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How the Gallant Cricket Cranes Won Continent Cup T20 Africa

The Cricket Cranes returned from Kenya on Thursday last week a triumphant side after winning a disquietude final against the Simba boys at the Gymkhana Cricket Oval, in Nairobi.

The final against Kenya on Wednesday was no different from the one against Tanzania last year at the Africa Cup in South Africa, except for one bit; the opponent was chasing.

In this breath-taker, Kenya, in the Uganda Innings came for blood. They allowed Uganda to take only 40 runs in the first ten Overs; but that was after ensuring that Uganda lose five wickets before it had even been midway the innings.

Uganda, having beaten Kenya twice in the triple round robin stage, the Kenyans were determined to end the series in a stalemate. That didn’t happen. Their meanness instead counted for nothing as Uganda edged the final by a whisker.

In this article, we’ll not only look at the madness in that final, we’ll also delve into the entire tournament, looking at the performance of the entire Ugandan team.

The Cricket Cranes went into this competition without some of their best players in opening bowlers Juma Miyaji and Cosmos Kyewuta. Fred Achelam who had been the team’s first choice wicket keeper before a knee surgery last September, and who had only been named as a reserve player for this tour was called in when both Cyrus Kakuru and Bilal Hassun suffered a bug, but his arrival in Nairobi was not the only positive for the team.

This tour saw the revelation of two youngsters in Siraje Nsubuga and Robinson Obuya. The two were debuting for the national team, and boy did they take the bull by the horns!

On their debut on 11th June against Rwanda, the two exhibited the will and urgency to leave their mark. Obuya scored a quick 33 when he came on at No.3, and went on to play all games. The 22-year-old scored a total of 102 runs, 38 more than Kenya’s seasoned batter, Alex Obanda who has played first class cricket for his country.

Nsubuga on the other hand produced a return of three wickets in that game. He went on to pick 7 more and finished 7th in the bowling charts, but it is a moment of bravery in the final that the youngster will probably consider his biggest highlight in the national team thus far.

Off the bowling of Dinesh Nakrani in the 17th Over when Kenya needed 20 runs off 19 balls, Nsubuga twisted his left shoulder while attempting a catch. The 22-year-old had suffered a dislocation, but held onto the ball to dismiss Sanchin Bhudia.

An outing so stellar from the debutants, but another youngster who allowed not to be overshadowed was Pascal Murungi. The Fort Portal born, captained the U19 team that played at the 2022 World Cup in West Indies. He, alongside Miyaji, opened bowling for Uganda at that tournament, but had never, since his senior team debut in September last year bowled for the Cricket Cranes. On his first call out for that duty, Murungi was handed the task of opening bowling against Botswana on match Day 4 and he was hands on. The boy known for tickling even the most stern team members with his jokes opened the bowling with Dinesh Nakrani. He did not have to wait for long to pick his first ever senior team wicket as it arrived with his second ball. To make it even more memorable, the wicket was the Botswana captain Karabo Mothlanka who finished second in the batting table with 223 runs.

Murungi keeps backing himself from all fronts! It is little wonder that he is being looked at as the future Ugandan captain.

Murungi’s opening partner in that Botswana game Nakrani picked up the Player of the Match award in the final, but one other player that left Nairobi fulfilled was the eventual Player of the Series, Riazat Ali Shah.

In South Africa last year, Rizu won Uganda the final with the bat. At Gymkhana, captain Brian Masaba entrusted the medium pacer with the final Over, and he delivered. Rizu who faced one of Kenya’s explosive batters in that Over, Lucas Oluoch Ndandason ensured Kenya did not get the 9 runs they needed to win the final. That was after he had sent former Kenyan captain Shem Ngoche packing with the very first ball of the final Over.

Riazat did also enter his name in the milestone achievement book during the Continent Cup. He captained Uganda for the first time in his T20I career, and that was against Rwanda on Match Day 3. The fans favourite got 7 runs not out in that game, but totalled 176 which made him the second highest run getter for Uganda at the Continent Cup.

Still with milestones, Roger Mukasa started the business of landmarking at the Gymkhana. On the very first day, Mukasa hit a landmark of 3500 runs. He was still Uganda’s leading run scorer in all formats before the tournament, but hitting that mark was a significant achievement in his career. Mukasa entered the competition 7 runs shy that mark. He left with the record extended to 3713. With his 220 runs, ‘Papa’ was Uganda’s highest run scorer in Nairobi.

While Mukasa was hitting milestones with the bat, his elder brother Frank Nsubuga was doing just about the same with the ball. This perennial deliverer and ageless man took his tally of wickets to 251. Prior the competition, the 42-year-old was a mere six wickets away from hitting the 250 mark. He picked 7 from the six matches he played which simply meant him extending his wicket taking record for Uganda.

