Tales Of A Ug Cricket Fan: Ladies, Its Showtime!

Tales Of A Ug Cricket Fan: Ladies, Its Showtime!

It is incredible how far women have come and women in sports have come.

  • Jennie Finch

After an incredible five weeks of following adrenaline-filled cricket that comes with men’s matches, the start of the Jazz Safari Women’s League offered a unique opportunity to watch how the ladies do it!

The women’s national team has made wonderful progress, with their latest feat being crowned Africa’s champions in the World cup qualifier that saw them represent the continent in the Netherlands in July this year, which doubled as their maiden appearance in the international tournament! To see our national team reach such heights is amazing and needs to be appreciated! How did these superstars start their journey though?

So with the women’s league starting again last week, I was particularly enthusiastic about this next season seeing as the first time I was introduced to it, I was green and ‘fell into cups’ so to speak. Anyone feeling that way? Maybe a little backstory into the league could be just what you need!

Background (briefly)

Based on a Daily Monitor article dated 13th July 2016, the Jazz Safari National League was birthed, starting with the men’s 50 over matches that saw a marriage between two complex disciplines i.e. jazz and cricket. Jazz Safari were unveiled as the official sponsors of the league, partnering with the Uganda Cricket association (UCA), in a 5 year deal to help grow the sport and ensure more talents are bred from the league into the National team, according to Tshaka Mayanja, the Jazz Safari founder. The ladies version of the league commenced a year later with the same goal.

This year, the Jazz Safari Women’s League comprises of two divisions (1 and 2) which is one division less than in the men’s league. The two types also vary in the number of clubs that feature with the women’s league having a total of 13 clubs with six and seven clubs in the 1st and 2nd division respectively whereas the men’s league has a total of 22 clubs with eight in both 1st and 2nd division, and six in the third division.

Team Olila High

Every season, the clubs in 2nd and 3rd division compete for a chance at promotion (to the next highest league), where only two spots are availed (men’s league) while for the women it’s a single slot. The bottom placed team or teams in division 1 and 2 are usually relegated at the end of the season to accommodate those promoted.

Since we are talking about the ladies here, that’s where we shall focus. The current defending champions of the Division 1 (2017) is Jinja SSS Cricket Club while Division 2 champions were Aziz Damani CC who also earned a slot into Division 1, after Tornado lost theirs.

Team KICC

Division 1 & 2 matches will be played simultaneously across the various ovals in the country namely Lugogo, Kyambogo, Entebbe, Jinja, Gayaza, King’s College Budo, and Ndejje every Saturday for the next 12 weeks and one on Tuesday, 9th October. Each season usually consists of two rounds of play, however for this period, the first division will have 1 round while the other has two.

The day

With that background (insert Justice Kakuru voice), I will now proceed to detail the set of events for the first match of the Jazz Safari Women’s League 2018. (Look who’s sounding legal, ha ha!) Armed with excitement and curiosity to boot, I found myself making the now familiar journey to the Kyambogo oval for what I predicted to be an eventful day courtesy of Olila High School and K.I.C.C (Kampala Cricket Club). With the match scheduled to start at 10:30am, I set off about2 hours early and was only 15 minutes late, but already the match had begun with two wickets gone in just 4 overs! I internally groaned, how did I miss that? But being the usually calm person that others see me to be, I quickly greeted those I met at the ‘pavilion’ and swiftly settled next to members of the Olila High team who were keenly following the match.

The crowd

Like every match that I have gotten to watch, it was studded with some notable members of the cricket fraternity, some of whom I had met before while others I had only heard of or read about. This day was no different and I had the privilege of meeting a number of great people! First I noted was Felix Musana. He’s a very passionate cricketer based in Soroti because of work commitments, who started the Soroti Cricket Academy (currently 3 years old going on four) that has seen the ladies’ side (Olila High School) feature in the National league, with some of the ladies going on to play in the national team for example Joyce Mary Apio.

