Two years ago, Kenya inflicted a one-run win on the Cricket Cranes in front of many home fans at Lugogo.
That one-run loss coupled with rain-affected games against Botswana and Nigeria ensured that Cricket Cranes are relegated to Division 2 of Africa.
It was the first time the team was falling to such a low and head coach Steve Tikolo had his head on the chopping block and some young players such as Rogers Olipa and Zephaniah Arinaitwe were scapegoats for bad team performance.
Fast forward to 2021, Steve Tikolo has moved on to Tanzania and Laurence Mahatlane is the man in charge of the Cricket Cranes. The team has shown a lot more progress in areas that are important for them to be successful.
Uganda ranked 29th in the world came into the tournament as favorites but rankings don’t most times tell the whole story especially when you play sides you know nothing about. The next team close to Cricket Cranes was Malawi, ranked 59th in the world that is 30 places below. Even familiar opposition Ghana (66th) and Rwanda (77th) on paper were still way below Uganda.
However, Coach Laurence Mahatlane was sure that as long as his side sticks to their processes and they should be able to go through the qualifiers unscattered.
The first game for the side was against 59th ranked Malawi. A comfortable 10-wicket win for the Cricket Cranes showed positive intent and they followed that up with a 63-run over the hosts Rwanda. The two wins were followed up by another 10-wicket win over Lesotho and a 6-wicket win over Eswatini.
The biggest test for the Cricket Cranes was meeting the unbeaten Ghana side who had it in them to upset the favorites. Uganda was playing at the Gahanga for the first time but there was no heartbreak for the favorites as they comfortably won by 79 runs, a win that ensured that the favorites qualify for the finals later next month.
The final game against Seychelles was more of a formality with the Cricket Cranes winning it by 95 runs.
The Cricket Cranes were dominant in performance with the bat, ball, and in the field. Dinesh Nakrani, enjoying his second outing in Kigali, won the player of the series award and best bowler award. He was the key bowler upfront especially in the wicket-taking but he benefited a lot from the pressure created by the evergreen Frank Nsubuga who had a tournament economy of 2.01.
Simon Ssesazi (175) and Saud Islam (176) laid the foundation for the batting at the top of the order and were well complemented by Ronak Patel (107) whenever either of them failed to get going. The whole batting lineup was never tested with players such as Fred Achellam, Deus Muhumuza not getting a lot of batting opportunities due to the strength of the top.
Coach Mahatlane is still putting the celebrations on mute because he knows this was only half the job as the finals are the most important tournament for the side. To complete the full circle of progress, a place at the finals next year in Zimbabwe should be a great reward for a side that has shown a lot of improvement.
Uganda returns home for just two weeks and will be back in Kigali for the finals where Nigeria and Kenya are waiting. There will be only one team moving on to the finals from the four-nation event that will be played for 15-21 November.