A Cricket fairytale still being written

The inauguration of the Gahanga Cricket Stadium (GCS) on October 28, 2017 by President Paul Kagame was rightfully acknowledged by all and sundry as the new dawn of Rwanda Cricket.

Amidst all the excitement in the gaze of the world’s media, some of us in the kitchen of Rwanda Cricket pondered the future with sweaty brows.

Like students awaiting their final exam, we wondered if we could live up to everyone’s lofty expectations. It’s been 15 short months since that epoch.

Dear readers, the grades are in and here is the report card; you can be the judges.

November was deservedly a fallow month owing to the hectic schedule leading up to the inauguration.

Cricketing activities resumed in earnest on December 9, 2017 with Abakambwe Cricket Club (elders of Rwanda Cricket) hosting their counterparts from the region, the Abagurusi Cricket Club. A budding and healthy sporting rivalry has emerged between the neighbours since the first series was played in 2011. Scores stand almost evenly split at 5-4 with each side claiming to be one ahead!

I will leave the final decision on that to the East African Court for Arbitration.

The year 2018 began with promise and the vigour of youth and was appropriately kicked off with the U19 boys’ trials for a spot on the team to represent Rwanda at the World Cup qualifiers that were due to take place later in August in South Africa.

Over 60 hopeful lads turned up and were whittled down to only 24 to undertake a 6 month’s training program that would culminate in the selection of a final team of 14 players.

Feb 1st is heroes’ day and a public holiday in Rwanda.

“Discover the Cricket Hero in You!” was the theme of the day as Gahanga Cricket Stadium opened its gates to the general public to have a go at this new phenomenon that is the game of cricket in Rwanda.

Golfers were putting their natural swing to good use, footballers making mazy runs on the outfield and children just loving the whole idea of being outdoors and not stuck in front of a TV screen.

Later in the same month, GCS played host to a jolly bunch of itinerant cyclists from Cambridge in the UK. What is in a name? Well in this case everything, apparently!

The members of the Cambridge to Casablanca Cycling Cricket Club (CtCCCC) share a love for cycling, travel and cricket all rolled up into one! I didn’t see them cycle but if their cricket is a yardstick, it is safe to say their true passion is travel and I truly believe they enjoyed Rwanda as much as we did enjoy hosting them.

March and April zoomed past as the local cricket clubs involved in the domestic competitions enjoyed the world class playing facility that is Gahanga Cricket Stadium with a short interlude of the Memorial week that commemorates the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

The demise of over a million Rwandans in the 100 darkest days of our history is a harsh reminder of how far we have come from. May their innocent souls rest in eternal peace!

May 1 is Labour Day, a global public holiday.                                   

This time round Rwanda Cricket Association (RCA) invited Miss Rwanda 2018 and her fellow contestants in the Miss Rwanda Pageant to join cricket lovers and the general public to promote the game and show that it is as much a game for women and girls as it is for men.

The beautiful sunny day was graced by working mothers, school teachers, music artists and Rwandans from all walks of life. The attendance was recorded at between 1200 to 1500 people.

The month of June has been designated by the Rwandan sports fraternity as the time to hold annual Genocide Memorial Tournaments and Rwanda Cricket Association is fully on board. We hold an international women’s T20 tournament every year code named KWIBUKA T20: Cricket for Peace.

In June 2018, RCA hosted the 5th edition of this tournament with participating teams from Uganda and Kenya. The underlying goal is to use sports as a bridge to build healthy relations with our neighbours and other African nations to guarantee peaceful co-existence and respect for each other’s human rights.

When GCS was inaugurated in 2017, it was informally christened the “Lord’s of East Africa” by the world media. This was their way of paying homage to its iconic status in the game within the East Africa region.

By drawing parallels to the home of English Cricket (Lord’s Cricket Ground in London), they captured the perceived importance of the new ground. This high regard for GCS would be misplaced if it was unable to host any International Cricket Council (ICC) tournaments. A modest target had been set to do so within 3 years of its opening.

Nonetheless, in late 2017 the RCA had ambitiously applied to host the Men’s T20 World Cup qualifiers for the East Africa Region. The world belongs to those who dare to dream and dream we did.

The ICC was impressed with this plucky ambition.

RCA’s youthful stature in world cricket notwithstanding, we were awarded the hosting rights for the July 2018 regional cricket marquee event! The easy part was receiving the good news; no one in Rwanda had any idea how much work would have to go into organizing a tournament of that magnitude.

When the month of July eventually came and the teams from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania descended on Kigali, it was a cocktail of excitement, nerves and frenetic activity.

Like a tsunami, it was a short bust of high energy and it was all over in a matter of 10 days!

In the months after the world cup qualifier tournament there was a lot of back patting and sharing anecdotes on what a fantastic first year it had been for GCS. There was genuine contemplation on how difficult it would be to top the events of 2018.

Amidst the concern, RCA did not stop working though. School tournaments were played, U19 boys and girls teams travelled in the region and beyond to compete, match officials and coaches were also trained.

It is said that when it rains, it pours! In December 2018, invitations were made for ICC members to apply to host the World Cup Trophy as it made a tour around the world leading up to the July 2019 tournament in London, UK.

Dutifully, Rwanda Cricket Association submitted yet another ambitious bid.

As the world warmed up to the New Year 2019, RCA and Rwandans in general had a special reason to celebrate; Rwanda had been chosen among only 4 other African countries to host the World Cup trophy!

And here we are, just days away from hosting the biggest trophy in world cricket!

February 8th to 10th 2019 will go down as yet another shining milestone on the fairytale journey of the game of cricket in Rwanda.

A happy 2019 to you all! See you soon at gahanga cricket stadium!

The writer is the President, Rwanda Cricket Association.