Janet Mbabazi Vice Captain of The Lady Cricket Cranes

With cricket mostly based in Kampala and Jinja, he has revolutionized this trend bringing it to the North and his academy has many upcoming cricketers doing great so far. You can read about this amazing story here: https://www.kawowo.com/2017/09/23/soroti-cricket-academy-game-teso-region/ or follow updates via @Soroticricket on twitter. He was in the company of his lovely family.

I also got to meet a number of the Lady Cricket cranes too. Seriously, I am not kidding! I got to see Janet Mbabazi, assistant vice captain (a pleasure as always) and Racheal Ntono who both play for Olila High, Franklin Najjumba (who plays for KICC), Kevin Awino (Captain), and even Carol Namugenyi (female cricketer of the year 2017)!

Rachel Ntono of Olila High and Lady Cricket Cranes

As if my day couldn’t get any better, I also got to see Coach Sam Walusimbi, Isaneez Emmanuel (coach for Mwiri, and one of the national team and Aziz Damani’s lead wicket takers), cricket cranes’ Kenneth Waiswa was also in attendance, senior umpires Eric Wandera and Norbert Abbi (Wanderers CC), Arnold Otwani (Ceylon Lions), Damalie Busingye, Joel Epiangu (KCBudo), and @10Kevon. Ecstatic cannot even begin to describe how I was that day! Not surprising though, is the fact that the day got even better.

The game: Highlights

I have had the opportunity to witness both teams play before but separately. They were pretty impressive, with both winning their matches so I was absolutely delighted when I was the first fixture featuring them together! Olila High won the toss and opted to bat first, but arriving 15 minutes late like I had mentioned earlier, I had missed 4 overs that saw two of their wickets felled. It was a bright sunny morning, but it got really hot in the afternoon and I wondered how on earth these ladies manage to stand out there for 50 overs!

Olila High batting against KICC last Saturday

I noticed that there was a distinct difference between play in the female and male matches. Shomehow for the men, there’s a lot more energy but women are lot more passionate in their play. Every time there was a potential run out, the women would exclaim, some in frustration and others in relief. Spectators and players alike, no one was exempt from the thrill that a missed opportunity brings especially if your side is the lucky one. And have you seen a woman bowl pace? I saw them that day, and I was literally shocked! I had had this perception that most women bowl slow to medium pace, with an occasional fast one to switch things up but that mindset just crushed right then and there.

Then there was that ‘face-off’ of sorts between Janet and Franklin with the former batting and the latter bowling! It was later replicated when they switched sides in the second innings, great display from these two all-rounders.

I also loved how fast the Olila ladies were, sneaking runs between wickets when a fielder fumbled with the ball for just a second. They were so fit that they even managed 4 runs between the wickets in the 40th over! Amazing stuff was happening here, but that fourth run almost had one of the ladies run out. The KICC team on the other hand were the queens of boundaries that day, it was beautiful seeing ladies pump that muscle and play those amazing fours.

At some point during the first innings, one of the batsmen was declared out but she insisted she wasn’t out. For some reason I looked to the scorers side for an imaginary review t.v of sorts (but there was none, of course) but I did see a video camera set up recording the match. And I wondered to myself, do our (Uganda) matches have a review system or something similar? She later left the crease but seemed pretty unsatisfied with the decision.

After the end of the 1st innings, we had a very delicious lunch courtesy of ‘mama’ as she is affectionately called and a darling to many of the cricketers. Mama is a sweet elderly lady with a welcoming smile, caring heart with love for good food and the cricket/ cricketers.

After a lunch break of about an hour, the second innings commenced with the energy that comes after a satisfying meal, and it was even more exciting than the first, from the drastic change in weather to the shorter and power infused overs played. After complaining about the scorching sun (that gave me a new appreciation for cricketers world over), eight overs it had become so cold and windy. With a bit of drama for effect, the heavens suddenly opened on the Kyambogo oval, flooding the outfield in just a few minutes. The torrential rains continued for all of 75 minutes before it stopped as suddenly as it came.

