It’s time Uganda styled up
The Uganda national cricket team’s latest performance will go down in folklore as the worst display ever. The game plan against Kenya was pretty straightforward; go out onto the oval, restrict the Kenyans to a chasable score, then come on chase and pile up the runs. But just like the angel of death who plucks out the heart of our loved ones, Kenya under the stewardship of Steve Tikolo tore Uganda’s script to shreds, and maybe the morale of the few fans who endured six, no five and half agonizing days in Lugogo.
First was the three-day whitewash, where Uganda failed to even score half of Kenya’s total runs on any given day. The ODIs were misery the three-day was beyond misery. Many a fan walked away in disgust. Uganda’s batting problems stand out like spilled gravy on a white sheet, but there are far more underlying problems beyond that oval boundary. Uganda’s cricket has been a success in many aspects, especially the Schools Development Programme (SDP), but in life, there is such a thing as moving on. UCA needs to wake up and smell the coffee. Inside that metallic container, their excuse for an office, a lot of mismanagement is going on, and this has trickled down to the oval.
Forget the media hullabaloo that cricket is the best run organisation with flawless accountability and reasonable allocation of funds. UCA officials openly mismanage funds; fight for trips, neglect work, and so on. Those problems have to be tackled head on. Ironically, inside that container is a poster of Sachin Tendulkar hitting corruption for six. The words, “lets hit corruption out of cricket.” One can only wonder how much UCA has walked the talk.
Certainly the funds UCA receives are not enough, its officials will argue, but if that little were put to its proper use, the results would be as evident as Uganda’s attempt at chasing 200 runs. The national team’s progress on the international circuit is the only way UCA will be able to get more money in their confers in terms of grants and loans.
This year, Uganda received an extra $31,000 from World cricket bodies for the 2006/07 season. UCA that was initially getting $54,000 from the International Cricket Council got $61,800 as an administration grant. The UK-London based Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC) chipped in with US $14,200 and the Africa Regional Development Office (ARDO) headed by Hoosain Ayoub added US $9,000 or Shs16.2million.
In total UCA received US $85,000 (Shs153m) One should also note that MTN and Stanbic Bank facilitate the Mini Cricket Development Programme, KKL (Kampala Kids League) organises another Stanbic sponsored mini-league, Coca Cola finances the Schools Cricket Week, WHO - World Health Organisation and British Council boost the annual Girls Cricket Tournament, Nile Breweries through their Castle Lager brand ungrudgingly sponsor the national league and more often Shell, MTN, Petroleum Industrial Services, Ruparelia Group of Companies, Asiatic, Rwenzori Water and Castle Lager have come to the rescue of several national teams. So can somebody in UCA show us where the grant money goes? Certainly not to players’ allowances, because of Shs3000 per training day and Shs8000 per match day is way below the radar. Players’ remuneration is another trouble spot, but it’s a topic of its own.
This is one trouble spot that requires revamping. Robert Kisubi, helped by Aloysius Nainhabo, Sam Walusimbi, Henry Okecho, Justine Ligyalingi and Richard Mwami, chairs the panel. Some of the guys on this committee should be in the stands with many of us. Unless they change or are shown the exit door, their larger than life egos will continue being a liability to the national team’s progress.
That they let their selections be biased by their club loyalties is well engraved in the epitaph. They have problems with certain players, and for as long as these officials are on the panel, some of these players, probably the best crop around will never wear the whites of the national team.
So the earlier we saw their backs, the better. Could that explain the inclusion of six debutants, to face the vastly experienced Kenyans? Tikolo rightly observed this misdemeanour. Not even the cricket Czars of this world can afford such an overhaul; the biggest number of debutants is always two.
For heavens’ sake, what was Keith Legesi doing on that team? Yes, he does keep the wickets, but that’s just about it. We need runs. Why not let Lawrence Ssematimba, proven over the years keep the sticks. The shorter-than average player is double-edged; he can chip in with the runs as well, which cannot be said of Legesi.
Richard Okia was left out on grounds that could hardly satisfy even the least knowledgeable of the game considering his past exploits and coverage he commands from the media. Although he was just recovering from a shoulder injury his usefulness with the bat would have come in handy since batting has remained a mystery to Ugandan cricketers on international duty. We need leaders on that pitch, but by the look of things, it’s a pipe dream. The jury is still out on skipper Joel Olweny. Actually, it’s painful to write his name in the same sentence as that coveted role but because of the selectors, we are left with no choice. The forthcoming Triangular in Nairobi should be his ultimate litmus test.
