By Denis Musali
I was lucky to have gone to the same school as the legend Kenneth Kamyuka. When I joined Busoga College Mwiri in 1999, the closest we (youngsters) ever got to playing was to carry the cricket mat and lay it out on the bare turf, nail in the stumps and proceed to do some catching and ‘shadowing’ as we waited for the ‘big boys’ from the school team to come and practice.
We would then sit on the sidelines and cheer on as the likes of Junior Kwebiiha (former national captain), Keith Legesi (former national wicket keeper), Chris Engola (former U-19 international), Noel Nsubuga (former Nile CC all-rounder), Ben Edward Musenze (former U-19 opening batsman) and Jacob Muddu (former U-19 all-rounder) among others did their thing. And once they were done, we would roll up the mat and wait until the day practice day – that was our routine.
In Mwiri, Cricket was a religion and its tradition was serious. As a newcomer one had to wait for their turn to mix and mingle with the big boys. It mattered less how good you perceived yourself to be. School team training was a preserve for S.4 students and those in classes higher. The rest of the crop had to do with having to graduate from ‘wembley’ (hit and run games on the sidelines) or one had to be extremely lucky to be spotted and handpicked by a ‘senior’.
But it being the norm, we were always happy to play by the book. At this particular time, S.5s were yet to report when all that we had heard about from the school mainstays was a never-ending tale about a one Kenneth Kamyuka that subdued the rest of the cricketers on the ‘hill’ as mere sideshows.
Our prayers were answered in super quick time when S.5s reported. I will never forget his first game at the school was against a visiting Kiira College Butiki which was captained by his young brother Ivan Kamyuka. It was a Wednesday afternoon and we were about to undertake an Agriculture Test but once Kamyuka walked in to bat, we all abandoned the test and ran out to watch the prodigy bat. I cannot forget how the crowd kept growing with each of the sixes Kamyuka clobbered in an eyeful knock of 99 runs.
All About Kamyuka
From that day, we were sold to Kamyuka. We spent a lot of time at the President’s House (that is the house where Kamyuka resided) ‘wembley’ ground just to watch him play.
Soon after class was done at 3.40pm each day, Kamyuka (with bat and ball in hand) was an assured sight. He never disappointed, this lad!
We would endlessly bowl to him because he would say; “If you guys get me out, you will get to bat”. But that was a lie as he would bat until night prep time which meant we missed supper more often than not. We were guillible victims of our own wanting.
Just to make a statement, Kamyuka would at times ask the rest of the school team to formulate a side which he would take on with us the juniors.
His instructions to us were clear; “Run two or nothing,” he would say. Our team would total 100 runs but 98 of those would belong to Kamyuka. He would go on to bowl his heart out in his spell to ensure his ‘juniors’ side triumphs. Be it a wembley, inter-house or school match, he wanted to win everything. To say the least, Kamyuka’s love for the game was insatiable.
There is that old English adage; ‘There is no fun without the fans.” Kamyuka made it all more sensible as he always played for the crowds and the crowds did love him back in equal measure.
Blessed with genuine pace and amazing batting hands, he was a natural talent who became a cult hero in Mwiri. His legendary status is however mainly attached to the feats he earned while donning the Cricket Cranes jersey.
From the moment he scored that blitzkrieg century at number 10, the world was at his feet. Myuks as he is commonly known in cricket circles played out a lot of eye-catching cameos for Uganda and is only one of 25 other international cricketers to pick a wicket on his first ball in an One Day International (ODI).
He first featured for the national team while a student in Mwiri and scored the fastest century for the nation at their maiden ICC appearance in Canada in 2001.
Even with the few opportunities in Associate Cricket, he stood out and left a mark on Ugandan cricket locally and internationally. Kamyuka stood out amongst a generation of very talented cricketers.
Now happily retired in Canada, the neutrals hope that Kamyuka can guide Uganda as a coach to a World Cup someday. Our own Denis Musali sought out Kamyuka to talk about the good old days and what the future holds for the legend. Enjoy the chat!
People say you are if not the best one of the finest players of your generation, do you agree?
That’s not debatable, I am the best cricketer Uganda has ever produced both locally and internationally. Since relocating to Canada, I learnt not to argue with statistics and numbers.
