By Denis Musali
Since 2005, there has been little interest in the Schools Cricket Week due to many reasons but mostly due to the poor standard of cricket on display. However, the 2019 edition of the annual schools' competition reignited interest in the tournament, especially among the school alumni.
The return of traditional cricket schools such as Kiira College Butiiki and Makerere College School enhanced the reputation of the tournament and the increase in schools from 12 to 14 also added some impetus to the competition. The increase meant that more schools were given an opportunity to compete against each other and also ensure that the event runs for the customary one week.
Another visible improvement is the quality of the cricket played during the tournament and this could be attributed to the fact that most of the schools employed cricket coaches. Lawrence Ssematimba was in charge of Makerere College School, Habib Mugalula with Jinja SSS, Lawrence Ssempijja with St Johns Kauga, Marvin Kitamirike and Emmanuel Isaneez for Busoga College Mwiri, Ivan Kakande with Teso College and Ronald Wakamara with Ntare School.
With the exception for the first day when the rain-delayed a few games, the rain stayed away for most of the tournament. Defending champions Busoga College Mwiri, chasing the 18th crown, were placed in a relatively easy Group A alongside nine-time winners Kololo SSS and last year's semifinalists Nyakasura School. Group B was surely the group of death with three favorites placed therein St Johns Kauga alongside Jinja SSS and Mukono Parents.
Mwiri and Nyakasura made it out of Group A as number one and two respectively with the former unbeaten while St Johns Kauga and Mukono Parents survived the group of death, St Johns Kauga unbeaten as well.
The semifinal lineup pitted Mwiri against second-placed Mukono Parents while St Johns Kauga had to battle Nyakasura School. Apart from Mukono Parents, the other three were part of the semifinal line up last year.
Defending champions had the tricky semifinal against Mukono Parents and the free-scoring team from Jinja could only score 120 in their 20 overs and Mukono Parents was mostly in the game during the chase but they failed to deal with pressure as Mwiri held their nerves for a marginal win.
In the other semifinal, St Johns was never troubled by Nyakasura School as they easily sailed into the final for the second year in a row.
The final played on Saturday morning at Lugogo Cricket Oval was a battle between two unbeaten sides for the second year in a row. Mwiri was chasing an 18th title while St Johns was chasing their maiden title.
Unfortunately, the finale didn't live up to the hype as Mwiri easily won their 18th title by 65 runs. The defending champions batted first scoring 143/4 in their 25 overs with Cyrus Kakuru the architect with a skillful 60. St Johns go-to man Perry Wazombe was AWOL in the final losing his wicket for just four and this deflated the chase with none of the St Johns batsmen bothering Mwiri.
As soon as the final ended the heavens opened maybe as a blessing and the scheduled game between the Schools Select side and the Chairman's XI could not happen.
A total of 8060 runs were scored in the tournament, a record eight centuries and 24 half-centuries were also scored during the tournament. The 2019 edition was brutal on bowlers as 805 boundaries and 192 maximums were scored in the run feast.
Makerere College School were on the biggest receiving end of this run feast as they gave away 342 runs against Busoga College Mwiri in a record opening stand between Mwiri Captain Ronald Opio and Hassan Mpanuka.
The most promising players from the participating schools were chosen for a high-performance camp that was handled by three experienced coaches.
Mwiri dominated the individual awards picking up three of the five awards given. Cyrus Kakuru won the best wicketkeeper award, Ronald Opio won the best batsman award while Hassan Mpanuka took home the MVP award. The other two awards were taken by Geoffrey Kakaire of Masaka SSS - best bowler and Edwin Nuwagaba - best fielder award.
The business end of the tournament attracted a lot of fans especially the Mwiri alumni, the semifinal game between Mwiri and Mukono Parents had a decent crowd on a Friday evening and the Saturday final also had a huge turn out despite the early morning start.
The fans were also able to watch the semifinal and final games via a live stream provided by Deep End Sports Media.