In Focus – An East African showdown in Kigali

  Come July 7, the picturesque Gahanga Cricket Stadium in Kigali will play host to the all-important ICC World Twenty20 Africa B Qualifier, which will see four Eastern African nations battle it out in a week-long tournament. Hosts Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda will be involved in a double round-robin competition to determine the top two, who will enter next year’s final Africa Regional Qualifier.

  This will be the second African sub-regional Qualifier, following the North-Western Qualifier held in Nigeria in April and which saw Ghana and the hosts qualify for the Africa Regional Finals. The Africa Regional Finals will feature six teams (two each from the North-Western, Eastern and Southern groups), of which only two will make it to the 14-team Global Qualifier for the 2020 World T20. 

  With less than a day to go before the tournament opener between Kenya and Uganda commences, here is a lowdown on the four teams in action.

Kenya – Desperate for a turnaround

  Having undergone turbulent times, both on and off the field, in the past few months, Kenya will be looking to avoid a further slide down the international ladder. Earlier this year, Kenya finished last at the World Cricket League Division Two in Namibia. To add to the woes, captain Rakep Patel, coach Thomas Odoyo and Cricket Kenya chairperson Jackie Janmohammad all resigned in the aftermath.

  However, the fact that former captain Maurice Odumbe is now in charge as coach inspires confidence. Kenya are not known to be a strong T20 force, but failure to finish in the top two would be akin to a catastrophe. Though their recent form is ordinary – they won one out of six games in a T20 tri-series in Harare last month – the Associate kings of yore can be expected to proceed to the Regional Finals.

Captain: Shem Ngoche
Coach: Maurice Odumbe
Key players: Dhiren Gondaria (opening batsman), Elijah Otieno (pace bowler)
Fixtures: July 7 – v Uganda, July 8 – v Rwanda, July 10 – v Tanzania, July 11 – v Rwanda, July 13 – v Tanzania, July 14 – v Uganda
Prediction: Runners-up

Rwanda – Hopeful hosts

  Rwanda’s cricketing journey has indeed been a heartwarming story, and the Gahanga Cricket Stadium, which made headlines due to its unique construction, symbolises the role that the game has played in building bridges in the war-torn country. This is the first time Rwanda is hosting an ICC tourney, and the national team will strive to give their best shot and create an impression on home turf. 

East African Qualifier

      The captains of the four participating teams pose with the trophy at the Gahanga Stadium on the eve of the World T20 Sub-Regional Qualifier (source – Romeo Ngabo, Twitter)

  Coaching the Rwandans is former Kenyan pacer Martin Suji, and his experience will be highly valuable for a young side that will go into the tournament as clear underdogs. Rwanda gave a good account of themselves against Zambia at the Gahanga Stadium in May, winning a five-match T20 series by a margin of 4-1. It remains to be seen whether they have the capability to create an upset or two.

Captain: Eric Dusingizimana 
Coach: Martin Suji
Key players: Orchide Tuyisinge (top-order batsman), Eric Niyomubago (top-order batsman)
Fixtures: July 7 – v Tanzania, July 8 – v Kenya, July 10 – v Uganda, July 11 – v Kenya, July 13 – v Uganda, July 14 – v Tanzania
Prediction: Fourth place

Tanzania – Cannot be underestimated

  Tanzania lost their place in the World Cricket League after relegation from Division Five in 2016, followed by a third-place finish (only the winner returned to the WCL) in the WCL Africa Region Qualifier last year, and will seek to redeem themselves in the T20 format, the unpredictability of which gives them an ideal chance to net a few wins. They can be expected to start off brightly against Rwanda.

Captain: Kasim Mussa
Coach:
Key players: Abhik Patwa (top-order batsman), Kassim Mussa
Fixtures: July 7 – v Rwanda, July 8 – v Uganda, July 10 – Kenya, July 11 – v Uganda, July 13 – v Kenya, July 14 – v Rwanda
Prediction: Third place

Uganda – High on confidence

  Buoyed by their World Cricket League Division Four victory in Malaysia in May, Uganda will be aiming to continue in the same vein in the T20 format as well. Since their disappointing relegation from WCL Division Three on home soil in May 2017, the Cricket Cranes, under coach Steve Tikolo, the former Kenyan captain, have shown great intent to become the most improved African Associate team. 

  Interestingly, Tikolo was Kenya’s coach before joining the Ugandan camp, and will be pitted against his old national teammate Odumbe in the opening clash. Uganda have had the wood over Kenya of late, the most recent instance being a 4-0 sweep in a 50-over series in Kampala last year. With a healthy balance of youth and experience in their squad, they start as favourites to win the title in Rwanda.

Captain: Roger Mukasa
Coach: Steve Tikolo
Key players: Mohammed Irfan Afridi (spin-bowling all-rounder), Henry Ssenyondo (left-arm spinner)
Fixtures: July 7 – v Kenya, July 8 – v Tanzania, July 10 – v Rwanda, July 11 – v Tanzania, July 13 – v Rwanda, July 14 – v Kenya
Prediction: Winners

May the best team win!

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