Ronald Opio Credit: Aisha Nakato

My first assignment with Kawowo Sports outside Uganda didn’t go according to a script. I was on the assignment with my colleague Aisha Nakato and in a very cold Nairobi.

The U-19 national cricket team was in a quest for a place at the World Cup to be held in New Zealand in 2018. Uganda was to battle with hosts Kenya, Ghana, and Botswana. Without a doubt, Uganda and Kenya were the favorites, with the winner of the fixture was going to the World Cup.

The tournament played on a round-robin basis had the best two teams facing each other in the opening game at Jafferys Club. Both sides were being coached by Kenyan internationals Francis Ndege in the Ugandan box while Jimmy Kamande was the Kenyan coach.

Uganda won the first contest batting Kenya out of the game and backing it up with some great bowling. The spinners Frank Akankwasa, Sirajje Nsubuga and Eddie Agaba were very mean in action to deny the Kenyans anything.

The win meant that Uganda was already ahead of their rivals and given that it was expected for both Kenya and Uganda to win against either Botswana and Ghana and the final game would be the final.

Uganda blew away Ghana and Botswana in their games and had a big net run rate coming into the final. The math was in favour of Uganda but not fate. Uganda needed to lose heavily to Kenya for them to have a chance of overhaul the Net Run Nate.

Baby Cricket Cranes Credit: © Kawowo Sports | AISHA NAKATO

What happened on that very sunny morning in Nairobi was difficult for the few Ugandan fans that were present to watch.

The greatest heist in cricket left Uganda on the wrong end of history. That day, a police convoy had already been organized to pick the boys from the airport and the fraternity was making plans for New Zealand until the game happened.

Uganda won the toss and chose to bat first, a decision that was backed up by all cricket factors but in hindsight to maybe the team should have bowled first to make it difficult for Kenya to chase their run rate.

Team Captain Kenneth Waiswa still speaks about the decision to bat first

I remember we had a chat with the coach (Ndege and Jackson plus Martin Ondeko who was the manager) early in the morning the same way we were doing the previous games. The wicket looked hard and flat and we decided to bat first if we win the toss because we had done well batting first in the previous games.

Kenneth Waiswa, 2017 U-19 Captain

The only thing Uganda won that day was the toss. The batting that had won Uganda all its games before the ‘final’ was no AWOL that day. Uganda was four wickets down inside four overs for just 12 runs with all the whole top order that had the reliable run collectors back in the hut.

Waiswa recollects the events of the day.

I guess we ran out of ideas from the start of the game when we started losing wickets one after the other without scoring runs and that continued in the second innings when we were bowling at them. Everything went against us on that day apart from the toss I would say.

Kenneth Waiswa, 2017 U-19 Captain

All rounders, Rogers Olipa (17) and Nsubuga Sirajje (13) were the only players to score double digits in a poor batting display that saw Uganda score only 60. Uganda still had fate in its own hands if they could stop Kenya from getting that total inside eight overs.

In the chase, Kenya threw the kitchen sink at Uganda scoring at a rate of close to 10 runs every over. Uganda persistently bowled with pace yet slowing down the game would have made it a little difficult. Kenya got home in 8.3 overs to pull off the greatest heist and denying Uganda a third World Cup appearance.

I still think we lost the high concentration that we had from the first day of the tournament, the boys relaxed a lot pre to the last game against Kenya and it cost us a World Cup. At some point, I blame myself for winning the toss and choosing to bat first where we only had to let them start 300 runs and make us before very fewer runs. On the other side, I still feel the management didn’t calculate what we really had to do for us to make the World Cup, I feel they thought we had the game in our control even before playing it which cost us a World Cup as I said earlier.

Kenneth Waiswa
Kenneth Waiswa receiving his MVP Award. Credit: © Kawowo Sports | AISHA NAKATO

A missed World Cup opportunity had a lot of people talking about it being a conspiracy by the players taking money to throw away the opportunity but what happened was unimaginable.

It was very quiet, no one had words to say to each other even the coach had no words. It was heartbreaking. Everyone was blaming himself for letting the team down. Guys were consoling themselves in the toilets and shower rooms. It wasn’t a good feeling for a couple of days and weeks even when we returned home.

Kenneth Waiswa

For Kenneth Waiswa it was the final appearance for the junior side and has since made his debut for the Cricket Cranes. Though looking back is painful, he thinks about what he could have done better as captain and the lessons from that experience.

Make them bat first and put them under pressure to get early wickets in the second innings.
I feel if they did bat first then it would have been a different game. That’s the one decision that hurts me until now that I won the toss and batted first. But I feel that game made us different players mentally and game reading-wise I would say I got better.

Kenneth Waiswa

One game changed what could have been a dream tournament for Uganda U19s in Nairobi because Zephaniah Arinaitwe and the captain Kenneth Waiswa oozed a lot class scoring runs for fun while Trevor Bukenya was a class act with the ball.

My colleague Innocent Ndawula and I had booked bus tickets for 5:00 pm return bus to Kampala because we were sure it was going to be a long day but we were left stranded at the Gymkhana from 12pm because the game ended in a blink. I never want to be a player in the type of game.

Denis has represented Uganda in international cricket events including the World Cup. He is currently the captain of Wanderers Cricket Club.

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