The national senior men’s cricket team, the Cricket Cranes have a chance to emulate their junior side, the Baby Cricket Cranes by qualifying for the biggest stage of all, the World Cup.
It is a task miles away from being simple considering the senior team has never made it to the World Cup but, they have been presented an opportunity to write history.
That opportunity is in form of a qualifier. The ICC T20 World Cup Global Qualifiers get underway on July 11 in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe where Uganda is placed in Group B alongside Hong Kong, Netherlands and Papua New Guinea.
The last time Uganda was involved at this very stage, they were in the same group, but with different opponents.
Ireland, USA, Canada, UAE, Namibia, Bermuda and Italy provided the opposition on that occasion. It was Uganda’s maiden global qualifiers, and one they were made to learn from the hard way.
Then coached by Martin Suji, the Davis Karashani captained side managed just two victories that came against Bermuda and Italy. The game against the USA was abandoned due to bad weather while other games ended in losses.
A lot has changed since. From the playing staff to the technical staff, it’s a different Ugandan side. Henry Ssenyondo, Frank Nsubuga, Roger Mukasa and Brian Masaba are the only members from that 2013 team that are still part of the national team and travelled to Zimbabwe.
On the technical bench, Laurance Mahatlane is the man at the helm with Jackson Ogwang as his assistant.
The South African fancies his team to go as far as the semi-finals or even beyond insisting “there’s no underdog in the group”, despite Uganda being the lowest-ranked side in the Group and the second lowest-ranked in the entire competition.
It is a great mindset to have for the coach. You have to think his players do possess the same attitude.
ROAD TO ZIMBABWE.
Owing to the fact that Uganda finished fourth in the Africa Qualifiers it hosted in 2019, the nation was relegated to Division 2. It is from this stage that they started their qualifying campaign.
The Cricket Cranes were grouped with Malawi, Ghana, Seychelles, Eswatini, Lesotho and hosts Rwanda; opponents they proved too strong for.
They won all their games to advance to the regional finals that had lined up Tanzania, Nigeria and fierce rivals Kenya.
That final had teams play a double round-robin, and Uganda lost to Kenya in their opening game, but they emerged African Champions after beating Kenya in their second meet in what was a nail-biting affair.
That victory wouldn’t have counted though had Kenya not lost to Tanzania. This meant all three teams had each lost a game. This, heading into the final games set up a three-horse race that Uganda eventually won.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Dinesh Nakrani ran the show in Rwanda in division 2 as he equalled the world’s second-best bowling figures in T20 cricket with 6/7 against Lesotho.
Nakrani alongside Riazat Ali Shah, the MVP in Rwanda, Simon Ssesazi, Uganda’s best batter at the Challenge League B, and Cosmos Kyewuta, the revelation of that tournament remain the players to keep a keen eye on in Zimbabwe.
That’s not to say the other players are not being watched out for. Mahatlane has quite a decent unit of players at his disposal, and it is one he feels confident about.
The group is a tough one, but it is one that Mahatlane’s boys can negotiate through. The Netherlands has been to five world cups therefore favourites to top the group, but Uganda can finish second and make the semi-finals.
They can find ways of dealing with PNG, the same way the U19 team did at the World Cup in the West Indies early this year.
They can definitely deal with Hong Kong who they beat in the first round of the Challenge League B that was hosted in Oman.
Uganda is ranked lower than her Group B opponents so victory against any hikes their chances of improving on their T20 ranking.
The Global Qualifier is composed of two groups, with Group A having the hosts Zimbabwe, USA, Jersey and Singapore.
The top two teams from the two groups advance to the semi-finals. The two that make the finals automatically qualify for the 2022 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in Australia.
Uganda’s first game will be against Hong Kong on Monday, July 11.