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'Cricket is the difference between being a good citizen and a thug'

Kenneth Kamyuka came to cricket so he could eat well, but stayed on for the game, and ended up moving to another continent for it

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Kenneth Kamyuka leads Uganda's celebrations, Argentina v Uganda, World Cricket League Division 3, Buenos Aires, January 31, 2009

Kennth Kamyuka in Ugandan colours  •  ICC/CricketEurope

Shane Warne turned to cricket after being cut from a second-string Aussie Rules team. Dale Steyn took up the sport when he realised a career as a skateboarder would not work out in South Africa. And Kumar Sangakkara chose batting over the baseline when a teacher advised his mother that it would serve him better than his tennis. But Kenneth Kamyuka played cricket to eat.
"I was a good soccer player but the soccer team didn't go out to play matches as much as the cricket team. The cricketers went out every weekend and they would get fed there," Kamyuka said. "I didn't have lots of pocket money, so I gave up soccer for cricket. For me, it wasn't about cricket as much as it was going to get a good meal."
The century-old Busoga College Mwiri, where Kamyuka was educated, is one of Uganda's most prestigious schools. Overlooking Lake Victoria, it was previously patronised only by the sons of kings and chiefs but has since started offering all Ugandans the chance to benefit from its magnificent facilities. It's difficult to imagine the food would be bad in such a school, but boarding school dinners have a reputation for being bland, and Kamyuka obviously preferred what he got while playing cricket. It wasn't long before he began to enjoy the game too.
The school's cricket team was strong and had won nine championships in a row, some of them during Kamyuka's time. He was identified by coach Justin Ligaylingi for higher honours.
Cricket in Uganda is a relatively minor sport with a small community, so a talented player quickly becomes a star. Kamyuka was one such. He recalled a performance at league level that made him stand out. "Against a development team I bowled ten overs, went for 25 runs and picked up all ten wickets myself."
At 19, Kamyuka scored an unbeaten century, from No. 10, against Malaysia in the 2001 ICC Trophy, and was soon hailed as one of the most talented players of his generation.
Eight years later, in the World Cricket League Division Three tournament in Argentina, he picked up four Man-of-the-Match awards from five innings and led the wickets chart with 18 at 6.33.
He turned out for Uganda at the World Cup qualifiers later that year but shortly after that his relationship with the authorities turned sour. Kamyuka was frustrated by the lack of opportunities, especially to play in other countries, and felt cricket was not being properly managed in Uganda. "I used to play overseas through my own arrangement," he said. "I didn't feel the officials had the best interests of the players at heart."
Kamyuka decided to pull the plug on his Uganda career when fell out with the board over daily payments. He called a former schoolmate, Henry Osinde, who had moved to Canada and was now playing for their national side, and told him of his troubles back home. Osinde invited him to visit Canada. Kamyuka did, liked what he saw, and stayed.
But by now 27, Kamyuka had to wait four years to qualify for Canada's national side. He decided to take the chance nevertheless. With Osinde's assistance, he found a club to play for, impressed with his performances, and was selected for the national team as soon as he became available.
He made his debut last month against Netherlands and took a wicket with his first ball. The fixture was washed out but Kamyuka's figures of 4 for 38 from 5.5 overs, although expensive, were enough to prove his ability and desire. "It was just another game for me. I had one game and one chance to prove myself. I love situations like that," Kamyuka said. "I haven't been playing at that level for four years but straight from club level, I picked up a wicket on my first ball." He especially enjoyed his second dismissal - that of Michael Swart. "He hit me for a few runs before that so I had a few words for him after I got him."
Kamyuka also dedicated his performance to the Canada captain Ashish Bagai, who has backed him from the beginning. "He was the reason I'm playing," Kamyuka said. "He pushed for me to play and I told all my friends that if I don't make it I would have let the captain down. He believed in me and supported me no matter what people said, because he had seen me play before."
Bagai too is an immigrant to Canada, as are many of his national team-mates. But Ravin Moorthy, Cricket Canada president, does not look at arrivals like Kamyuka as hindrances to the growth of the local game. "The majority of our players come through our youth systems," Moorthy said. "In the 2011 World Cup, half of our players came out of our development programmes. This is a fact that we are very proud of. We are very fortunate to be able to augment this core talent with players who move to Canada and join our set-up. Even players who do not make it to the national programme help bring up the level of our domestic competition and local leagues, which creates a more robust competition."
Moorthy hopes Kamyuka's success continues, especially with 2015 World Cup qualifiers looming. "It's a big plus to have a player like Kenneth, who we have played against in previous World Cup qualifiers. When we reach the qualifiers, having a player who has experience at this level certainly benefits the team."
But before that the 2014 World Twenty20 qualifiers have to be tackled in November in the UAE. Kamyuka will be an integral part of Canada's squad for the tournament. He believes Canada have a strong chance, more so than Uganda, because of the composition of their squad and their ability to play spin, which may be a factor in the conditions in the UAE.
"We're not too far off, especially in the T20s. Canada has the edge when it comes to experience," Kamyuka said. "Uganda is weak against spin bowling while Canada has slow wickets that make us better equipped for spin."
Even if Canada don't make it through the qualifiers, Kamyuka has pledged to keep playing the game, because it gave him a better life. "I want to keep playing, keep fit and have fun. Cricket is the difference between where I am right now - being a good citizen - and being a thug on the streets. Cricket and I are inseparable."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent