In 2022 when the critics reviewed the season cricket Uganda had had that year, a section described the season as underwhelming. Even though the Cricket Cranes triumphed in South Africa at the inaugural ACA T20 Africa Cup, a few viewed the year as pedestrian.
Fast forward to the climax of 2023, and you won’t be crucified for harbouring thoughts that everyone with just an ounce of love for cricket is in sync regarding the remarkable year it’s been for cricket Uganda.
2023 has been a history making and an epochal year for Cricket Uganda. It is a year that will forever be engraved in the hearts of those associated with Ugandan cricket in whatever capacity.
Uganda Cricket Association’s calendar commenced with the Qatar tour in March. This bilateral tournament that has become an annual event witnessed some bodacious display from particularly one man- Kenneth Waiswa.
Waiswa’s all-round prowess was on display in this tour, and especially with the bat, was unplayable. In one of those games, ‘Kenzo’ as he is referred to by his teammates knocked a ton of 101 not out. The series ended 2-2, but it was a fundamental base for what was going to be a busy season.
Uganda then hosted the Victoria Series the following month! In what was a one of kind tournament, five nations including UAE, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda graced this edition. The Victoria Pearls came out triumphant after partly being aided by the unfavorable weather.
The final that pitted Uganda against Tanzania got washed out! Owing to Uganda’s dominant display in the round robin stage, they were declared winners. Rwanda’s Henrietta Ishimwe bagged the MVP award, but Janet Mbabazi who beat her captain Consy Aweko by 37 points was named Uganda’s best player. No sooner had they won the tournament, than they got on the plane to Namibia.
The Capricorn Women’s Quadrangular Series that also featured UAE, Hong Kong and the hosts Namibia awaited. Like the Victoria Series, the tournament’s best did not come from Uganda, however, they lifted another trophy, their second in a space of 2 weeks. The Victoria Pearls in a pulsating final beat the Capricorn Eagles by 3 runs to clinch that trophy.
Back home, the Girls Schools Cricket Week- the biggest youth competition in the country- had primed. Light SS against Rwenzori Girls School bowled it off on 7th May in Soroti. The 7-day event that got concluded on 13th May saw Olila SS comfortably win it after beating Light SS by 5 wickets in the final.
Enter the inaugural Continent Cup T20 and the annual Kwibuka Women’s T20 Cup in June. These two tournaments ran concurrently in Kenya and Rwanda respectively. While the Cricket Cranes found little resistance in winning the Continent Cup, the Victoria Pearls suffered a shocking defeat to Rwanda in the final, ultimately halting their quest to end a six-year drought.
It was the first time the Victoria Pearls were losing to Rwanda, but despite failing to lift the trophy, the tournament came with its positives. It introduced three prodigies to the national team. Lorna Anyait, Jimia Mohammed and Malisa Ariokot all from Soroti Cricket Academy earned their senior debuts at this tournament, and made good accounts of themselves.
Meanwhile in Nairobi, Siraje Nsubuga and Robinson Obuya were the two privileged to make their debuts for the Cricket Cranes. The duo grabbed the opportunity with both hands, and despite Nsubuga’s recent omission from the team partly due to the injury he suffered in Nairobi, Obuya has maintained his stay in the national team, and deservedly so.
The same month saw Aziz Damani’s four-year league dominance come to an end. With the help of Olila High School, Soroti City beat Damani to the title. In what turned out to be a two-final encounter, Olila High beat Damani in the only Super Over game of the season on the same day Soroti City edged Jinja SS by one run.
In July, the ICC U19 Men’s 50 Over World Cup Qualifiers took center stage in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Uganda took a fourteen-day tour of Indian in May in preparations for this tournament, but the Baby Cricket Cranes- whose appearance at the youth World Cup in 2022 was their third- failed miserably at an attempt of an instant return.
Joseph Baguma led the side in the bowling department, picking 13 wickets, and missing out on the best bowler of the tournament award by just a wicket, but the team’s batting was a let down. The Baby Cricket Cranes who had at least five players from the 2022 lot eventually failed to qualify for the U19 World Cup that will be contested in South Africa between January and February next year.
July arrived with all sorts of misfortunes! During the Cricket Cranes’ annual tour of Namibia, the camp was unfortunate to go through some contretemps! Firstly, all rounder Riazat Ali Shah lost his passport during transit to Namibia which meant he had to return home, which also meant he had to miss the tournament. Then opening bowler Juma Miyaji who had seemingly recovered from a back injury that barred him from making the team that travelled to Nairobi the previous month suffered a setback in the very first game. Miyaji’s tournament ended on the very first day, and like Riazat, had to make his way home.
