When Ronak Patel first appeared in Uganda, he was only a night cricket mercenary for Uganda Cricket Association (UCA) Trustee Board member Ranmal Keshwala's franchise - the Jinja-based Keshwala Boyz.
Ronak was the Most Valuable Player with 357 runs and 21 catches as Keshwala Boyz lifted the Kampala Boys Sports Club Night Cricket Championship.
Night cricket tournaments are floodlit affairs where players play tape-ball cricket with plastic bats and the stadium is always full with hundreds of fans.
The first cut is the deepest and so was the same for Ronak, who would then stay in Uganda and turn out for Kutchi Tigers in the UCA National League.
He didn't get many runs up-front in the first two innings but after the six matches Ronak would end with 600 runs - a contender for Best Batsman only beaten to the accolade by Roger Mukasa, who had 800-plus runs from 14 innings.
Allure of Uganda
"My love for Uganda started then. I loved almost everything about the country. The people, the hospitality, the different types of food including what I am used to back home and the weather. Even the traffic is the same as in India," joked the 32-year-old.
Ronak says it was an easy decision for him to make when Cricket Cranes team manager Jackson Kavuma and the then coach Steve Tikolo interested him in playing for the national team.
"I was grateful and I felt privileged. Cricket is my life and I love the game. To play for Uganda at the highest level was an honour for me," Ronak, who boasts of several coaching badges from Gujarat, India, says with an infectious smile emanating from his baby face.
Things though were not rosy for Ronak on his debut tour when Uganda went to Oman for the ICC World Cricket League Division III in 2018. The Cricket Cranes finished bottom of the log with just one win in five matches and suffered mini-relegation.
Ronak had a miserly total of 55 runs at an average of 11 runs with a highest score of 28, something that left the technical team pondering on whether they had made the right decision on wooing the rotund but gifted batsman/wicketkeeper to play for Uganda.
The man nicknamed Rooney because of his undying love for Manchester United would then get ignored for ICC Africa T20 Finals in 2019 in Kampala because, all of a sudden, his physique made many naysayers believe the shorter code wasn't tailor-made for him.
"I didn't play badly on my debut at the ICC World T20 Africa Region Qualifier B in 2018. I scored 229 runs at an average of 45 in six innings in Kigali and dropping me after Oman really hurt. I was thinking I am not good enough for the team. I decided to make a self-reflection and worked harder," said 32-year-old.
Greater second coming
But sport always gives a second chance. Ronak has grabbed his with both hands to become the batting fulcrum of the team ever since.
He has manufactured sack-fuls of runs; first with 211 runs as Uganda registered a flawless run of five straight wins at the first leg of the ICC World Cricket Challenge League B - a pathway event to the 2023 World Cup - in Oman 2019.
Now here in Windhoek, Ronak has averaged 71 runs, with two unbeaten knocks, in three matches as Uganda fell to T20 World Cup-bound Namibia in the Castle Lite Series.
He even made it three-fold with a century in the first of two Limited Overs (50) matches against Namibia, a One Day International (ODI) nation, on Wednesday.
Ronak scored a cultured century of 105 runs off 129 balls at a healthy strike-rate of 81 - the first for the nation since Saud Islam's knock of 100 runs off 116 balls against Qatar in February last year - as Uganda went down by 98 runs.
Ticking off KPIs
Beyond Ronak's ton, Uganda showed signs of finding ailment to their nightmarish and long batting Achilles.
Having collapsed to 9 runs for 4 wickets inside five overs chasing 301, Ronak rallied a renaissance, stringing two 50-run and two 15-over partnerships with Kenneth Waiswa (18 off 44) and Riazat Ali Shah (32 off 61) as well as a 42-run partnership with Jonathan Ssebanja (18 off 32) for the eighth-wicket stand.
Overall, Ronak batted 45 overs and his century had an impressionable 70 runs in singles - something that is kind of unbelievable for erstwhile Ugandan sides that love to primarily operate in gung-ho boundary-hitting.
"There is no real magic in my batting," says Ronak. "I just try to bat as long as possible and it helps me to set a solid platform of scoring big. Our players have a mental block whenever they see stronger opposition or sides ranked above us. They've the talent and must now convert consistently."
Uganda's bowling has never been a major worry but there have been areas of concern with the fielding, lately, hitherto the team's stronghold, with at least five chances put down every match.
Full Name: Ronakbharatbhai Patel
Date of Birth: August 18, 1988
Local Club: Kutchi Tigers
Batting Style: Right-hand bat
Highest Score: 105 vs. Namibia (Uganda's Tour of Namibia 2021)
National Team Debut: ICC World Twenty20 Africa Region Qualifier B, Rwanda 2018
Jersey No: 7
Cricketing Idol: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (India)