The veteran picked Uganda’s first two wickets at the tourney, but the man that always went for the kill was Henry Senyondo. A sibling to opening batter Simon Ssesazi, Senyondo always goes about his business serenely. By the time the opponent realizes his wrath, damage is already done.

He best everyone in-terms of bowling, ending the tourney as the highest wicket taker with 18. Twice he equalled his best bowling figures of 4/4, and thrice he won the Man of the Match award.

There was a bit of mumbling from a few Ugandan fans when he didn’t win the Player of the Series award, but as a player and as a team in general, they will be more than content with his outing in Nairobi. He remains the only man currently who can lace Nsubuga’s shoes in-terms of bowling stats as he boasts 169 career wickets. That is 80 behind the legend of Franco, and that makes him Uganda’s second highest wicket taker.

Senyondo’s young brother, Ssesazi admitted to struggling by his standards. Once he earned the MOTM award, and ended with a total of 172 runs, but as he rightly admitted, that return was short of his quality. The hunger in him and his attitude is what is pleasing to the eye though especially as Uganda is getting ready for a World Cup Qualifier.

A perfect timing to stay focused, and one player who seems to continue picking form on all fronts is Kenneth Waiswa! At the Qatar Series in May, Waiswa was exceptional with his batting, hitting a century in one of the games. In Nairobi, he was one of Uganda’s go to guys for wickets. Bowled in only five innings, but returned six important wickets including big hitter Collins Obuya in the penultimate Over in the final. His economy of 4.58 was only bettered by Senyondo’s 4.55.

And in the final, he put up a true definition of ‘putting the body on the line’. The 24-year-old almost broke his ribs when he rammed into the stadium boards while attempting to catch Nelson Odhiambo’s flying boundary. He continues to remind cricket fans of what a unique talent he is.

The top ten bowlers at the competition had four Ugandans. Alpesh Ramjani was one of them! ‘Alpie’ missed the final round robin game and the final due to a niggling he suffered, but finished fourth in the bowling charts with 13 wickets. Of the eight innings he featured in, Alpesh produced a MOTM display in one of them, and it was against Botswana on Match Day 5 when he picked three wickets, conceding only nine runs. When he made his national team debut last year in September, Alpesh vowed to maintain his number in the team. He certainly seems to remember his words and acting upon them especially now with the emergency of promising prodigies.

One such a prodigy is Kakuru! Not a direct rival to Alpesh’s position in the team, but both players will know that maintaining a place in team is now harder than ever. Kakuru was forced to sit out a couple of games after suffering malaria. His place seemed threatened when Achelam came in town, but head coach Laurence Mahatlane kept faith in the youngster. When he was cleared of any sickness, the wicketkeeper got right back in the team and did pretty well in the final.

Bilal who suffered the same ordeal as Kakuru was not fortunate enough to stave it off on time for a return. His MOTM performance against Botswana on the opening day that saw him claim four wickets, and the first game against Kenya were the only two times he featured for the team.

A near to perfection outing for the team, but the leadership and tactics from the captain Masaba did not go unnoticed. Entrusting Murungi -who had never bowled for the national team- opening bowling duties against Botswana, and trusting Waiswa with the penultimate Over (the make or break Over in an innings) in the final was an act of a genius.

The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Regional Qualifiers do not happen until November, but this was a preparatory ground for that Qualifier. It is safe to say that the team is on the right track of it’s preparations and transition. Mahatlane and his boys will continue building on this success as they await the start of the big one.

The Cricket Cranes results at Continental T20 Cup:

Game 1: Uganda v Botswana

Uganda 115/4
Botswana 113 all out
Uganda win by 6 wickets

Game 2: Kenya vs Uganda.

Kenya 185/3
Uganda 97/ all out
Kenya won by 89runs

Game 3: Uganda vs Rwanda

Rwanda 81/all out
Uganda 83/2
Uganda won by 8 wickets

Game 4: Uganda vs Kenya

Uganda 175/8
Kenya 128/7
Uganda won by 47 runs

Game 5: Uganda vs Botswana

Uganda 153/7
Botswana 89/9
Uganda won by 64 runs

Game 6: Uganda vs Rwanda

Rwanda 85/10
Uganda 87/3
Uganda won by 7 wickets

Game 7: Botswana vs Uganda

Botswana 64/10
Uganda 65/3
Uganda won by 7 wickets

Game 8: Uganda vs Kenya

Kenya 117/8
Uganda 120/5
Uganda won by 5 wickets

Game 9: Uganda vs Rwanda

Uganda 153/5
Rwanda 59/all out
Uganda won by 94 runs.

Final: Uganda vs Kenya

Uganda 125/10
Kenya 124/7

Uganda won by 1 run

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