The weighing scale that measures the likes of Kevin Pietersen (former England batsman) and Jacques Kallis (former South Africa all-rounder) is the same that International Cricket Council (ICC) uses to rank Associate cricketers with the likes of Steve Tikolo (former Kenya captain & now Uganda coach) and Ed Joyce (former Ireland captain) among others.
I believe I belong to that class of cricketers. Please, let’s have some values, respect and purpose when asking certain questions. People still debating on this is laughable to me.
If you’re talking about local cricketers then you could as well compare Kenneth Kamyuka to Sam Walusimbi.
And by-the-way, I have a few records, locally, that most Ugandans will never attain. Many local cricketers can testify to this. Hopefully this finally makes sense to most cricketers in doubt! I am the best ever from Uganda.
Tell us about cricket in Busoga College Mwiri. How much was Mwiri an influence for you to play the game?
It all started on the hill (Mwiri) from wembley, skipping meals, class, and house work and escaping out of school to make sure I played at the cost of anything.
Benzo (Benjamin Musoke), too, was very helpful at the start of my career. He stood by me even when the other cricketers said I was chucking (an illegal bowling action) and as a kid I almost believed them but Benzo said to me;
“You are not chucking, they only saying that because you are bowling really fast. That made me even ball quicker.
Justine Ligyalingi (now ICC Development Officer for Africa), too, had a say in the growth of my career. He had tough fielding drills and always demanded smartness – something I failed most of the time (laughs).
I remember a time when I skipped his class, i went ahead to sweep the cricket strip, laid the matting, nailed in the stumps and got all the gear from the store so that we could start our training on time. Justine showed up and said; “Good job young man.”
Then the next day in class, he called to the front and asked me why I had skipped his class. He canned me five strokes and punished me further by ordering me to slash a huge compound for about 10 hours. From then on, I never ever skipped any of his lessons.
Your carefree attitude made you a darling in school compared to some of your seniors. Tell us about starting cricket from S.1 through to high school.
That is who I am. For instance here in Canada, you will find me having a decent conversation and laughing with CEOs of big companies. Then moments later I will be with people from the lowest echelons of the society having a
good time. I guess we are all born differently.
I learnt cricket in the third term of S.1 and all I wanted to have a decent meal (a preserve for only cricketers) which then was rice and peas without stealing.
There was this school policy of the best 50 cricketers always getting a free trip out of school every wednesday to play in Jinja and Kampala because the School Truck could only accommodate 50 people and all the additions had to pay their way onto the truck. I didn’t have the money then and my name was read as No. 49. Imagine how nervous I got (he laughs again).
That’s the last time I got close to 49. I worked hard when and got into the first XI of my class and that was the end of me missing out on the cricket and school trips. From then on, I was leading and rest followed.
I also remember being expelled from school after Senior 4 and cricket week was due the following week. I stormed into the Headmaster’s Office and told him; “I live for cricket and not books. I am not coming back to this school that’s fine but please just let me represent my school for the last time.” We were on a record ninth consecutive win at the time.
The Headmaster was George William Ssemivule. He asked me who I was. I gave a brief account of myself and he then called Sports Master George Kapere.
“Sir, that is that heart and soul of our team,” was all Kapere could tell Ssemivule.
Smartly enough both allowed me to play which many teachers justifiably didn’t like. But true to Kapere's word, I won the nail-biting final against a strong Kibuli SSS side which comprised of good cricketers like Jeremy Kibukamusoke. I closed off the match with a huge six at Lugogo Oval into Jinja Road.
Afterwards I remember a barrage of headmasters from different schools running up to me and saying that I was more than welcome to join their respective schools including Makerere College and King’s College Budo.
At that moment after the game, I was with my friend the late Santos (Henry Ssebulime) who watched on in disbelief. I confided in him that the only school I wanted to go back to was Mwiri. As his ever-jolly character was, Santos laughed off my pleas and assured me that it wouldn’t take more than five minutes without the Mwiri
headmaster running to me with a request.
I didn’t believe him. Ssemivule told me we need to talk I got the good news to go back to the hill but. But then there was also another twist. The headmaster had also found me drinking alcohol yet it was also against school rules. “Let’s assume, I didn’t see that,” is all Ssemivule told me.
By S.6, your star was on the rise. Playing for the national team and scoring the fastest century in the history of Uganda among others. What was going on in your head at this stage?
I was just enjoying cricket, looking to have a good time on the field and may be a beer after the game if anyone offered. I didn’t realise how much potential I had until probably two years ago when I retired.
