By INNOCENT NDAWULA
Even if President Yoweri Tibuhaburwa Museveni eased restrictions, the coronavirus pandemic is so strong that it has relegated 2020 sports activity in the country to literally a myth.
But Uganda Cricket Association (UCA) is defying odds and today, it will officially bowl off the week-long Uganda Elite League, to be played under the Twenty20 format, to let players loose from the Covid-19 shadow.
So after players for the three franchises got mandatory testing and later camps this week, action bowls off with two matches at the Lugogo Cricket Oval. It is the Royal Varsani Bucks who will be busiest with a contest against Mamba Challengers this morning before facing the Aziz Damani Scorpions later in the day. This all comes eight months since the Lugogo turf last witnessed any activity. Phew, sheer sigh of relief for players , officials, fans and other stakeholders.
"I think we last played serious cricket around last year in November," said Bucks' skipper Arnold Otwani while reminiscing the senior national men's team triumph at round one of the ICC World Cricket Challenge League B in Oman. The top-order batsman leads a unit tutored by Habibu Mugalula. The latter was offered some players that he bred from Jinja.
"I think we are the team with the most experienced guys and we are definitely looking forward to the start," stated Otwani.
Otwani will likely use the opening partnership of former Ceylon Lions teammates; left-hander Simon Ssesaazi and Robinson Obuya with back-up from Aneef Shah, Deusdedit Muhumuza, Jonathan Ssebanja, Fred Achelam, Siraje Nsubuga and Simon Okecho down the order. But they will need perfect innings first against the Challengers led by Frank Akankwasa and coach Jackson Ogwang.
Akankwasa and Ogwang's bond is built from a coach-student relationship at Kololo Secondary School during the Schools Cricket Week half-a-decade ago.
"We aren't in a very good shape mentally and physically because of the pandemic that has kept us out for close to eight months," said Ogwang.
"But when the game calls you back no matter what, you have got to give 110 per cent on that day. My team is ready to take on the tough challenges ahead."
Ogwang is looking to exploit the blend of very talented youth like Akankwasa, Cosmas Kyewuta, David Wabwire and Rogers Olipa and seniors like Hamu Kayondo, Henry Ssenyondo, Kenneth Waiswa and Irfan Afridi (pic inset).
Spinners Ssenyondo and Afridi boast of a combined eight overs worth a test for the opposition.
The Scorpions, too, will be too ready to sting the Bucks in the afternoon.
"It has been a while since we last played, so looking forward to that feeling again," captain Brian Masaba said.
Masaba and his coach Michael Ndiko have some tough selection headache from No.5 on the batting list but youngster Zephaniah Arinaitwe must mature to keep his place. Luckily, Arinaitwe will have Shahzad Kamal to offer temperament with Masaba and Davis Karashani available too. Left-arm seamer Charles Waiswa will command the bowlers.
"Looking at this team, it's a great blend. And you know every ball in T20 is an event," said Ndiko. And the tournament that has a script similar to the Indian Premier League (IPL) has Man-of-Match, individual award winners and a cash prize of Man of Series as well as the franchise that triumphs on October 31.
For the fans who will watch matches online, there are 15 vouchers courtesy of Karveli Restaurant for correct match predictions. Take your guard, let's bowl off!