Fresh from Oman, Media Manager for the Cricket Cranes and celebrated senior journalist Innocent Ndawula gives an exclusive on what transpired beyond borders during the International Cricket Council (ICC) Division Three World Cricket League (WCL) Tournament in Muscat and his thoughts on the future of cricket in Uganda.
What did you see different in Oman that wasn’t the same in Malaysia? Was it the weather?
It had nothing to do with the weather. Yes, there were searing hot conditions but we adapted quickly because they were the same conditions as we had experienced in two of our earlier build-up tours in Qatar and India. Our capitulation was not as a result of the weather but everything to do with what was on the ground.
We had three specialist batsmen in Malaysia with whom we managed to swim above the waters. I felt we had covered our bases in our batting department as we moved to Oman, with Ronak Patel, Dinesh Nakrani and bowling all-rounder turned batting all-rounder – Riazat Shah, making us a much stronger unit in the Arabian Peninsular.
Our batting, however, did not click at all. Every time we played I used to steal glances at the coach (Steve Tikolo) and wonder what was going through his head. From a team that was setting 260 plus runs in their trial matches back at home to one that threatened Kwazulu Natal’s 310 – the latter winning by nine runs in Pietermartizburg just a month before, to a team that was now looking like a half-cooked meal and couldn’t bat to even save an ant.
With a win in the very first game, the team’s mood must have been rocketing sky high. But with the declining performance in preceding games, it must have been a hard time for both the coach and his charges. How did they manage to stay motivated?
It was about believing and believing that things would turn around. We started on a high note with a commanding victory against the Danes. The five-wicket achieved in 37.2 overs with 82 balls to spare, chasing down 167, gave us the best of feelings. It was the first time we were winning an opening game in an ICC event in a long while. But then the wheels came off our ship. Things started going from bad to worse. Actually, to worst. And it was hard to lift a person’s morale.
So what went wrong?
The Cricket Cranes did not have it easy in the desert of Oman. Just five overs into their game against the USA, the captain was given some very unsettling news, disturbing enough to have the game and possibly the rest of the tournament go south for us, with no recovery. The suspension of Irfan Afridi from bowling in international cricket.
First and foremost, as the media manager, I am the Number One fan because I am always the one trying to give props to this team. I will even turn 10 runs scored to look like a big 70, considering the conditions on the ground. Many a time, I strongly feel for the fans, too!
Indeed, one of the issues that set the ball tumbling the wrong way for us as Team Uganda was the manner in which ICC was happy to halt a very exciting career on who for me was the most exciting cricketer in Associate Cricket for over the last three years – Lala has been a true performer. A star performer, to say the least. Starring for Uganda for the last three years with a handful of match-winning knocks, bowling spells and Man-of-Match awards especially in the last three tournaments. Imagine all this for a man who came to Uganda as a ‘car dealer’.
We were not happy as Team Uganda with the way things were set up from the onset. Our team manager Mr. Jackson Kavuma together with the analyst (Alvin Bagaya) have put together a very strong dossier to send over to the ICC.
The ICC was very happy. And what was disappointing from my point of view was that in our game against the Danes, Irfan got 1 for 25 in his nine overs. And it was not even the most threatening of spells on the day as it left-arm opening bowler Charles Waiswa who came back with a late burst of 4 for 25 that had the Danes groveling, as they tried to open up their arms and throw caution to the wind.
The general feeling Irfan was not reported by Denmark is what makes this particular scenario obscure. The situation left very many questions unanswered. How can a team one hasn’t played be the one to report a suspect bowling action? Truth of the matter is that there was a whistle blower at the ICC tournament and this person whose name I will decline to mention, was the primary architect of our downfall.
During our opening game, he moved around the oval with a Go-Pro camera shooting only when Irfan bowled. Our camp noticed what was happening and passed on the information to our captain (Roger Mukasa) and coach (Steve Tikolo) to alert Irfan that he was actually on camera. For Irfan, he cared less as it was business as usual as he went on with his spell.
That evening as we left the ground to go back to the hotel, our manager came back with the news from the match referee indicating that Irfan’s bowling action wasn’t satisfactory to requirements and that the same footage we had seen being filmed earlier had been submitted to the ICC panel for verification.
The letter from ICC indicated that Irfan’s off-spinners were suspect… but for crying out loud the man bowls leg-spinners and not offies. The letter also requested our technical bench to provide footage of Irfan bowling in the next game against USA. Our team analyst Alvin Bagaya set up his cameras that day on our game – our initial game plan had been to get footage from the Oman vs Singapore encounter at the next ground so that we could do analysis on their star players on the subsequent days which were our day offs. But that did not happen.