The siblings of Simon Ssesazi and Henry Ssenyondo lost their mother while on this same tour. They also had to make a return home. It was a challenging month for Uganda who went on to miserably lose the Series 6-0.
Enter August, and the East Africa T20 Cup came calling! Amends were made here. Uganda competed against the hosts Rwanda and Tanzania in this Tri-nation Series, and were head and shoulders above the rest as they effortlessly defended the trophy they won at the end of 2022.
Player of the Series award went to Waiswa, but Alpesh Ramjani roared loud especially with the ball. He pocketed a total of 25 wickets- the most by any player. Although beaten by Tanzania’s Amal Rajeevan (363) to the best batter award, Ssesazi came out as Uganda’s best with 337 runs.
In the same month, the Skyview Boys Schools Cricket Week happened. Familiar names such as Baguma, Christopher Kidega, Aziz Tandia, Gerald Olipa dominated the tournament, but the tourney saw the revelation of another talent in Jacob Malinga. Turning up for Teso College, Aloet, Malinga scored 302 runs in seven games. Only Kidega with 485 scored more, and with his 25 maximums, Malinga was the player with the most sixes in the competition. Little wonder he scooped the best batter of the tournament award. While Malinga made his name known, Jinja SS took the ultimate prize. They beat Nyakasura by 16 runs in the final to end a seven-year drought.
The same August witnessed the cricket fraternity engulfed in the World Cup Trophy tour fever. The holy grail that Australia won on 19th November was hosted by UCA between 26th to 28th August. It was a time every local cricket fan appreciated to be alive.
Still with the World Cup, Uganda was involved in a World Cup curtain raiser- the Street Child World Cup hosted in September in the same country that hosted the World Cup. And not only were they participants, Uganda battered each and everyone of their opponents en route to winning the trophy. Four girls including Ariokot, Anyait, Naome Amongin and Agnes Nakakande and as many boys including Tandia, Ali Balidawa, Olipa and Jonathan Nyiro were the ambassadors that flew the country’s flag high. Nyiro for both the bat and the ball earned himself the MVP of the tournament.
Meanwhile, away from the Oval, key decisions were made in the boardroom in the same month. UCA decided against renewing Laurence Mahatlane’s contract. The South African was replaced by his assistant coach Jackson Ogwang on an interim basis. Mahatlane has since returned to his native land and UCA are on the look out for his replacement.
Back to the Oval, a breather was felt in October, with no action, however, that period was used to intensify preparations for what was going to be a season defining moment for Uganda. The build up to the World Cup Qualifiers in Namibia in late November saw the Cricket Cranes camp in Zimbabwe for ten days. Zimbabwe league champions Takashinga and Zimbabwe U25 team provided opposition for the Cricket Cranes. The tour ended 5-1 in favour of Ogwang’s troupes which set up a sterile mental space for the boys heading into the big one.
Being the top two ranked sides at the event, Zimbabwe and Namibia were looked at as the countries that would qualify from this Qualifier, however, against all odds, the Cricket Cranes conjured a heist to secure their first ever ticket to the World Cup at the expense of Zimbabwe- an ODI nation. This was a landmark achievement that not only augmented Ogwang’s CV, but announced the Cricket Cranes to the global stage. The Cricket Cranes will finally feast on the table of men. They will be among the 20 countries that will participate at the 2024 World Cup in the United States and West Indies.
Chrismas arrived too early for the local cricket faithful, and the year was superbly crowned by two other major achievements. For the first time since 2018 (and only their second time), the Victoria Pearls qualified for the ICC Women’s World Cup Global Qualifiers after they finished as runners up at the Africa Qualifiers that were hosted in Entebbe.
Usually a fringe player, Rita Musamali for majority of the tournament was the game changer for Uganda. The semifinal that pitted them against Tanzania had Musamali own it. With her 35 not, Musamali alongside Stephanie Nampiina helped anchor Uganda’s innings. She went ahead to pick three wickets, including two in the eighteenth Over as Uganda bowled out Tanzania in the 19.2 Over to win the game by 10 runs. Uganda lost the final to Zimbabwe, but beating Tanzania meant the Victoria Pearls had secured their spot at the Globals that will take place in Dubai in April next year.
The Cricket Cranes crowned a monumental year spectacularly by defending the ACA T20 Africa Cup. Uganda got their title defence to horrible start when they suffered a first-ever loss to Rwanda on the opening day, but that only acted as a wake-up call. They were able to march themselves to the final and successfully defended the trophy by humiliating rivals Kenya by 91 runs in the final.
2023 has given cricket fans nothing but captivating memories, but with another busy schedule coming up in 2024, Ugandan Cricket can only promise to make more desirable headlines.