By Denis Musali
One of the finest all-rounders to have played for Uganda Cricket started playing cricket from the cricket-mad school Busoga College Mwiri. At Mwiri Junior horned his skills under the guidance Justine Ligyalingi before he was slotted into the national team. He captained Uganda for over five years before his corporate life could not allow him to continue playing. Now comfortable as the Chief Commercial Officer with American clean energy company Fenix International, we caught up with back his high and lows in Uganda Cricket.
Qn: How did you get involved in Cricket?
Ans: I was actively playing Basketball for Rhinos Athletics Club junior team when I joined Mwiri. Unfortunately for me, the basketball court in Mwiri left a lot to be desired.
I eventually found a rich cricketing culture in Mwiri and my love for sports took over. I said "why not try something new. Everyone loves it. There must be a reason". I eventually got to meet some very inspiring sportsmen, Guy Kimbowa (who I must say was the best Captain any young sportsman would love to play under), Benjamin Musoke (who started calling me Muko as a promise for my sister in exchange for being a protector against bullying), Simon Zungu, Santos Sebulime( RIP) and of course the famous Justine Ligyalingi who was and continues an inspiring cricket master. I went on my fast JACC (Jinja Association of Cricket Clubs) tour of Nairobi and Mombasa when I was in S1, enjoyed the trip made some good friends. And like they say the rest is history. I fell in love with the sport, I had some very strong sportsmen to look up to and I loved the challenge.
Qn: You are multi-talented having played basketball, volleyball, and Soccer. Why did you choose cricket as your dominant sport?
Ans: I tried to play both basketball and cricket competitively for as long as I could. Volleyball not so much. I played volleyball because my house (Willis House) didn't have enough volleyballers. Football was more for the company and again our house just didn't have as many soccer players in our age group. Basketball and cricket were the ones that I really loved. I had great friends in both disciplines and I love the adrenaline rush and crowds with basketball.
One weekend during the India day celebrations (can't remember the year), I was going to play in the Uganda XI Vs India Select XI game. The team manager, Robert Kisubi walked right through the dressing room in the morning of the game straight to me and asked, " Where were you yesterday?" I knew I was busted. I had cut national team training the day before to play a basketball club game. A clip had been aired on the news and as luck would have it, the manager saw me on TV. Luckily, I told the truth. The discussion that followed was with coach Tom Tikolo saying, " young man, it is either the tarmac or the grass". I gave up competitive basketball then. I still love to go and watch and make some noise at club basketball games.
Qn: During your days in Mwiri, there were a lot of talented players. Mention some of the guys who didn’t step up but we're very good players in school.
Ans: Been a while and hopefully, I will remember them all. Peter Kaijuka (Rasaq). One of the most amazing medium pace bowlers that I grew to depend on when we played together at ACC ( Africa Cricket Club). Emmy Kibirango and Fred Mutebi
Qn: Mwiri in your days had a lot of talent. Tell us about playing cricket in Mwiri and making the cut out of a very big crop of talented players.
Ans: Playing in Mwiri taught me to compete and to work hard to earn and keep my spot on the team. It was about the best 11 taking the field. We challenged each other, supported each other but also relied on each other as we grew older. I would say each year had a core of 4-5 players that everyone built around. That helped people step up but also have support around you.
I would say we had some great mentors in the years before us, got the opportunity to play club cricket early. That exposure can't be overestimated. I can never underestimate the support of my parents. Buying equipment, paying for my trips and just watching my games and following the progress of the team. To this day, my dad still follows the national team's performance. Parents play a very important role in their children's careers sports or otherwise. I hope that as sportsmen and sportswomen we will raise the second generation of players (in whatever sport they love) to represent our country with even better results than we had.
Qn: In Mwiri, Kenneth Kamyuka and yourself had some cold wars. What was the genesis if there was anything?
Ans: I think this was blown a little out of proportion. Kenny was a great player and I respect what he contributed to the sport in the Mwiri and Uganda as a whole. But we were both young. I was a young captain trying to manage a feisty sportsman. These "cold wars" were really on 2 grounds. Firstly, who was better than the other. And secondly, once I became his captain how I had to lead him. Or how he submitted to leadership (even when he played under other captains). I am sure with age on our side now, we both look back and there are things we would advise our younger selves to do differently. I liked the competition he brought. We respected each other, we fought and argued but our hearts were usually in the right place. Usually.
Qn: Share with us some of the most talented lads you have shared a dressing room with both in Mwiri and for the national team.
