Tales of a Ugandan Cricket Fan: The Trip Out East

Tales of a Ugandan Cricket Fan: The Trip Out East

By Faith Munezero

                           The face of the team are the people who’re playing on the cricket field. The team is not about one individual.                                                                                                                              Gautam Gambhir

Having previously sworn off any matches outside Kampala, it’s surprising how quickly I ‘overturned this ruling’, by watching Aziz Damani v Challengers in Entebbe and then Wanderers v Nile in Jinja. It’s funny how easily mindsets are changed when you love something.

The Expectations

Unlike my trip to Entebbe that was somewhat familiar, the journey to Jinja was a whole new ball game (or so it seemed?). I had to get up pretty early this time round to make it to the rendezvous point in Lugogo by 7:30am, since I was moving with the Wanderers team.

Getting there at that time meant I had to set off about an hour early (imagine, 6:30am on a weekend?) I felt so sleep deprived I almost reconsidered! After a lot of internal debating, I left at 6:45am.

After chastising myself for having left home late, two taxis and one boda-boda later, I made it to Lugogo albeit 15 minutes late.  I found Wanderers captain, Denis Musali already there making his preparations. He welcomed me and after common courtesies, I took my seat as we waited for the rest of the team to arrive. A team that started to arrive after 7:45am much to my surprise.

The team

I have had the privilege of watching the Wanderers team train and even been part of it at some point. (An interesting experience I should say, I will have to write about it sometime) I even got to meet one of Uganda’s legendary cricketers and current Wanderers coach, Mr. Sam Walusimbi in the flesh! The life of this cricket fan though, unbelievable. This time round, Coach Sam as the team usually calls him, was unable to be with us. It was good to see some of the team again. Some were new faces but they were just as welcoming as they had been before and some still remembered me!

The Wanderers Team

I could go on about how late almost everyone arrived, the hearty greetings and the lively conversations the team had before they finally decided it was time to leave. As we set off for Jinja, I had a feeling that I would have a good day.

Sights and sounds

I think in another life, I would probably be a traveler. There is just something exciting about being in a new place and seeing life outside your own little world. So like I usually do when I am early, I picked a window seat and prayed for a safe trip and off we went!

With nearly 80 kilometers of travel to look forward to, I made myself comfortable. As we moved further away from the city I began to see some places that I had only heard in class and of course, taxi touts! Some notable places for me were, Uganda Christian University, Coca Cola plant in Namanve (I had always wanted to work there as a child), Lugazi sugar factory and the Nile Breweries.

But of all these, the place that is forever etched in my memory has got to be the cable stayed suspension bridge as went by the Owen Falls Dam. The first of its kind in East Africa, it towered and overshadowed everything else I had seen before. Having been a Construction Economics student, we’d had this course unit called Construction Technology IV, where among other things we learnt about different kind of bridges. Seeing one of these complex bridges first hand was so surreal!

I had forgotten we had one in Uganda and what a sight it was! As we drove past this beauty, the lectures from that particular class came flooding back; what type it was, risks involved, supposed life span, diagrams, significance… and I was grateful to God for getting to witness this first hand, realizing that not all classes are useless!

The conversation

I was curious to find out what these gentlemen talked about, so much so that I abandoned my music and what a day I had (I wasn’t eavesdropping mind you!). I am not sure I have ever listened to that much soccer talk in so little time! They say ignorance is a bliss, but that had never been more wrong for me that time. There was also talk about the She cranes unbeaten run and their qualification for the 2019 Netball World Cup (congratulations!).

From sports, we went to movies, series and the like. Ignorance is a very bad thing, I tell you! My saving grace was probably Thanos from the blockbuster movie Avengers: Infinity War. The life and conversation amongst everyone was really contagious, everyone knew everyone and the fun that they poked at each other, the new music that went round for some, and the amusement after that near head on collision for others, it was just amazing.

Nostalgia

The first thing that came to mind the moment I saw the Jinja oval was, “I’ve been here before!” That red brick fence with the black cloth draping over it quickly triggered a long time memory from the Kyambogo oval, way back when during the Girls’ Cricket week in 2008. King’s College Budo was playing against the formidable Jinja SS (who went on to win the title that year). We lost, unfortunately, and to this day I still have a scar as a painful reminder of the incredible bowling skills of the Jinja SS team.

