Kenya slapped Uganda hard in the face on the final day of the International Cricket Council (ICC)) Africa U-19 World Cup Qualifier yesterday to rob the latter of their ticket to the prestigious global showpiece set for January next year in New Zealand.
The host, who were buoyed on by a packed-to-the-rafters Nairobi Gymkhana Oval, had Uganda’s previously invincible batsmen in all sorts of trouble at 33 for 7 before eventually bowling them out for a basketball score of 60 in 17.1 overs.
And with Kenya knowing that they needed to cross the finish line in 9.1 overs to better Uganda’s Net Run Rate (NRR) and snatch the continent’s lone ticket to the Youth Cricket World Cup, coach Jimmy Kamande’s pumped-up batsmen threw the kitchen sink to the opposing bowlers to cross the finish line in 8.3 overs.
Lanky Thomas Ochieng (26 off 22), Ankit Hirani (8 off 8) and captain Sachin Bhudia (12 off 10) played with intent to leave the Ugandan dugout stunned into silence and the players weeping endlessly.
“Our worst game of the tournament came on a very bad day,” said coach Franco Otieno. “This is a shocker for everyone. For a team that can bat like this and for the fight they have put into the tournament thus far. The boys will be inconsolable.
“I would also like to apologise on behalf of the team to the Ugandan fans. We are very sorry. It wasn’t meant to end like this. But this is sport and we must keep together and bounce back in two years.”
Earlier Uganda had destiny in their hands and even skipper Kenneth Waiswa won the important pre-match toss. The mathematics involved for Kenya to qualify also looked like an irresolvable conundrum.
But miracles do happen in sport. And as Kenya celebrated pulling off a heist, a great escape and ending 16 years of failing to qualify for the Junior World Cup, the Baby Cricket Cranes stayed locked in their dressing room wailing with some of them sensing that could have been their only chance to etch their names into the Ugandan cricketing folklore.
“This is a win for the entire nation. We want to the good old times of the game to return. The belief of these young players has made us reach this far. New Zealand here we come,” said Kamande, also a former Kenya captain at the 2011 World Cup.
Previously Uganda scaled the heights in 2004 (Dhaka, Bangladesh) and 2006 (Colombo, Sri Lanka) with UK-based Clive Kyangungu and Hamza Almuzahim Saleh as the captains of those respective campaigns.
But yesterday in Nairobi, it looked like whatever Uganda did, they couldn’t have topped Kenya to return to the world meet for the first time in 11 years.
ICC Africa U-19 World Cup Qualifier
Uganda 60/10 Kenya 61/3
Kenya won by 7 wickets and 249 balls remaining