For example, those that watched my last two seasons before I retired know that I didn’t score any centuries. But I was extremely dangerous on the wicket with both bat and ball.
But like I said before, I didn’t join cricket to dominate the world at the age of 13. I was just happy to get a plate of rice and peas or beans. At 18, having a couple of beers, hanging out with mates and clubbing after the game, was all I wanted. Cricket was all about having fun, making friends and staying out of trouble.
In my S.6, it was about the same time I broke down mentally. It was a tough time for me but I am really thankful to God and my caring grandmother who kept telling me everything will be okay. She witnessed all my struggles and told me that’s how the world works and it
will never be easy. She encouraged me until I got back onto my feet. Until this day, she’s my best friend. I have all the respect for her. Do you know, she has never seen me drinking or the stubborn part of me. I have always kept it that way.
She’s such a sweetheart that among all the people I send money on a monthly basis, she’s the only one before accepting the money calls to ask me if I saved some for myself. I just keep laughing at her.
After you played for Canada, many people thought that you would go on and play in a World Cup or two like Henry Osinde. What was on your plan after a memorable debut ICC tournament?
Well. I always wanted to play in the World Cup and big tournaments like the Indian Premier League (IPL). But it didn’t work out just like my grandmother said that sometimes things don’t work out the way you expect. I moved on and am over it.
Again plans have changed. I have different strategies, which must be executed and hopefully by next year February I will be my own boss. The end game or
the core purpose is to give back as I no longer aspire to make a living. I want to make difference as I have done all I wanted to do in life.
You had brief professional stints in South Africa. How was the experience and what stood out for you coming from an amateur background?
It was a learning experience in South Africa. I learnt how to change pace, reverse swing the ball and I performed really well in all the six seasons I was there.
The World Cup Director Ali Bacher, by then, wanted me to play at a level high than club cricket in South Africa after watching me destroy Malaysia at 2001 ICC Trophy in Canada. But unfortunately for me, the club I was playing for (editor Lenasia) didn’t want to let go of me.
But one thing that stood out for me is that the South Africans take their cricket very seriously.
You were an outspoken cricketer. Do you think you character bruised some egos in administration?
Yes of course, egos were bruised and to this day some people never want see me. Not that I care but that was who I was. I don’t know how to pretend.
One time in national team meeting, I asked one of the officials whether he would give his son Shs3000 as daily transport allowance.
Then one who used to bark at us a lot for playing below got some rude treatment from me when I asked him to show me any international wicket he had ever claimed.
Then there is this official who always meets one of my brothers and did recently meet him at Hotel Africana in Kampala and told him that I am a difficult person.
His point of argument is that one time I was a chief campaigner for a Muganda against a Musoga ahead of cricket elections yet I hail from the latter. “A person who betrays his tribe is not trustworthy,” he told my sibling.
I sent this same official a Facebook request and he ignored me… (Lol).
When you eventually got to play for Canada, was it a fulfilling moment given how much you had given the game and wanted to prove to the world that you make it big in another country?
I had the ability to make any Associate team during my time. All I needed was an equal opportunity. Playing for Canada was no big deal but equaling the ODI record of picking a wicket with my first ball was special and the Man of Match on debut in an ODI was super cool.
Which game launched your career, the one that let the world know about K.K?
The game that put me on the World map was the one against Malaysia. That unbeaten 100 off 54 balls will stay and be remembered for eons. Remember I entered to bat with scoreboard reading 90 for 8.
Share some of your cricket week highlights being part of a dominant Busoga College Mwiri side.
I already shared these with you and the one with former headmaster Ssemivule is among the top. Then bowling out Jinja SSS for 14 was quite a feat. I opened the batting with Kwebiiha and I scored 17 not out in a game we managed to wrap up in 1.3 overs.
I also returned to Mwiri as a coach for two occasions and I was a winning one. I remember Mwiri had lost the previous years before me.
Well, since you did some coaching with Mwiri, any chance you will coach Uganda at a major tournament?
The will be no chance of seeing Kenny back on a cricket field as a player or even as a coach. I have a completely different vision.
Hopefully one day, I can afford a cricket ground and genuinely give back to Uganda Cricket Association (UCA) at no cost because I am what I am today because of cricket. Then maybe we can have a T20 in my memory on an annual basis. It hurts me to see our cricketers miss games because a ground has been booked for fellowship or musicians.