In the game against USA, we did field Irfan. He bowled an over – the fifth of the match - in which he conceded four runs, a boundary edged through gully and slips (Denis Musali is good at playing those ones) after which the umpires of the game called our captain Mukasa and asked him not to bowl Irfan as they indicated they would no-ball him for chucking.
The set of umpires given us for this tournament – I am sorry to say – laboured to explain their decision to us in vain. And for a cut-throat tournament of that magnitude, it was a stunning decision that the ICC made to appoint many local umpires and even the ones that flew in were of a standard that was a tad below for the level of cricket we were playing considering what was at stake.
To Irfan’s matter, the captain was called and told, ‘Irfan cannot bowl again. We believe that there is a problem with his action. If he bowls again, we will call no-ball and it will be a free hit.”
A quick sight at the Ugandan camp – was one of indifferent men with everyone perturbed. We were wondering whether to let him bowl another over and risk him being no bowled or actually check what the rule book says and apply it. But rules and game governance was being conducted by the umpires and it would have been foolhardy to go against them.
But when we read the ICC rules – especially Article 36.2 under the Illegal Bowling Action Act – we found out that it had been abused by the ICC officials themselves. The process of banning someone/stopping him from bowling is supposed to take 14 days. During this time it must go to the ICC Panel of Human Movement Specialist committee for review before a final decision. The way these particular officials at this tournament that fast left us stunned. They kept telling us that the Code of Conduct (which we weren’t shown or even told about in the pre-tournament meeting) supersedes the Playing Conditions.
The loss of Irfan, who is undoubtedly our No.1 wicket-taker, in the manner which we did left us very poor. Actually poorer.
I will tell you, I shed one tear that night because I knew that our tournament had ended then. Irfan even talked to his uncle, Shahid Afridi, who gave him some words of encouragement soon.
We were helpless and couldn’t really do much then. Now, the ball is in UCA’s hands to help Irfan successfully go under the corrective process so that he is cleared to bowl for us in the next tournament – The ICC Africa World T20 Cup due March 2019 in Kampala. The ICC Accredited Testing Centres include; Lahore University of Management Sciences in Pakistan, Loughborough University, Leicestershire in UK, Sri Ramachandra University, Chennai in India, The National Cricket Centre, Brisbane in Australia and the University of Pretoria, Hatfield in South Africa.
On decisions not going our way…
I will tell you we were playing a ‘Game of Thrones’, and I must add it was a thorny affair as we tried to seize control at every turn and twist. I can pick out five incidences in almost every match that have since been deleted from the highlights – whose videos weren’t posted - of decisions that did not go our way, while other teams got one reprieve too many.
And these bad or unintended decision always fell to our star players. Dinesh Nakrani, Riazat Ali Shah, Kenneth Waiswa and Ronak Patel were victims of ‘terrible’ Leg Before Wicket (LBW) calls. Many of these times it was when they were trying to step up scoring rates or had settled in and were looking good for a big score. LBWs raking up your waist and sweeping down or outside off stump but there is no evidence as these dismissals were not captured in highlights.
Then one can see from some of the images we captured from there that our players had their hands on their heads because it was shocking that our pleas to be given (caught behinds, LBWs and gilt-edged run-out) chances never went our way. As Uganda, we never win after scoring big runs. At the international stage, we always scrape wins, defend small totals after some athletic fielding and pin-point accurate bowling at the dearth. We also always make luck happen our way.
I can tell you that against USA, Waiswa ‘got’ Monank Patel out LBW two or three times but the guy wasn’t given and he went on to score 100. But Lady Luck wasn’t on our side, too. ICC should consider streaming live all games as such tournaments and they should also maybe include review system since we are going to be playing ‘First Class’ cricket.
So in a nutshell, the fans are angry and they have every right to be because we didn’t perform as expected. Despite having made incredible chases in the trial games in South Africa, we weren’t even able to reach targets set by small Associate Nations like 250 runs against the USA. One could see that the targets were achievable but we batted the way we did because there was a fear of failure – one ball and you are out. We did not want to kick the ball because the guys were afraid of being given out. Tikolo taught the guys to bat long and apply themselves but it was difficult because of the unknown ‘Duke Ball’ that was also playing to our disadvantage.
Of generosity and cricket relations
We met the cricket patrons’ family in Oman (Khimji Ramdas) which was here during the Division Three showpiece in Kampala May 2017.