Guy Kimbowa Lutaaya
There were some great players I played with but mostly when it was past their peak. I still value who they were as players and mentors when we shared the dressing room
Qn: Who influenced you to continue playing cricket up to the highest level?
Different people at different times influenced. When I was starting out Justine Ligyalingi, Guy Kimbowa, Benjamin Musoke and many of their peers influenced me.
As I grew into the U-19 national team, I had great peers myself, Kenny, Joel Olwenyi, Charles Lwanga (RIP) Frank Nsubuga, and that generation challenged me to be better.
As I got into the club cricket and National team, I had some senior people that advised me, Robert Kisubi, Aloysius Naihnabo, Chris Azuba (RIP), Dr. Ssebaale, Sam Walusimbi, Steven Luswata. They took the time to advise me as a young captain.
I also had senior players that passed on what they had learned along with their career, Henry Okecho, Justine Ligyalingi, John Lubia, Simon Nsubuga. I can say u had great people to influence me at different times along my journey.
Qn: When did you make your debut for the national team and what was the feeling?
I would have to say ICC Trophy, Canada 2001. First time I got a kit as a national team player. It was exciting. And we played better than many had expected us to play. My mum still keeps the uniform I wore from that tour.
Qn: Who are of the most celebrated captains of the cricket cranes, how hard or easy was the job?
Ans: I would say different captains had different successes for sure. I think Davis Karashani had one of the more challenging times. He led a much stronger team in a time when we needed to play well as a country.
I would say my time and our successes in the Intercontinental cup and growth from Div 3 to Div 2 in ICC rankings would get some celebrations. I would definitely say John Lubia too. In a time when Uganda was just breaking through internationally and with probably the competitive team. Team selection was not easy for him.
Qn: Which players made it easy and difficult for you during your tenure?
Ans: Kenny made it hard for me. He was a good player when we played but he struggled with authority. Not just during my tenure. I won't entirely place blame on him. Like I said earlier. We were both young. I needed to grow as a captain as well.
I had people that gave me advice and backed me. But also left me to lead the team. Benjamin Musoke, Frank Nsubuga, Charles Lwanga (RIP) and Joel Olwenyi. Honestly, most of my team made the job fun.
Qn. Share some of the highlights and lowlights of your time as captain and player with the national team.
- My first century in the ICC trophy in Canada.
- Our Intercontinental cup win against Namibia.
- Promotion from Div3 to Div2 in Argentina
-Last game in the Div3 South Africa Ug vs Oman. We got slaughtered with some hard-hitting. The last wicket, Kenny was running in to bowl and I couldn't shake the feeling that I should have given the ball to Asadu who had bowled really well on the day. To this day I wonder whether anything could have been different.
-ICC Division 2 in Ireland. That was my worst tour ever. I had been demoted as captain and I just played some really bad cricket.
Qn. You have also had a wonderful career off the field as well, how did you manage to reach both heights of work and playing cricket?
Ans: Thank you. I can definitely say I took a lot of what I learned on the field into my work. Hard work, resilience, teamwork, passion focus on your strengths. I love what I do. I got some strategic mentors especially Richard Mwami who has walked with me since I started my professional career.
Qn: What do you think Uganda needs to do to at least get ODI status?
-We need to build a pipeline of players. It takes time. We cant have start-stop.
-Focus: keep our eye on the price. Develop -plan that gets us there. And groom a team for that purpose.
-Exposure: to play against the best we will have to get exposed to the best. And often.
-Invest more: there is no short cut. If we want to get to the big league we are going to have to invest more. Whether in facilities or people or coaches. We have to invest more.
Qn: What advice do you give youngsters who want to play cricket seriously?
Ans: There is no elevator to success. It is a staircase. They need to invest in their growth, have to be committed.
Qn. Any regrets playing the gentleman’s game?
Ans: None as a player. The only I have is not spending as much time giving back to the game after I stopped playing. I would like to give back a bit more to the sport. But would want to do that in a sustainable way.
Qn: Finally, your best XI with yourself in it.
I would stick to it.
1. Joel Olwenyi
2. Roger Mukasa
3. Nehal Bibodi
4. Guy Kimbowa Lutaaya
5. Junior Kwebiiha
6. Benjamin Musoke
7. Lawrence Sematimba
8. Simon Nsubuga
9. Kenneth Kamyuka
10. Franco Nsubuga
11. Osinde Henry
Thanks, JK amazing story and I hope it inspires our current generation.