By Denis Musali
He started out as a spinner, joined the school and National teams as a lethal paceman and ended his career as an all-rounder. His opening duo with Kenneth Kamyuka sent shivers down many batsmen in the game.
We catch up with Richard Okia a humble, fun loving but explosive player who played for the National Team for 15 years after making his debut for the national team at the age of 17
Qn. Tell how you started playing cricket?
Ans. I started playing cricket in 1992 having stayed in the Kololo neighbourhood just close to the Lugogo Cricket Oval. By that time, I was also studying at Buganda Road Primary School where I started playing mini cricket in P.3.
During that time, I developed my cricketing skills while playing ‘Wembley’ alongside brothers Lawrence Sematimba and Franco Nsubuga, Daniel Ruyange, Ronald Semanda, Patrick Ochan under the mentorship of David Kasenge, James Komakech and watchful eye of Coach Sam Walusimbi.
Qn. Joining a cricket school like Mwiri, what were odds for you to become among the best?
Ans. Having been exposed cricket at an earlier stage during my primary days, the odds were high that I could go on to harness my cricketing skill at a great cricket school like Mwiri. I was very competitive whether during a 5 over ‘Wembley’ game or 25 over inter-house game.
Qn. Who were some of the players that had caught your eye when you joined Mwiri?
Ans. Several players caught my eye I when I joined Mwiri. Fortunately, I had trained and played with some of them during the holiday season when I was still in primary. These include; Guy Kimbowa, Henry Osinde, Simon ‘Zungu’ Nsubuga, Humphrey Obace, Junior Kwebiha, Michael Ndiko, Kenneth Kamyuka, Keith Legesi, Nicholas Kebba, Emmy Kibirango Henry ‘Santos’ Sebulime (RIP), Timothy Kamanzi, Robin Turinawe and many others.
Qn. Why did you stand out of your peers at an early stage?
Ans. As I mentioned before, I had been exposed to cricket before joining Mwiri. I had the opportunity to play with many club cricketers during that time and in the process developed the mindset and work ethic of club cricketers. Therefore, playing competitive hard ball cricket was ‘my cup of tea’ when I joined Mwiri.
Qn. Making the school team in your O’ level was rear in your days; how did you feel?
Ans. As a 14-year-old, I was really thrilled to join the Mwiri school team which was dominated by A’ level students at that time. This made me feel a prodigy. Justine Ligyalingi also played a part in spotting my qualities and abilities to play in the senior school team.
Qn. Share with us your fond memories, playing cricket with Mwiri and Budo?
Ans. Firstly, my time in Mwiri was a great foundation for my cricket right from ‘House Wembley’ through ‘Owino Oval’ up to the main cricket ground. We played cricket and broke windows almost every day. We had fierce wembley battles with opposition from several houses that brought out the best from contemporaries such as Chris Engola, Amos Kyazze, Emmanuel Odeng, Brian Kiiza, Sylvester Rokani, Jacob Muddu, Edward Musenze, Moses Ayesiga, Paul Okatege, Allan Wegoye and many others. Being a cricketer in Mwiri also gave you a chance to have a free trip out of school every Sunday to play league cricket and eat ‘rare meals’ in Jinja town after games.
Later when I joined Budo, my cricketing game had matured having featured in several international engagements with the national team. It was exciting to see the revival of cricket in the school. We rallied a team of ‘Expendables’ that provided Budo with a memorable Schools Cricket Championship accomplishment under the captaincy of Richard Lwamafa in 2001.
Qn. What influenced your decision to leave Mwiri and join Budo?
Ans. Firstly, you must know that 7 of my siblings went through Budo. I thought it could be an opportunity for me to become the 8th (Hehehe). Anyway, I thought it would be good to explore a different environment having been in Mwiri for 4 years. On the bright side, this has created a chance to have a wider network of alumni and friends from both schools.
Qn. Making the national team at an early age, who are some of the players on the team when you joined?
Ans. I made my first national team squad call up in 2000. During that time, the team was youthful and included players such as John Lubia, Henry Oketcho, Richard Mwami, Nehal Bibodi, Tendo Mbazzi, David Meya, Henry Osinde, Benjamin Musoke, Joel Olweny, Henry Kato, Simon Nsubuga, Frank Nsubuga, Charles Lwanga (RIP), Lawrence Sematimba, Junior Kwebiha, Kenneth Kamyuka.
Qn. You formed a deadly combination opening the bowling with Kamyuka, tell us about sharing the new ball with Kamyuka?
Ans. Indeed, we had a good and successful partnership over years. Kamyuka was really a spirited fighter and it was great to have him opening bowling on the other side. At one time, we opened bowling for both Destroyers Cricket Club during the league and the National Team. Batsmen did not have exciting times facing our opening spells. We complemented each other as he attacked the batsmen on one side and I silenced them on the other side.
Qn. Share some of your highlights playing for National Team?
Ans. I have had the opportunity and it has been an honour to represent Uganda in various regional, international cricket engagement and world cup qualifiers across the globe in various continents and countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda, South Africa, UAE, Zambia, Namibia, Kenya etc between 2001 and 2015.
Making my debut as a 17-year-old at the ICC trophy in Toronto, Canada 2001 will always bring back fond memories. This was the first time Uganda was being represented at an ICC Global event as an associate. We entered into unchartered territory, having been ranked bottom No.23 at the beginning of the tournament. We defeating highly fancied and tournament favourites Ireland by 31 runs on our debut game of the global cricket showpiece. We later finished the tournament on a remarkable 10th position after playoffs with the United Arab Emirates. I also finished the tournament as the most economical bowler. Our spirited display of athleticism and youthfulness won us the hearts and admiration from many supporters from Canadian, Caribbean and Ugandans in the diaspora.
Other highlights include winning the ICC Division 3 qualifier in Darwin, Australia in 2007 and Bermuda in 2013 as well as the ICC 3 Day Intercontinental Game against Namibia in Wind Hoek 2004
Qn. You took a break from national then made a comeback, what influenced your decision to come back and play for Uganda?
Ans. Yes, I had finished university and work commitments came in earlier in the career. I was transferred upcountry and could not commit to national engagements at that time. However, after a sabbatical, I returned believing that I still had the ability, maturity, mental strength and what it takes to represent and help Uganda compete at the international stage. I guess this worked out well.
Qn. Lowest moments with national team?
Ans. Over the years, there have been several low moments just like any team would face. I remember Uganda being relegated at the ICC Division 2 qualifiers in Wind Hoek after Uganda had bowled out Namibia for a paltry 140 and was not able to chase down the score after having a good start. The second moment was in 2017 ICC Division 3 qualifier in Uganda, although this time I was a selector with the national team. We all know what happened then. However, we use these moments to rise up and work harder.
Qn. From playing to becoming a selector, how does it feel?
After retiring from playing international and then being appointed as a national team selector is gratifying. I still gives a sense of belonging to the national team even though I am no longer a player. I feel honoured to be part of an experienced selection panel that offers its guidance, knowledge and advice to national teams right from the under age group to senior national teams for both women and men.
Qn. Best and worst places visited with the national team?
I must say all the places visited with the national team were good however the best and most exciting places are; Bermuda, Toronto/Canada, Darwin/Australia and New Zealand.
Qn. Your Ideal Uganda XI with you in it?
Not too easy but; Joel Olwenyi, Nehal Bibodi, Roger Mukasa, Paul Nsibuka, Junior Kwebiha, Sam Walusimbi, Benjamin Musoke, Kenneth Kamyuka, Richard Okia, Frank Nsubuga, Davis Karashani.