Every ending is a beginning. We just don’t know it at the time.
– Mitch Alborn
As I begun the journey to the Entebbe cricket oval, I had a lot more on my mind than usual. It was the second last week of the Jazz Safari Men’s league and I was reminiscing my journey with the Gentleman’s Game. It was hard to ignore the sense of finality that came with something that brought so much joy, unexpected friendships and invaluable experiences.
Right by the window, I smiled as fond memories of My trip out East came flooding back to me. From the welcoming nature of the men in blue to their humorous Mwiri tales, my view of Jinja has never been the same since. I reflected on my very first match; my attempt at Breaking the weekend warrior spirit at the Kyambogo oval, remembering the timidity and the awe I had in meeting people like Davis Karashani, Irfan Afridi and Arthur Kyobe up close. My mind drifted to Lugogo, where I had gotten to see the power of youthfulness in a game, courtesy of the Strikers and their boundless energy. And not to mention that wonderful first time at Entebbe where I witnessed the champions of Aziz Damani in action. That red letter day got me feeling like a kid in the park amongst all the big shots of the fraternity I met there! Yes, the match this week was going to be bitter-sweet.
I think I read this wrong. Wanderers in Entebbe? How?? This was my reaction after looking at the fixtures this week. I re-read the information and being sure I wasn’t imagining things that I bemusedly realized that the men in blue are not eternally tied to Jinja! And that's why I was heading there this week.
With good planning, I made it in time for the match. The Avengers team were warming up just near the ropes while the umpires and scorers seemed to be in an intense discussion but slipping in quietly, I made my way to one of the unoccupied seats with courtesy greetings to those I happened to rush by. The clear skies and beautiful green appealed to my senses in a peaceful kind of way – it was a good day for cricket.
The match began a few minutes past 10:30am with the Avengers batting since they had won the toss. The Wanderers came out ready to field, and they seemed pretty pleased with the toss result. Greeting them as they passed by, a few warmed up with some soccer before their huddled together for a final word and then walked on to the field. I had seen the results of their match with the Avengers in the first round and was sorely hurt, a loss by two runs? Ouch! I said a silent prayer for good fortune this time round, hoping for a good long day of cricket and not just 3 hours play.
I was then joined by a friend who I also got to meet because of the sport and was thankful for the company. Moving to a higher vantage point for a better view, we settled just in time to watch the first innings kick off. I got to see sportsmanship on the pitch when one of the Avengers’ batsmen sustained an injury to his ankle and everyone on the field helped him with some quick first aid until he was up on his feet again.
I also got a crash course on memorizing fielding positions, but the trouble came when a left handed batsman took the crease and got me all sorts of confused. So much so that I may have amused and frustrated my neighbor a bit when I kept getting the names switched; mistaking mid-on for long on, point for covers, or when I kept insisting that third man and fine leg are behind the bowler and NOT the wicket keeper (I didn’t get that one, did I? Ha ha) But jokes aside, it felt a little better not having to keep checking Google for the positions each time like I usually did – studying with others has always been better than reading alone for tough topics in school.
I also got to learn (okay, tried to learn) the dynamics of the off spinner. I had always wondered why everyone I sat next to would always be able to tell at first glance, the kind of bowling technique the bowler used to the level of execution when the bowler made his delivery and yet all I used to see was someone take their run up and bowl! So I braved myself and asked how and with the zeal of a teacher who loves their work, I got to hear how the off spin works as well as when and how to tell one. Then it branched to wrist action, leg spin, off spin, in swinger and out swinger – then before I could be considered totally green, I remembered another technique and blurted out, “reverse swing too, right?” My friend laughed and agreed while I mentally sighed in relief as I tried to process all the information I had just received.
After a ‘well-deserved’ drinks break, the lessons pretty much ended there but I it felt better being a more knowledgeable about something. When play resumed, an Indian walked in to bowl and I heard friend say,
“Ha, that one is known to take a wicket in first over, just wait and see.”
So there I sat, waiting for the fulfilment of this prophecy and true to the word, his first delivery brought down a wicket! It was after a watching the men in blue jubilate and surround the new celebrity that I found out he is called Nirav. He went on to pick three more wickets in the innings, making him man of the match later but the accuracy in that testimony had made its mark on me. That must be a good reputation to have though, right?
More stand out play was Joseph Byaruhanga’s good fielding that had two batsmen caught and dismissed. One was a well- timed dive to catch a ball at midwicket that would make any athlete proud, and left many impressed! While the other a superb catch at long on that not only saved six runs but also ended the Avengers’ innings. It was a contentious one though and for a minute those on the sidelines were the center of attention as we and the other Avengers’ supporters talked back and forth regarding whether he caught it in or outside the boundary. But eventually, the umpires made the right call and the team was all out for 107 runs.
Of lunch and family time
They say “Good food tastes better when you eat it with your family,” and this pretty much described how lunch went for me. The Wanderers had the luxury of watching the second innings while downing a delicious vegetarian meal (remember Nirav? He’s vegetarian) and to my absolute delight, the innings proved even more entertaining than the first, albeit off the field.
There was so much hilarious conversation, from the old days of MCC (Mwiri Cricket Club), from the ‘neck’ meals to beating a team who had refused to help them with keepers’ gloves when they had inadequate equipment; to current affairs and conspiracy theories. I chuckled whenever we laughed so loudly that the umpires and some of the fielders looked at us in amusement. One by stander was so attracted to the lively conversation that he brought his seat closer to us, listening attentively while sipping his drink like he had been there the entire time! It was just wonderful really. We even got to hear some of the legendary Coach Sam -G’s match experiences with a humorous tale that featured cricket greats like Cricket Kenya’s coach Maurice Odumbe, and the late Mr. Waphakabulo, among others.
However, the chatter began to die down when wickets started falling between the 14th and 20th over. I started paying more attention to the match but it’s not until the Wanderers were at 101/8 that the pressure presented itself in full force, whereas my neighbors seemed pretty calm. One wicket and one free hit later, the Wanderers were one run away from a draw when another wicket went down!
At this point, the semi-cool look begun to fall off some people’s faces as they were literally close to having a repeat of the first round match! With two runs to win and one wicket left, the men in blue couldn’t stay seated as they watched their last batsman walk on to the field - you could almost cut the tension with a knife. In silence they watched as the first two balls were dots, before one batsman snuck in a run to the relief of the team who would do with a draw if things went south from there. But thankfully that didn’t happen as next ball brought another run to have the Wanderers avenge their first round defeat in 31 overs.
After the cordial handshakes and after match talk (I wasn’t part of it of course), everyone was ready to head home. I was grateful for the win, the full day of cricket, seasoned with generous amounts of fun, entertainment, humor, and tension. After bidding the team farewell, I walked away slowly in the company of others yet feeling alone; knowing there is just one more weekend left before I can kiss this season goodbye. What will happen after the league ends? I wondered. I would like to believe that there’s more in store, because my eyes have just adjusted to the light after years of darkness and it would be too soon for this end but maybe like Mitch said, “Every ending is a beginning. We just don't know it at the time.”