In 2001, Uganda hosted the Africa U19 Cricket World Cup Qualifiers, a first for the emerging nation. Uganda assembled a dream U19 team with some of the finest talents in that generation and were checked into Tourist Hotel right in the middle of the capital, Kampala. The team had the likes of Lawrence Ssematimba, Kenneth Kamyuka, Richard Okia, Kenneth Legesi who all went on to have long careers with the Cricket Cranes. Uganda was one of the favourites by virtue of being hosts and also the talent on display.
Uganda was competing with Namibia for the one slot to the World Cup as Kenya had automatic entry into the global showpiece by virtue of being an ODI nation. The other teams at the event were two combined sides from West Africa and East Africa (it included players from Tanzania, Zambia, and Malawi).
The talented team Uganda put out was under the tutelage of William Kamanyi as a coach and John Lubia as Team Manager, both of whom had a reputation of being hard on discipline.
The dream team was captained by the sensation of that generation Kenneth Kamyuka who loved the limelight and it loved him back. He was a box office player, a fast opening bowler, and a flamboyant finisher of games down the order. Kamyuka was miles ahead of his peers, he loved winning and a fierce competitor. He was supposed to be the star of the show on the field but one wild night went out of hand and stained the memory of that 2001 championship.
However, what should have been a dream tournament for the home side derailed on the night their star player Kenneth Kamyuka was thrown out of camp over a sex scandal. The team had to play its remaining games without Kamyuka with the press all over the story. Kamyuka was massacred in the press for his actions and was squarely blamed for the failure of the team to qualify for the World Cup even though their chances were already gone.
The loss of the team talisman took a toll on the side like one of the members on the squad recalls.
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“We were informed early in the morning before the game that Kamyuka wouldn’t be with us for the rest of the tournament. Mentally, I doubt we were ready for a game of that magnitude without our talisman,” said a player who was part of the team but preferred anonymity.
Our tournament went downhill from there. I remember we failed to chase about 110 against Kenya, a game we could have easily won. No excuses for Kamyuka and what he did, but how you put young players in a hotel that is in the middle of Kampala nightlife is unimaginable so the blame can’t be one-sided, you could as well argue we were not given any mental preparation when the whole thing happened, the officials just let us get on with it. Some of us were very hungry to deal with such shocks.Former player part of the dream U19 team.
Uganda lost steam after the scandal and eventually finished 3rd behind winners Namibia and East Africa combined side.
The man at the center of the scandal Kenneth Kamyuka prefers to keep the past in the past but divulges into some details when I insist.
“Sex scandal details would seem like an excuse. I have always been a person who is fully accountable and responsible for my actions, but since you insist, I have no regrets about the scandal,” he says. “If you clearly remember, that (scandal) happened after we had no chance of qualifying. We had lost to Namibia and the last few games didn’t matter whether we won. That’s the day Nagenda gave Sserunkama money for picking up 4 wickets in a losing cause,” adds Kamyuka.
The same night we were busted, the officials were looking where to put the blame for the poor results but on the flip side if you asked the same officials; what were they thinking booking a hotel for 17-year-olds around a strip club?Kenneth Kamyuka
Kamyuka, who says he was born ready, got his redemption a few months later with the senior side as he made up for the lost time. With John Lubia his captain, and no team manager, the youngster struck an unbeaten 100 off only 53 balls against Malaysia at the 2001 Champions Trophy batting at number 10.
He recalls his frustration with the team’s batting as one of his motivations.
My mindset about the 100, as I said, I just wanted to be extremely aggressive. If I had a chance to hit 6 sixes, I was ready but again [it was] all because of frustrations from our top order that failed for almost all the 15 years I played with them. So scores of 20 for 5 wickets was so normal, I was always prepared to bat in situations like that my whole life.Kenneth Kamyuka on his record century
True to his word, his larger than life kind of lifestyle followed him in the national team and with better management, he always came up with the goods even after a long night.
On the scandal still, while in Argentina Doctor Ssebale who was Chairman then found me late in the night in a bar with gals having drinks looked at me and walked past me, the following morning against PNG we were 55 for 5 when I walked on to bat, when I was on 30 not out it started to rain and the game was moved to the next day. Same scenario 50 for 5 I scored 47 to get us a respectable total of 197 and we won the game but again if we failed then I would be blamed for the loss.
All the days I went out, it was never wild drinking but I hardly found sleep while on tour so with measurable judgment I knew exactly when to go to bed. This happened all my career – Australia, South Africa – you can ask William Kibuuka Musoke, I remember him saying we are going to share the suite but he still got beer under a watch full eye manager Ssewaggude and many more managers knew. I ended up being MVP in Argentina, with five man of the match awards in five games, that’s a testament of who Kenneth Kamyuka was.Kenneth Kamyuka on his late nights
Kamyuka would move on and play for Canada for whom he holds a record for being one few players to pick a wicket with his 1st ball in ODI cricket. He is now happily retired enjoying fatherhood with his fiance with whom he lives in Canada.
He is remembered as someone who always split opinions with his character but once he got onto the field, he gave his everything for the team.
A genuine champion, Kamyuka hated losing and if cricket wasn’t a team sport, he would be gladly winning games on his own. One of the finest players of his generation and finding another gem like him will be close to impossible.