15 January 2013

Uganda: Changing the Fortunes of Cricket

The national men's cricket team travels to Dubai this week for a series of build-up games.

This is welcome news for Martin Suji, the national men's cricket head coach, who has enjoyed relative success in his tenure since being hired in mid-2011. In July 2011, Team Uganda won the ICC Africa Region Division One Twenty20 championship. It was followed by Nile Knights' (one of the two Uganda franchise teams) Twenty20 success in the 2011 East Africa Elite League (EAEL).

In the same year and competition, Nile Knights finished runners-up in the one-day game, losing to Kenya's Kongonis. This was after the Knights had staved off the challenge of other Kenyan teams that previously found Ugandan opposition easy picking. While Team Uganda has achieved some success in the shorter Twenty20 version, the longer versions of the game, the one-day games and the test (four to five days) game, still remain a spot of bother.

And this year, for Team Uganda to gain promotion to the money-rewarding division two, they have to finish in the top two positions during the division three world cricket league, due in April in Dubai. As such, Suji won't rest until the mistakes of 2011 are corrected. For a while now, it has been clear that Team Uganda needed refreshing.

Some of the players have been around long, and their contribution too the team is minimal. Suji says he has drafted more youngsters into the team so that more hunger is restored in the team. To back Suji's argument, some observers feel that Team Uganda has had players on the team that had stagnated. They were satisfied being on the team and making foreign trips. Yet again, it could be that the players stagnated because there was little competition for places in the team.

The arrival of youthful cricketers like Farouk Ochimi, Brian Masaba and Arnold Otwani has raised the stakes. Suji says the EAEL, an initiative by Cricket Kenya, which has run for the last two years, is the kind of international tournament that has given many youngsters exposure. And because they play unusual opposition from across the border, they have improved their game in a range of aspects- an attribute needed to flourish at the international stage.

But before the action to prove themselves starts, Suji's charges have been lifted by the addition of South Africa-based Khalid Mouthasany and the fact that Australian Mitch Horrocks, who was instrumental last year in Tornado's title-winning running can play for Uganda now having been a resident here for the last five years.

Horrocks was ranked number 12 out of the 137 batsmen in the league last season. If he can replicate that form on his expected international debut, Suji's team could surprise quite a few people.

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