I also remembered this unique Billabong white kit I wore that week that was nothing close to standard cricket attire because at that time I didn’t know where to get it. I still chuckle at the memory sometimes. It’s funny, I actually thought I had never been there before. So like the Kyambogo oval, Jinja is definitely another memorable place for me.

Game time!

I was almost miserable when I heard they might not be a match. No match? How? How do I move all the way to Jinja for nothing? But with the Nile team arriving late, the umpires were just about ready to award a walk over. I silently watched for the rest of the team’s reaction to this piece of news. They were livid!

“We don’t want a walkover, we want to play,” one said.

“How do two Kampala teams travel all the way to Jinja and you say there is no match?” lamented another.

This was just a little of the gentlemen’s frustration. I wondered why they would choose to forfeit 5 ‘free’ points but this seemingly small thing said so much about their passion and desire to actually play.

With all three umpires and both captains coming to an agreement over the game, it was game time, very much to the glee of the Wanderers team. Nile got off to a flying start and for a while after they got to 50 runs in 8 overs, I wondered whether it had been a wise decision to not take that walkover! Thankfully, the Wanderers had them all out after 17.2 overs.

The Wanderers started their chase like as though they had to be somewhere in the next 30 minutes. Getting at least a boundary in every over, they were on course for the win. Then it began to drizzle and I wondered for the second time that day whether Wanderers was being taunted for not taking the easy way out. 

Would they call it off? Would it be a draw? All these thoughts ran through my mind as I sought shelter from the rain. Imagine my shock when the match continued unperturbed! It wasn’t heavy but it kept increasing by the minute. In earnest, the batsmen saw a lifeline and unleashed boundaries for almost every ball bowled in the next 18 balls.

The absolute highlight for me was when in the 8th over running, the team needed just 3 more runs to win. Right there in the rain, the entire team left the shade and went under the trees to watch what happened next. Denis was facing and his closing boundary shot has to be one of the most hilarious I had ever seen! He literally followed a short ball that was clearly wide and applied his signature cut-shot. The ball raced to the boundary as he raced back to his teammates who were bent over with laughter (me included) from his antics. You just had to be there to see it.

The Brotherhood

As the team had lunch, there was never a dull moment with conversation taking place, from the match to Tembo’s great bowling display and even some stand out play from the Nile team. Even as the rain came down, the team was anything but quiet and helped pass the time as we waited for our transportation back to Kampala.

Wanderers a band of brothers

One of the things that I have to discover from most of the matches I have gotten to watch is the camaraderie that they all have and it couldn’t have been more evident with the Wanderers team. I watched on in silent envy as they recounted high school tales amongst themselves.

Majority of them seem to have passed through the same high school (Mwiri) and it was an eye opener for me. Realizing that they have kept in touch all these years because of this one beautiful connection that is cricket…it made me appreciate the sport even more. They weren’t just a team, they were like brothers and this sense of belonging and community was so authentic I was jealous! (But, don’t tell them I said that.)

One by one, I thanked the team for their warm welcome and their graciousness in allowing me join them that day. And one by one, these gentlemen etched in my heart a desire for the kind of bond and togetherness that they so easily displayed. I had left Kampala, with mixed feelings about what to expect but it’s been an enjoyable experience – fun, comedy, humor, entertainment, socializing, good food, mini geography trip and some life lessons.

And to crown it off, I got that delicious meal from Karveli Kampala that I had always wanted! It was all thanks to a Cricket Uganda campaign that had run under the #KarveliCricketUganda during the Africa T20B qualifiers in Rwanda and World Cup Qualifiers in Netherlands for the men and ladies respectively. The day couldn’t have ended better for this cricket fan, and now that Endiro Coffee is also partnering with Cricket Uganda, who knows what awesome things will be happening for the cricket fraternity?

I am honestly looking forward to what the next adventure will bring, it will be a tall order against this last one but all I will say is, challenge accepted!