Learning moment

As we all sought shelter, the camaraderie amongst all was not absent. Like I have mentioned before, this sense of togetherness as everyone chatted with each other is something I honestly love about the sport in Uganda. I found myself at the proverbial ‘table of elders’, set between the two teams with the umpires and coaches together.

Being amongst influential personalities and seasoned players and of the gentleman’s sport, I couldn’t help but have my ears opened wide as I listened to the wisdom of the elders, so to speak.  From the progress of the women in the sport, to the stand out play in the match so far, as well as the ongoing test match between India and England, and some more chat where I asked about what some terms meant at some point. My mind was making all kinds of mental notes, wishing I could memorize it all.

Game was decided on D/L

Out of curiosity, I asked how the turn of events would be like since as it had rained. Seeing an awesome opportunity to learn a bit more about the rules of the sport, I edged closer in my seat as I waited for a response. I appreciate how readily and patiently they all pitched in to answer my question and some more follow up ones and I was grateful for the learning opportunity that the rain presented, for me at least. I learnt that in the case of rain, there is a specified amount of time that has to go by before a match is abandoned on a washout.

For that particular match, they still had until the scheduled end of play before then and with only about an hour and 20 minutes of rain, and about 45 minutes of inspection, there was still 90 minutes of play left. A second factor was the outfield itself. In cricket matches, the wicket and thirty yards are usually covered in cases of rain. But even with a dry wicket, the outfield itself needs to be dry enough to allow play to continue. Being Kyambogo, the field drains pretty fast, so fast that the many small puddles that dotted the outfield were gone within an hour of the rain stopping. After the umpires inspecting the field and meeting with the captains, the outfield was declared fit for play. Which led me to the third thing, how would they play the rest of the 42 overs in just 90 minutes?

It was then that I was officially introduced to the Duckworth-Lewis method or D/L for short. According to Wikipedia, this “is a mathematical formulation designed to calculate the target score for the team batting second in a limited overs cricket match interrupted by weather of other circumstances.” Basing on this, the umpires came up with a revised score for the KICC team to chase, since they had lost 26 out of the 50 overs, because of the rain. They were now chasing 112 runs (instead of the initial target of 197) in the next 15 overs (instead of 42 overs) to win. The match had suddenly become a T20 (Twenty- twenty overs match) of sorts which meant that there was all sorts of pressure now for a win. T20s usually have teams play for as many runs as possible since overs a few.

KICC started off pretty well but Olila also seemed to be in newer spirits with such high energy levels that after 20 overs of play, KICC needed 18 runs in 18 balls with 7 wickets left! The rest of team on the sidelines was very animated, being so close to win it was very understandable, but after four overs Olila came out the happier side winning by the skin of their teeth! This kind of play can be compared to the low scoring thriller in the men’s match between Aziz Damani and Kutchi tigers where the Tigers lost by a mere eight runs.

In all this, I surmised that ‘the toss’ at the start is crucial. You have to look at so many factors; the rival team, your strengths and weaknesses, field conditions and one key factor – the weather. Imagine one team playing on a dry outfield and the next has to play on slightly damp one. And it’s perfectly okay! But that one factor alone can play a key role in final outcome of the match. Was it the case here? Maybe, but not majorly.

Aftermath

Even in on my way back home my mind was still on cricket, so much so that while I stood along the busy Nakawa road waiting for an opportunity to cross, a friend said, “Hurry, steal a single. Now!” I laughed as I quickly surveyed the risk, seeing two approaching taxis and as many boda bodas just meters away, I jokingly replied, “That would be a run out!” Inspired by the quick running I saw between wickets earlier that day, I finally made my move after 5 long minutes and chuckled to myself as I sat in the taxi, amused by this turn of events even as the taxi filled up with Uganda Cranes fans, who were returning from the AFCON 2019 qualifiers’ match between Uganda and Tanzania at Namboole.

I left the Kyambogo oval, thrilled and anticipating the next women’s match. It was a great start to the season and this kind of action left me hungering for more of it, and with the men’s nearing its last days, it would be good to see the ladies take the spotlight for the next 13 weeks.