By Charles Mutebi
BETWEEN embarrassing defeats at the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier in New Zealand and relegation to the ICC World Cricket League Division 3, one truth hit home for Uganda cricket.
It hit home like a sledgehammer in the hands of Mr Universe.
“Those teams were just too strong for us,” conceded Uganda captain Davis Karashani on arrival from New Zealand last week.
“It is not like we played badly,” another player Hamza Saleh shockingly argued. “It is just that we couldn’t compete with these teams.”
In other words, Uganda played their best cricket in New Zealand. Except their best was actually the worst.
Saleh turned to a football analogy to emphasise the point.
He said: “It is like getting a team in the third tier and taking it to the Premier League, it will be hammered. That is how it was for us. Our opponents are constantly playing first class cricket. We can’t compete against them”.
They say —actually this is totally made up — a bad batsman quarrels with his bat and these statements may sound like the ultimate excuse.
Yet this is not a case of players simply failing to own up to failure.
These are, in fact, admissions. Not just of defeat but of something much more disturbing. Something much deeper than defeat.
“We punched above our weight,” Karashani admitted.
It is rare for sportsmen to wave the white flag. To basically say, ‘I suck’.
It is hard enough for regular folk to own up like this, let alone competitive, adrenalin-charged specimen called sportsmen.
Remember the Uganda team that went to New Zealand was not a bunch of ragtag, Sunday pub freelancers but contracted, experienced players who spent nearly two years preparing for the Qualifier.
They even hired one of associate cricket’s more respectable coaches in Johan Rudolph to ice the cake.
Therefore, for such players to come out of the tournament with nothing more than naked surrender says it all.
Make no mistake, Uganda cricket is at a critical juncture.
The UCA must somehow find a new approach for the new reality clouding national cricket. The shortage of logistics notwithstanding, there is no option but find a way through this fog.
The UCA elective general assembly, due at Lugogo tomorrow has come at just the right time.
As much as the function will be dominated by the question of whether Richard Mwami gets another two years as chairman or whether Shukla Mukesh (rumoured to be interested in the post) comes in, the real issue for Uganda cricket is much bigger than who emerges as UCA boss.
Whether Mwami or Mukesh wins, the real solution lies in the creation of an effective player-development programme and the turning of local league competitions into real competitions.
The slow-burner state of our cricket leagues breeds mediocrity and stagnation, leaving national team players incapable of playing at the crackling speed at the top-end of associate cricket.
Uganda’s successful associate rivals have resorted to either poaching players from test countries or taking their national teams to play in leagues in test countries.
When they meet their Ugandan counterparts, it is, like Saleh theorised, playing a team three levels below.
Rudolph warned that it may take at least “10 years” for Uganda to catch up with the likes of the UAE and Scotland, who won the two qualification tickets in New Zealand with the latter winning the final.