Uganda's batting remains a worry
Uganda's ability to construct decent totals could be the key to their competitiveness when the Under-19 World Cup gets underway in Sri Lanka.
The African nation, whose development program is held up as a blueprint for other countries throughout the ICC Associate and Affiliate world, is likely to be able to hold its own with the ball and in the field. But there are question marks over whether the players can back up those aspects of their game with sizeable scores when they bat.
Uganda reached the World Cup by finishing as runners-up to Namibia in the Africa-East Asia-Pacific qualifying tournament held in Benoni, South Africa last August. They won four of their five matches, including a victory over Kenya, and even beat the Namibians in the group stages before losing to them by three wickets in a closely-contested final. But in all those matches Uganda's batsmen mustered only one half-century between them, the 61 scored by their captain Hamza Almuzahim against Fiji. In their defence it was a low-scoring tournament, but that worrying trend has continued in the two warm-up matches the side has played in Sri Lanka.
In matches against colleges sides, Uganda was bowled out for 161 and 133 and that problem will need to be solved and solved quickly before their Group A matches against the hosts Sri Lanka, and New Zealand and Pakistan. Much of the responsibility for that required improvement will fall on the shoulders of captain Almuzahim, one of ten players in the squad that also took part in the 2004 event in Bangladesh, the first time Uganda played in the finals of the World Cup.
Four of the squad - opening bowler Emmanuel Isaneez, allrounder Patrick Ochan, vice-captain Raymond Otim, a batsman who bowls legspin, and left-arm medium-pacer Charles Waiswa, were also part of the senior Uganda squad that played in the ICC Trophy in Ireland last July.
Along with Almuzahim, the other key members of the batting line-up could be prospective openers Mauneek Solanki and Roger Mukasa, the former U15 captain Arthur Kyobe, wicketkeeper Denis Musali and Jimmy Okello. Musali opened the innings in every match in Benoni and made an unbeaten 27 to steer the side home against Tanzania. The bowling and fielding appears to be less of a concern, especially when judged on performances not only in those qualifiers but also in the two warm-up matches so far.
Isaneez, who took 6 for 37 to give Bangladesh a real scare in the Plate competition two years ago, is back to lead the attack again and among those likely to back him up is Ronald Semanda, who took 4 for 28 in the side's match on Friday.
Daniel Ruyange, who took 3 for 15 against Tanzania in Benoni, and Davis Arinaitwe will also bowl offspin while Waiswa played for the Uganda senior side in last year's ICC Intercontinental Cup. Most intriguing of all is the presence in the squad of offspinner Emmanuel Nakaana. The youngest player in the tournament, he only celebrated his 14th birthday on December 24 last year but has already shown signs of promise and took 4 for 24 in the side's latest warm-up match.
Whatever Uganda's limitations with the bat, they come to Sri Lanka with a reputation for excellence in the field. They effected four run-outs in one of their games with Namibia in Benoni and Otim is one of their stars in this area. Expect to find him at backward point.
Uganda's only previous appearance in the U-19 World Cup came two years ago, when they lost to South Africa (eight wickets), England (by 213 runs) and Nepal (five wickets) before taking part in the Plate competition. They lost to Ireland (123 runs) and Bangladesh (four wickets) but finished the tournament on a high with a five-wicket win over Canada when they chased 232 for victory.
Realistically they are expected to struggle this time around as they have been drawn in one of the two groups that includes three Test-playing sides. But the signs are there that Uganda could be an emerging force within the game over the next few years. They have consistently boasted one of the biggest development programs in the Associate and Affiliate world with over 20,000 children involved in organised sessions. They also have an excellent schools program and the only limitation to growth is a lack of facilities although that, too, is being addressed.
The long-term future for cricket in Uganda looks promising and the next three weeks will be another step on the road to growing the game in that country.
Uganda squad Hamza Almuzahim (capt), Raymond Otim, Davis Arinaitwe, Emmanuel Isaneez, Arthur Kyobe, Roger Mukasa, Denis Musali, Emmanuel Nakaana, Patrick Ochan, Jimmy Okello, Danniel Ruyange, Mauneek Solanki, Ronald Semanda and Charles Waiswa.