Mithali Raj (India, capt), HASD Siriwardene (Sri Lanka, vice capt), Sulakshana Naik (India, wk), LDVV Silva (Sri Lanka), Jaya Sharma (India), PRCS Kumarihami (Sri Lanka), Bismah Mahroof (Pakistan), Jhulan Goswami (India), Rumeli Dhar (India), Priti Dimri (India), Urooj Mumtaz Khan (Pakistan)
Africa Margaret Banja (Kenya), Yvonne Mashedi (Kenya), Ashlyn Petro Carlyle Kilowan (South Africa), Cri-Zelda Brits (South Africa), Alicia Smith (South Africa), Saida Ramahdani (Tanzania), Mwanaiddi Ebrahim (Tanzania), Trisha Chetty (South Africa), Franklin Najjumba (Uganda), Christine Aryemo (Uganda), Julie Chibhabha (Zimbabwe), Thandolwenkosi Milo (Zimbabwe)
Nishi Narayanan is an editorial assistant on Cricinfo