These guys picked the bill for the team’s early arrival and three-day acclimatization stay in Muscat before the tournament proper. The family was so moved by what they saw in Kampala last year, how a game of cricket would light up these disadvantaged children’s lives. At their hospitality tent, they offered meals and so how friendly and talented the kids were during their ‘Hit and Run’ games. The family head – Kanaksi Khimji who is also the chairman of Oman Cricket Board and Pankaj Khimji – the director of Oman Cricket were always present at our games. T
Their prayer was that Oman and Uganda progress to Division Two. Their wish was half-lived as it is only them that qualified.
There was a UCA official who said they invested USD350,000 in the Cricket Cranes, what are your thoughts?
Well, well, well. Where is that money coming from? If I translate that money into Uganda Shillings it is about Sh1.2b. But Uganda Cricket has far more than Sh10b problems. The Cricket Cranes made six trips; two in Africa and four abroad this year and if you look at the logistics involved you will know that that is mere peanuts compared to what other teams at our level are spending.
We must dare to dream differently. All this money spent is coming from ICC. Our board members must be tasked to bring on a sponsor or two each like other federations in Uganda; Federation of Uganda Football Associations (FUFA), Federation of Basketball Associations (FUBA), Uganda Boxing Federation (UBF) and Uganda Badminton Association (UBA) among others. These will help to supplement what ICC offers. The UCA programmes and budgets are way too big for what ICC offers. But if we continue waiting for ICC monies, then we’re cooked.
Kudos to Commercial Value Group (CVG) which operates as Cricket Uganda for going out of your way to bring a couple of sponsors on board thus far (Endiro & Unimoni) – we have two now but we could expand to five by the end of the year in February.
How many UCA board members have done that? Why are we waiting for handouts from the ICC? Something’s gotta give.
To make sure that our programs move, we need not have to rely on an ICC fund which is a promissory note. They will tell you that the money will come in next week, or that it has been wired to South Africa offices. The South Africa office will say, “Wait a bit, we have to deduct some of your bills we incurred during your stay during the Africa T20 tournament so we have deducted 50%.” The excuses and delay column will pile on and on without reprieve. And when the ICC monies come in, you will hear that they’re in one day and that the money is over in a flash. The debt burden shouldered by UCA is too much someone must help lessen it by approaching these corporate companies to help.
About the team’s commitment to the cause…
The commitment from the team is super notch. The only problem is that as fans we are expecting too much from the team. How can the coach, who you want to train the team every day, go without pay for so long? How can the players go without transport allowance for so many months in the build up to their supposed ‘tournament-of-their-life’? How can the players say that they were seeing the ‘Duke Ball’ for the first time? Was the National Team Committee aware of these things?” How come the team could only access the ICC-sanctioned helmets on the eve of the tournaments? How many batsmen were given bats before the tournament to practice and get used to them? Did the bowlers get boots and spikes to use during the tournament or they had to run around Muscat on the eve of the showpiece to buy their own? Could we have had these things in good time before the tournament? These are some of the big questions for the UCA Board, National Team Committee and UCA Secretariat to answer.
Yes, our team under performed and these could sound like excuses but that is the bitter truth. Our problems as Uganda Cricket are laid out bare like gravy on white linen.
We need to actually come out of the shell. Like the recently made Fans of Cricket Cranes (now Friends of Cricket) Whatsapp Forum, there is a lot of energy there that can be channeled back in a positive way by getting more contributors and volunteers of our beautiful game on board.
If anyone can volunteer, then our game will be in a better place. For example, because of Cricket Uganda, we have the best active social media in Africa and everyone knows Cricket Uganda or what we do on a daily basis because of a very vibrant website (www.cricketuganda.world)
What lessons do we draw from the different performances in Malaysia and now Oman?
(Excuse my French)…But we need to grow some big balls and make some bold decision. Our administrators must swallow the pin and fear less what the detractors, naysayers and dis-enablers will say. As cricket we need to do the small basics in the right way. That is what will define our game.
For example…Does the analyst have the right equipment to do his work? Small things for me can actually turn around everything when you snap your fingers like this (snaps finger) because they cost little money.
Then from then, we will have empowered everyone and then we can make everyone accountable when they stray.
Regarding Roger Mukasa’s underperformance as captain in Oman…
Papa’s (as Roger Mukasa referred to) issue has been talked about before and it has been thrown to the man himself. Only he can sort out the captaincy conundrum.
Every time Papa is in the middle, he looks like a million dollar bucks. But I have a weird feeling that Papa is too hungry for runs and wants to score them at a fast rate that is not advisable in the real world. Sometimes when he is bogged down, he plays way too many shots. His dismissals are like supermarket price catalogue as they don’t differ too much. Roger has either been gotten out chopping onto his own stumps as he looks to force the pace, caught behind playing from his body or been trapped LBW – a sign that he is most of the time caught in two minds not knowing what shot to execute.
