Nehal Bibodi commonly known as "Musajja" is one of the finest stroke makers to have played for the Cricket Cranes. From being a spectator in his backyard as his peers played once Nehal picked up a bat he never looked. A very clever and calculative batsman Nehal had the brainpower to count each run he scored while batting sometimes even correcting the scoreboard on his individual total. Musajja won so many titles locally with KICC, Destroyers, and Tornado and also clinching the best batsman accolade on a number of occasions.
His back to back hundreds at the World Cup Qualifiers in South Africa remain his highlight with the Cricket Cranes with Conrad Shukri his favorite coach and Justine Ligyalingi his best team manager. Musajja a man of very words is now happily giving back as the head of selectors a role he takes very seriously. His is a common sight at national team trial games making sure he can familiarize himself with the players fit to don the cricket cranes shirt. Here is our chat with Nehal Bibodi.
Qn; How did you get involved in Cricket?
Ans; I was very passionate about cricket from the age of 13 - 14 and use to play in school with classmates in the school ground with tennis balls luckily we also had small ground in front of our bungalow and some guys from different areas use to come and play there 15 overs tennis ball match, I used to go and watch and one day they didn't have enough players so I told them " I can play some cricket " one of the captains of the team looked at me and said ok play in my team, and I kept going every day to play with them and most time I was performing so I became a permanent member of the team, from there my journey to play with the leather ball started as one of my friend use to go cricket coaching camp spotted me playing there and said why don't you join us. I had to talk to my friend's parents to convince my parents to join my friend and eventually I got permission. Playing 6 months in club and district cricket I was selected for state team U- 17 when I was 16 years
Qn; You came from a more organized cricket structure, what challenges and differences did you find adjusting to the local game?
Ans; I was invited by Late Kishore Pabari to play for KICC when he saw me playing when he came with Jamnagar Colts in 1991, when I came to Uganda in December 1992 I found Club / League Cricket and trial games are the pathways to get selected in the national team, unlike India where your journey starts from club to district and then to state and later to zone and National Team. I adjusted quite easily however, I realized that I will have a bigger role to play in for the club as I was Invited particularly to play cricket.
Qn; You scored bucket loads of runs in the local league that was so competitive but now not many players score a lot of runs in a season. What could be the problem?
Ans; I think there are a couple of things one of them is after laying the turf wicket the standard of wickets keep changing and most of the time it is uneven if you have noticed after one of the experienced guys were hired to make wickets the score started going up an average of 50-75 runs per innings so our groundsmen need to be trained more and also the second reason I think is most of the good players are divided within 2-3 clubs, so automatically you will find that if stronger teams bat first they will score 275-300 but other teams all out under 100
Qn; When did you make your debut for the national team?
Ans; It was 1993 against Zambia in Kampala
Qn; What local name did your teammates give you and why that particular name?
Ans; hahaha...I was given a local name "Musajja " and there is a very funny story after it
We were in South Africa touring Natal province in 1996, the field was set I was fielding on mid-on for the Left hander batsman and the bowler was our senior James Semugenyi as I was rubbing the ball to pass to the bowler some conversations took place between him and wicketkeeper Steven Luswata which was in Luganda, James Mukasa was quite surprised that why the slips are on his right side when usually they are on his left so he stood and looked around and when batsman took his stance he realized that the batsmen is left-handed and asked Mr. Luswata who was standing up on the stumps" ohh.. Ono Musajja left-hander? and Luswata replied "Simanyi " so James Semugenyi slowly ran to his bowling mark to bowl smiling. So I realized that something funny has happened and after the game, I asked the teammates what is the meaning of "Simanyi "? They told me "I don't know " I shared that conversation with teammates and they burst laughing and that is how I was given that name Musajja.
Qn; Share with us your most memorable innings for the national team?
Ans; My memorable innings are quite many but I would pick 99 runs against Namibia in Zimbabwe Zone 6 1997-98 and others were back to back centuries in South Africa World Cup qualifiers 2009
Qn; Share with us some of the most talented lads you have shared a dressing room on the national team.
Ans; Sam Walusimbi, Yona Wapakhabulo, Kenneth Kamuyuka, Joel Olwenyi, Junior kwebiha , Guy Lutaya
Qn; What influenced you to continue playing cricket up to the highest level?
Ans; It was a pure passion which influenced me to play cricket, I use to watch on TV Sir Vivian Richard, Gavaskar, Kapil Dev playing cricket and wanted to be like them
Qn; Can you describe the feeling of playing for Uganda those even though opportunities were not as many as they are now?
Ans; First and foremost Playing for Uganda was an honor for me when I was selected for the national team I was very happy and excited, and I have always tried to give my best as player
Qn; Which players did you get along with best and those that gave you a hard time?
Ans; Most of the national team players I use to go along with but Joel Olwenyi I would say I use to be very comfortable with.
Qn; Talking coaches and team managers who were best and worst during your time with the cricket cranes?
Ans; The best Manager for me was Justine Ligyalingi, he was friendly and use to discuss issues quite frankly and also caring while on tour, of all the coaches Conrad Shukri was one of the intelligent coaches I would say.
Qn; Share some of the highlights and lowlights of your time as a player with the national team.
Ans; High was my last appearance in South Africa World Cup qualifiers 2009, somehow I couldn't make in final 11 for first 4 games for reasons best known by the coach, but when I was given chance in last 3 games in that tournament I scored a fifty and 2 centuries in a row. My low I would say Argentina tour earlier the same year where I was not scoring much and some Junior players were misbehaving due to that... It was quite disappointing.
Qn; You are one of the best stroke makers in the history of Ugandan cricket. What made you stand out from your teammates?
Ans; Playing those strokes on the basis of quality(not quantity) during nets or near the side Screen during practice sessions, and spend longer time on the crease to display it during the match, I adjust myself with my teammates according to what best can we do together for the team.
Qn; In your role as head of selectors now, what has been the challenge in selecting a national team for the cricket cranes?
Ans; The First one is Limited choices for the replacements and another one is what we call probables squad some players want to be just on the squad on the basis of attendance and doing fitness tests but slowly we are bringing them to terms that performances are paramount. I will give you an example of Brian Masaba, he wasn't in my plans just two and half years ago but he took responsibility on himself and went to his club management that he wants to bat top order, after that he started performing with great consistency and look at him now, he is a very different player now so we are looking for smart players, and they are limited in numbers.
Qn; What do you think the team needs to do to attain ODI status?
Ans; Team did very well in Oman and its very balance squad, unfortunately, COVID 19 crises have come up and now we are all praying for the situation to normalize and we shall begin from where we paused. For the future, UCA should start planning how to avail selectors with a good number of quality players to replace over the years and select the Team to maintain the winning habits
Qn; Finally, your best XI with yourself in it.
1, Sam Walusimbi (Capt.)
2, Yona Wapakhabulo (RIP)
3, Nehal Bibodi
4, Joel Olwenyi
5, Junior Kwebiha
6, Kenneth Kamuyuka
7, Simon Nsubuga
8, Franco Nsubuga
9, Guy Kimbowa
10, Lawrence Ssematimba (W. K)
11, Henry Osinde
Favorite Fielding Position? - Anywhere in outfield