Who are some players who left a mark on you either in school or with the national team?
Before I understood what cricket was all about in school it was Benzo (Benjamin Musoke) and Guy (Kimbowa). At the national team level it was Sam G (Sam Walusimbi).
But as I progressed I assessed all these players as local players yet to see a Ugandan dominate overseas. Nehal Bibodi did well to dominate abroad especially when the bowling was not extremely fast. Currently I follow Roger Mukasa who is extremely dangerous if used well.
In my opinion, if you are performing only at home then sorry I don’t rate you.
What are some of the things that you think have let Ugandan cricket down?
Well in my time, the administration and general coaching. They didn’t think out of the box. We need to still get a core six players playing in tougher leagues out of Uganda. Look at countries like Ireland and Afghanistan that we used to beat and ask questions on how they improved - what they did differently to make sure their players are better in terms of skills and welfare.
I think Tikolo (current coach Steve) is trying and him winning the qualifiers (ICC World Cricket League Division IV in Malaysia) which was tight and the warm-up games in South Africa is a good sign that these guys (national team) should be treated like professionals.
Better structures are needed in Uganda. We need to get our own ground and stop running around whenever Lugogo and Kyambogo ovals are given out to fellowship people or music shows.
We also must work to get the Under 19 National Academy going again. One has got to start somewhere. If all this is done, the players could as well remain as passionate as they are now.
Is our system very bad? Do you think we can find another player like you?
To find another Kenny Kamyuka is next to impossible. Sometimes I wonder how I was able to perform so well. It is a case of one-in-a-lifetime kind of player. But with the average talent we have at our disposal, something worthy can be realized.
Good plans and proper strategy with better execution methods, no needs another KK. Team effort and hard work will do. Remember I wasn’t the easiest of
players to manage so personally I prefer average talent and team work than a Kamyuka.
Can you mention some players you just never got along with either in school or national team?
This is a tough one but I will speak my mind. I and Keith Legesi always seemed to be flipping different pages. I didn’t like him a lot because I thought he got selected ahead of better players. I remember he was even made captain by the authorities – he was the authorities’ blue-eyed boy.
On the national team, I didn’t get along with Joel Olweny (top order batsman) and most of the Lugogo boys in the beginning. When I first showed up on the scene and dominated, they didn’t like it because I was taking their place and winning over their fans.
One of those Lugogo boys even left one of my kit bags in South Africa. I was very angry. But time heals many wounds and like my grandmother said I moved on and let go of some things out of my control.
I remember backing Olweny when he wanted to come to Canada. I thank GOD that I learnt quickly to forgive and forget. I am a free soul.
What advise can you give young players today?
My advice to young players is simple; “Believe in yourself, no short cuts to success and put in the hard work. Also they must stay fit and enjoy one another's success.
If you enjoy one’s success, your time will come and you will also be celebrated. Most importantly also have a five –match game plan and work to it.
Situations may change but have a strategy and execute. The trick is even if it doesn’t work out the first three times stick to the plan and if in five games there’s no success; change your plans and still give it another five chances.
You don’t have to listen to the coach all the time. Come out with a plan, stick with it and its okay to share it with your coach and don’t be shy to disagree.
Above all treat every game like a war zone. It is a matter of life and death. And ensure you make a contribution to every match. It could be a catch after a bad day and it all adds up. Being passionate is a must. Don’t mistake movement with progress, so always check the boxes on what worked and didn’t.
For example my plan was always to bat in five gears; 1-give myself 10 minutes on the wicket just watching what was happening, 2- rotating strike, running well in between
the wickets, 3- hitting the sweepers and trying as much as possible to play everything on the ground but
very hard, 4- hit a boundary 6 or 4 didn’t matter then rotate strike again that’s for five overs and then if you have me hanging around you at that time it will be your worst nightmare, as 5- included scoring 20 or 30 an over. It was always easy for me. I just had to cut lose.
Lastly, what is your Best XI with you in it..?
1. Roger Mukasa 2. Paul Nsibuka Luswata 3. Yona Wapakabhulo (RIP) 4. Nehal Bibodi 5. Guy
Kimbowa Lutaaya 6. Sam Walusimbi 7. James Komakech (wicket-keeper) 8. Kenneth Kamyuka (Captain) 9. Frank Nsubuga 10. Henry Osinde 11. Lumumba Waphakabulo