BY INNOCENT NDAWULA
Arguably the most graceful bowling action one will ever see in world cricket was a preserve of Kenya legend Martin Suji.
A backbone of Kenya’s world conquering team of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Suji picked one too many a prize wicket including that of Sachin Tendulkar and top match awards at the grandest of stages in the World Cup.
Unfortunately at the age of 36, a knee injury put paid to his hopes of playing in a fourth successive International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup in 2007. From then on it has been a coaching for the soft-spoken tactician.
Suji says the game is still alive in East Africa and is full of belief that it can only regain its mojo if everyone continues to give back ungrudgingly to the beautiful game in whatever capacity they hold.
Cricket Uganda’s Innocent Ndawula travelled to Kigali where Suji is Rwanda Head Coach and got to pick his mind on cricket, unresolved mysteries and life. Enjoy the interview excerpts.
Talk to us about your new challenge at Rwanda Cricket Association and what you seek to achieve with the team?
This was a great opportunity for me to get back to Elite coaching. As I was coaching Peponi International School back home. Getting back to Elite coaching was good for me to develop my skills as a coach. If I can take Rwanda to the next level, it will be great for cricket in this region and putting the players to compete with the best cricketers in this region would be great.
You have been to a lot of different cultures, can you give us an insight into cricket in Rwanda?
I've only been here for approximately six months, but the culture and interest to the game is great. Cricket has touched many young girls and boys. That's growth to the game. What we need to do is preach more quality skills to produce them at that level and this goes to the other places that I've coached. For some time, I hadn’t seen a home-made bat, but I saw it here the other day and that was amazing....that shows the cricket culture is in a good place at the grassroots here in Rwanda.
You were very instrumental in giving a lot of the current Cricket Cranes (Uganda) players a chance to play with the national team. Are you excited by young players?
I normally look back at where I came from. One man called Robert Bryson gave me an opportunity to play the game and now it my time to give back. I believe that everyone in this region, especially the elderly ones, should give back to the game in whatever capacity they hold because it is alive and just needs more attention now.
You left the Cricket Cranes position under mysterious circumstances, what exactly happened?
I thank Uganda Cricket Association for the opportunity and entrusting me to work with them. I want to leave it there because that is what coaches go through. I respect them game.
Would you consider a return to the job if you were invited back?
Now that this is my career, I would. Where cricket calls me and I can work with players, I am always ready to go. Terms and conditions are part of it.
Your generation of cricket legends have all ventured into coaching from Steve Tikolo, Joseph Angara, Jimmy Kamande and Maurice Odumbe. Is this the route for retired players or it’s a way of staying connected with the game?
This is our PhD in cricket. This is a way of staying connected with the game and I believe that mentoring cricketers is part of our responsibility and duty. For my case, I am in it to make a difference.
What is the future for you as a cricket coach? Do you see yourself coaching in one of the Big Twenty20 Leagues?
I love this game that has given us so much. If that opportunity comes, I will be humbled to be part of it. Having coached for over 10 years now, I can only give it a go.
What do you think is the problem of cricket in Kenya, Uganda and East Africa at large? And how can it be solved?
People must learn and live with the fact that the game is bigger than all of us. We must always remain positive. We should get the right age group structures with the right set up and curriculum in place. We must train and facilitate the personnel to go with the structure. This should be done through research.
We must also make sure that our talent gets exposure and have them play in different conditions all-round the year. We should have competition around the East Africa region and its environs so that we create a pathway for elite cricket competitions.
And lastly we must ensure that good governance that would attract corporate sponsorship to support the game. If we help ourselves, only then we can get help.
Once again, the game is bigger than us all!
From your experience working in Associate/Affiliate Nations cricket, what do such countries need to catch up with the fast-rising giants in Asia?
Let me use Rwanda at the recently concluded Africa T20 Qualifiers. It was great seeing my boys prepare and compete in such a great tournament.
If we can be playing each other more, then we can improve quickly and get better. We can also arrange more tours amongst each other and that would be great, not only at the national level but also at the age group level because that's where it begins...baba (sir).
We must start and revival our own championships and then if the ICC adds us one or two tutasonga mbele (we shall go forward and if some of our promising players can get an opportunity in other countries like South Africa, United Kingdom etc etc it can also help for our growth. Different conditions can better players’ talents.
Who are some of the players in Uganda who caught your eye and left an impression on you?
Brian Masaba (all-rounder), Deus Muhumuza (all-rounder), Farouk Ochimi (now in New Zealand), Derrick Bakunzi (former U-19 captain) and Charles Waiswa (left-arm opening bowler).
It is nice seeing them play for the Cranes. They are now the back bone of the team and seeing them work with coach Steve Tikolo is respect to them all.
Have you ever picked Indian demi cricket god Sachin Tendulkar's wicket and what are the other big scalps you have claimed in your career?
Yes, I have ever picked Sachin Tendulkar’s wicket. There are also many others that I have claimed including that of former Pakistan record-breaking batsman Saeed Anwar, Australia wicket-keeping great Adam Gilchrist and a man who is referred to as the best Indian captain ever Sourav Ganguly. Ganguly was my victim at least four times.
Which clubs and countries have you coached?
I have coached several clubs, franchises and national teams including Kanbis (Kenya), Kongonis (Kenya), Impala (Kenya), Peponi International School (Kenya), Nile Knights (Ugandan Franchise Team), Afripals (Kenya Franchise Team), Uganda (Cricket Cranes and Lady Cricket Cranes), Rwanda Men’s National Team.
Any final remarks!
The youngsters should take the game more seriously and work out on their skills. “Weka Gas (Don’t Give Up & Keep Working Harder)" is the way to go. This game has no shortcuts. Our cricket Boards should humbly work together and grow the game in this part of the world.
This game builds lives and if they can be part of it then the game will grow to better heights.
We should look at having our own East African Premier League. Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have what it takes as players. Let’s us “Never Walk Alone” Thanks for giving time to air my views and may God’s love be with you all.
QUICK GLANCE AT SUJI
Full name: Martin Armon Suji
Born: June 2, 1971
Age: 47 years
Batting style: Right-hand bat
Bowling style: Right-arm medium-fast
Relation Brother: Tony Suji (former Kenya Cricketer)
National Debut: 1990 ICC Trophy in Netherlands (Holland)
World Cup Debut: vs. India at Barabati Stadium, Feb 18, 1996
Memorable Feats: One World Cup Man of Match Awards & Two ODI Man Of Match Awards
Biggest Milestone: Playing in Three World Cups (1996, 2003 & 2007)
Team Supported: Liverpool
Best Destination: Goa, India
Dream Holiday: Maldives
Best Cricketers: Brian Lara (West Indies) & Sachin Tendulkar (India)
Toughest Team: Sri Lanka
Best Sledge: C’mon, stop using your pads. Why did you carry a bat?
Best TV Programme: National Geographical Channel
Other Sports: I coach basketball and athletics. And I have played football, volleyball and swimming.
Best Music: Rumba and Ohangla (Luo Music)
Academic Qualifications: O’ Level & Information & Computer Technology
Best Movies: Face Off by John Travolta & Nicholas Cage and Cry Freedom by Denzel Washington.
My Dream: My children to be better people than me.
Advice To Youngsters: ‘Weka Gas’ and listen to your coaches and mentors.
Motto: You Will Never Walk Alone.