Uganda in review January 9, 2007

Punching below their weight

Innocent Ndawula, a Sports Writer with Uganda's Daily Monitor, looks back at the country's fortunes in 2006

Boldly speaking, 2006 was not a good year for cricket on the international scene. Performances by the national teams were way below potential although the senior side bagged the inaugural Atul Shah Memorial title in Mombasa, Kenya.

A drubbing home whitewash at the hands of Kenya, another thrashing the U-19 team was subjected to in Colombo, Sri Lanka during the Youth World Cup and an unacceptable performance by the women in the inaugural Africa World Cup qualifiers in Nairobi, Kenya confirm that there was little cause for optimism.

Though there were not many highs, it was not wholly a bad year for Ugandan cricket either as Africa Cricket Club (ACC) finally shrugged off the nearly men's tag to overpower Tornado that had previously dominate the local season.

Team of the Year
No guesses here. ACC deservedly takes the award for being able to come out of their shells. Led by two inspirational men Lawrence Ssematimba and Junior Kwebiiha, the youthful ACC brigade won the Castle Lager National League in style without conceding defeat and added the traditional Luswata Cup to its recent empty trophy cabin to end Tornado's dominance on the local scene. ACC could have bagged more silverware hadn't it been for the rains that rocked the last part of the season and luck that eluded them.

Tornado, under the stewardship of Keith Legesi, won the Mawanda Cup and Castle Champions Trophy (by the toss of a coin) and Castle Development XI came to the fore making a Super 5 appearance but it was visibly ACC's year to shine.

Storm of the Year
Surprise, surprise! Kenneth Kamyuka is arguably the best cricketer of this generation but no one will forget his remarks before a certain tour that Uganda would be whitewashed. The whitewash did happen without Kamyuka and the press put Uganda Cricket Association (UCA) beneath the cushion for dropping the immensely gifted Kamyuka. Kamyuka's acts including going AWOL from national team training for unclear reasons, predicting a whitewash in the press and crying out to the executive that Shs3, 000 was too little an allowance for players who selflessly represented the nation (after he was elected chairman of the players' committee beats all other contentious incidences. The comical umpiring decisions and laughable hiccups in team selections were there for all to see but Kamyuka takes the "Mr. Controversial of Year" accolade for engineering the biggest storm.

Shame of the Year
Whitewash or Crucifixion! Call it whatever. The Kenyan tour was simply a 'David v Goliath' affair. Enduring three heavy losses in the ODIs when Uganda failed to even score half of Kenya's total runs on any given day was disheartening. The three-day game was more than disastrous. Considering the low-key preparations, it was bound to happen but it proved inevitable because it raised several eyebrows in the association. Although Uganda's under age teams have always had an edge over their Kenyan counterparts, the 10-day Kenyan tour exposed Uganda's frailties and underlined the gulf that exists between them and Uganda - a country many believe is Africa's most promising emerging nation.

Man of Year
Batting, bowling and fielding, you just can't keep him out of a game. Junior Kwebiiha, 25, was the star of ACC's all conquering squad throughout the season. He was unavailable for the national team due to work related issues and family obligations. He averaged 35 with the bat and snapped up more than 35 wickets in the season. Kwebiiha's leadership capabilities came to the fore again when ACC needed them most. The jolly fellow has matured in leaps and bounds. He possesses the right mix of aggression and composure to make him a potent and destructive all-rounder. At 25, the young man showed the rest of his mates, how to do it early by walking down the aisle on December 15. Uganda's captaincy has been a debatable issue but with candidates like Kwebiiha available, it's time the selectors put justice to good use and reinstated the former skipper.

Shirt of the Year
Two fading stars Charles Lwanga and Frank Nsubuga contested for this but considering Nsubuga is no show last year, he takes the gong for player who refused to come to the party. Times are gone when all Nsubuga needed to do to earn the adoration of crowds was to spring up the now forgotten reflexes while fielding, the powerful clean hitting and parsimonious bowling. Times change. The selectors, coaches and public's patience is rapidly running out with the erstwhile allrounder who, they feel, has refused to grow up and play like a man. Averaging 18 in ODIs in 2006 is a shame really, considering his exposure and experience of 10 years on the international scene.

High-points of the Year
Apart from winning the Atul Shah title and Uganda making a second consecutive appearance at the U-19 World Cup, many of the high points registered were administrative. Uganda got an increment in the ICC annual grant and UCA won the best global cricket development programme award. UCA also hit a landmark when they hosted the big ICC Annual Development Committee Meeting in December. The epic of the high points was when ICC rewarded former NCS general secretary, Abbey Kits Lutaaya for his role in cricket administration since 1975 and veteran ace Sam Walusimbi - who is referred to as Uganda's greatest cricketer.

Wish list for 2007
1.That Uganda can acquire the services of a foreign tactician to boost the coaching especially the batting department, which has been Uganda's Achilles heel for very long. Dear UCA, if you think a foreigner is unaffordable and unnecessary, go ask Uganda Rugby Union (URU)? The ruggers went places with Chester Williams last year or remember Tom Tikolo's impact on the national cricket teams.

2.That UCA can work around the clock and get two other grass wickets soonest. For the umpteenth time, UCA should know that the overall playing standards can only improve if players get to play more on grass. It will even help in our bid to get ODI status by 2015.

3.That Nsubuga, along with regaining his form, regains his smile. The scowl that has soured his face recently could vaporise a bolt of lightning. Vice captaining Uganda, particularly when they are not performing, as often as expected, is a job from hell but everybody knows that Frank is a fine cricketer. The teammates should also not give the media any excuse to think, say and write otherwise. 4.And finally that clubs like in rugby can attract corporate sponsorship and the national league can catch fire so as to woo back the spectators to the now empty stands.

What does 2007 hold? A tough year of action looms. There is the Africa Cricket Association (ACA) Cup in South Africa and the long grueling road to the 2009 ICC Trophy qualification starts in Australia with Uganda battling to finish among the top countries in the Division 3 of the ICC World Cricket League. Overall, if there is a significant improvement in facilities, players' attitude, motivation and welfare, Ugandan cricket will get out of its slough in 2007.