From the talks that we have had, as the Senior Team Management with the coach, coach (Steve Tikolo) has told him that every batsman goes through a bad spell although his has stretched way too long. From Malaysia, he gave us only a high score of 97 runs from 135 balls against Bermuda in Malaysia (2018 Div IV ICC WCL) for a while now. The coach has told him that he has to reflect his game and dig deep to get out of his slough. The bouncebackability is within the batsman himself to know what to do and what not to do.
Even on the local scene, he has been a little subdued and the critics have bared their fangs saying that maybe he shouldn’t have become captain but the least of their worries is that Papa is not under pressure on the field as a captain. He has big brains on the field, with Ronak Patel, Brian Masaba, Charles Waiswa, and Deus Muhumuza somewhere on park and Frank Nsubuga also on his side to give him advice. Even former skipper Davis Karashani Arinaitwe calls him constantly from home when we are on tour to brainstorm. So Papa is okay because he actually does less.
During a one on one talk with Papa in Muscat I asked him; “Roger, who is a captain to you?” He said, “A captain is the person who makes the decisions and executes them.” I said, “Thank you Roger but a captain is also a person that leads from the front; he leads his ship and he must perform, like the way you did in Malaysia.” He concurred. And that’s my every day talk with him as I am lucky to be his neighbour in Kireka, Kyaliwajjala. A good captain must perform and everyone will know. And in Roger Mukasa, we have a captain that can perform very well for us.
During a recent interview and tweet chat, he was asked what went through his mind the day he bowled that last over against Denmark in Kuala Lumpur that saw Uganda not only get promoted to Division Three but also beat Denmark to emerge as champions in Division Four. He responded that he had made the decision to ether sink the ship (the team) or keep it afloat, which showed that he knew what he was doing.
How then do we move forward?
I hope I am not a ‘Bull in a China Shop’ breaking all cups in the cupboard by saying this. But I can assure you that the Cricket Cranes is in a very good place right now.
The best thing that happened is us not going to Namibia for the Division II showpiece. Why do I say this? God has given us another chance. Now we have to smell the coffee and wake up. Our failures to advance while in Oman should looked at as a very big alarm bell that should send us to work.
Quick prediction for me is that the two teams that progressed to Division II are fast forward going to come back and meet us again in the ICC Cricket World Cup Challenge League. Barring a miracle of marginal proportions, I see United Arab Emirates (UAE), Canada, Hong Kong and hosts Namibia securing spots in the ICC Super League and playing those 36 One Day Internationals (ODIs) in 27 months.
If USA and Oman bounce back to the Challenge League where we are, don’t be surprised. Their quality is that good. We can prepare well and better and be ready when they come. We have to make things happen for us. Not going to Namibia gives us ample time to clean up our house with proper structures and programs. We should know what level is attainable, what our powers can help us achieve and where we want to be by 2022. Imagine we didn’t get relegated….that is the worst that could have happened. This is a window of hope!
Right now, Uganda is going to be playing a better grade of cricket - the best cricket it will actually ever play in its history, in terms of competition. Because the cricket in these tournaments is going to be graded as ‘First Class’.
People like Charles Waiswa, who has played in the United Kingdom before endured a lot of ‘red tape’ before they could get a nod whereas others like Arthur Kyobe, who were denied visas to the UK before primarily because of our low level of cricket will now be in a better place to go play cricket across the globe as ‘First Class’ is one of the highest forms of cricket the world over. When you play ‘First Class’ cricket, you can easily walk into any league in England, Pakistan, Australia and India,
So, we have 15 games in two and a half years. 15 games brings joy to me and we have been put in Group B with Kenya, Italy, Bermuda and Jersey as we wait for whoever of the two teams will come down from Division Two. The ICC have tried to set up more opportunities for people to play better cricket and we should uplift the U-19 and U-23 categories like Zimbabwe have done.
But I feel we are more concentrated on pushing our own agendas. We still have a chance to qualify for the World Cup, albeit through a tougher route. It will be longer but fruitful and it is the right thing.
We have people in the fraternity who have benefited from the game as the game has given them a sense of belonging. They are who they are because of CRICKET. These people should come to the party and give back to the game in terms of resources, manpower (administration) and money.
The connections some of us have made are not because we are big people. But it’s because we can talk to someone who talks to another and we tell those people that they are welcome any time to support the Gentleman’s Game.
The bitter truth is no one in sport will ever remember who finishes second best. Let’s clear our pathways. Like they say, when it’s time for you it’s time for you. No one will take it away from you. Right now, we can decide to do politicking but politics will not take us anywhere. God bless us!