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Uganda’s Lady Cricket Cranes on their way up

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Uganda_Women_CricketThe Ugandan national women’s team, popularly known as the Lady Cricket Cranes, is on an unprecedented high. In September, their young outfit stunned historically stronger sides such as Zimbabwe and Kenya to win the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 Africa Region Qualifier in Windhoek, igniting a lot of hope and excitement for future prospects of women’s cricket in the country.

The seeds were sown in the first game itself, in which the spirited Ugandans defended a total of 97/7 to topple hosts Namibia by 21 runs. Gertrude Candiru, a 23-year-old mainstay of the team, dished out a superb all-round performance, first holding the innings together with a controlled 40 from number five, and then taking 3/16 to derail the aspirations of the Namibian middle order.

Comprehensive victories over Tanzania and Kenya followed, thanks to outstanding displays with the ball, but Zimbabwe proved to be a different kettle of fish in the last league encounter. Chasing a steep 162, the Lady Cricket Cranes were restricted to 102/6. However, they managed to pip Kenya in the playoff to become the second finalist, with immaculate Nakisuuyi crunching 25* in 15 balls to seal a five-wicket win off the penultimate ball in a tense chase of 90.

This set up a finale against Zimbabwe, with a chance to avenge the league stage defeat. More importantly, it was a winner-takes-all clash to confirm a berth in the 2018 World Twenty20 Qualifier. Zimbabwe looked well-placed for a strong finish at 69/1 after 12 overs, but Candiru, not for the first time, spun a web around the middle order. Her figures of 3/14 ensured that the fancied Zimbabweans could muster no more than 99/7.

In reply, the pressure was right on Uganda as they slid to 61/6 in the 14th over. But Zimbabwe had reckoned without Candiru (who else?). Stephanie Nampiina joined forces with Candiru for the seventh wicket, and the pair added 30 runs to turn the tide towards their team. Nampiina was dismissed in the 19th over, but the composed Candiru remained till the end, unbeaten on a run-a-ball 23 to oversee a memorable three-wicket win with three balls to spare.

 

“Believing in myself as an individual, staying focused, knowing what I want and fighting till the end, on top of being disciplined, helped me reach this level,” said Candiru, who was rightly adjudged as player of the match. She finished as the highest wicket-taker in the tournament, scalping 15 victims at a brilliant average of 7.00, with a best return of 4/12.

 

With this victory, the Lady Cricket Cranes have gained entry into the World Twenty20 Qualifier as the African qualifier. They will join the likes of Bangladesh, Ireland, Netherlands, Scotland and Papua New Guinea in the tournament, the date and venue of which has not been announced yet. The top two from this Qualifier will make it to the tournament proper, which will be held in the Caribbean in November 2018.

Uganda’s delightful triumph has been a much-needed success story for the country’s cricketing landscape, what with the disappointing year that the men’s team has endured so far. The Ugandan men were relegated to the ICC World Cricket League Division Four, after finishing fifth out of six teams in the Division Three competition held at home in May.

The progress of the Lady Cricket Cranes, under the able leadership of young Kevin Awino, all of 20, bodes well for the women’s game as it looks to spread its wings beyond the traditional powerhouses. Expanding the Women’s World Twenty20 might not be a bad idea, as the shortest format provides the lower-ranked teams with a great platform to showcase their skills and a greater chance to upset bigger fish, as Uganda have proved.

For their significant achievement, the Lady Cricket Cranes received a heroines’ welcome on their return home, and were recently awarded as the sports personalities for the month of September by the Uganda Sports Press Association (USPA). This could well be the turning point for Uganda’s fortunes as far as women’s cricket is concerned, and has the potential to further boost the participation numbers of young girls.

Brimming with youthful energy, the Lady Cricket Cranes are the women’s team to watch out for in the near future. Securing the position of Africa’s second-best Twenty20 team is no mean feat, and with most of the young guns – many of whom are students – yet to reach their peak, the future looks exciting for the new giant-killers of women’s cricket. International cricket as a whole is all the better for it.

 

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Rustom Deboo is a cricket blogger and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of Test...

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