Is it not baffling that the national skipper actually doesn’t sit on the selection panel? Yet he is supposed to lead the team out of the dressing-room? Actually what the selectors do is to keep everyone in suspense until a day or two to the tour. During coach Tom Tikolo’s reign, the skipper, by then Junior Kwebiiha, arguably the best skipper since John Lubia, was integral. But that facet didn’t go down well with some selectors, and once Tikolo was done away with, so was the skipper’s role. But there is one for the team manager, who is supposed to be a business mind, not technical. Cry the beloved country.
Players, style up too!
Not that the players are blameless. They need to play their part on the oval. We cannot continue relying on one batsman to come up with the runs. Every cricketer’s first role is to make the scoreboard tick, not in favour of the opponents though. If a player is not up to the task, the whip must be cracked, simple. Otherwise we may resort to other activities, like pulling our lungs out through the mouth than watch the national team in action. What we want is the whole team performing collectively and consistently. We are not going to beat Kenya more so any opposition with just one player performing well. In our last major triumph overseas over Namibia in 2004, Uganda reigned by 5 wickets simply because the whole team chipped in with handy contributions. One wonders why the batsmen never follow their coach’s instructions.
And what is the way forward in all this? Professionalism from the boardroom to the locker-room. Its evident the happenings at the top are responsible for what transpires down. Cricket has lived on the basis of individual voluntarism for so long but chairman Ivan Kyayonka and his vice Chris Azuba must wake up to the reality that the game can no longer thrive on the good will of people. Professionalism is needed. • The stake holders meeting, John Nagenda - the presidential advisor on media and also a former captain observed in his New Vision column that it should be held sooner to curb the downward trend cricket has taken since the thumping the team endured in the 2005 ICC Trophy in Ireland. • Favouritism and personal/club sentiments must not be allowed to overshadow the growth rate of the game. Otherwise even the little interested parties on board could decide to back off. • UCA’s respect for the media is meager. The association should borrow a leaf from football by building a stronger partnership with the journalists, hold regular press conferences to inform the fraternity on the latest developments so as to avoid wrong publicity. • Rugby has grown in leaps and bounds because the Uganda Rugby Union (URU) has tried to market the game. The game was in oblivion 5 years ago, but it has since surpassed it by a country mile. UCA must learn that they have to invest into the sport if they are to gain from it. In rugby the big league matches and international events are advertised all over the press, teams have sought corporate sponsorship which is no mean feat, players on national duty are paid for their services and the association has helped several players get employment. • Is it not time we tried out a highly qualified continental coach? Someone the lads will look up to and not ask such questions like “show me any international wicket under your belt”? Because of club politics, we lost out on the amiable Tikolo. • UCA should devise means of keeping the players into the game. Again motivation could do the trick. We don’t want to see players like Hamza Saleh, Davis Arinaitwe and Jimmy Okello forego the game in quest for better pastures, something that has claimed many and of recent likely to end Kwebiiha’s exciting career. • And finally we need more grass wickets in Uganda. International cricket is no longer played on astro-turf pitches. Our batsmen are terrific on the artificial surfaces yet when they play on grass at Lugogo, even the lousiest of bowlers enjoys a field day.
But it was not all gloom in Lugogo as a couple of youngsters gave us a glimpse of what to expect. Step forward Hamza Saleh who had the best Uganda batting average. It was he continued from where he left off in Ireland, with his bat helping us gnaw away at Kenya’s lead. Davis Arinaitwe showed glimpses of a potential allrounder, debutant Mark “Makhaya Ntini”Taremwa was also brilliant with the leather ball, giving Kennedy Obuya, Tikolo and Morris Ouma a few issues to think about. Old horse Benjamin Musoke finally came good, with 68 to silence many of his critics. He rescued Uganda from 27 for 4 in the first inning with a 102 runs partnership with Akbar Baig (30) to 124 for 5, although we were soon all out for 156. Hopefully it wasn’t a flash in the pan. This is the time for UCA to turn cricket around, otherwise those stands will continue emptying.
Innocent Ndawula and Hussein Bogere are journalists with the Daily Monitor Newspaper in Kampala, Uganda.
Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa