Sixteen years after the first ball was bowled at Kicukiro Cricket Oval, one can comfortably say the ‘gentleman’s game’ has finally arrived in Rwanda.
This is not only justifiable by the 14 clubs wielding willows and swinging balls todate but also by the current historic happenings 20 kilometers out of the city centre in Gahanga.
The nation and the cricket fraternity at large harbours a field of dreams with a social amenity - Gahanga International Cricket Stadium - that will be ready for play in October, 2017 in the offing.
But first things first, Telugu Royals Cricket Club and White Clouds ruled the roost on the local scene in their respective men and women’s categories, in 2016.
Telugu touch supremacy
Over the years, Telugu Royals have been bridesmaids in national competitions.
To say they have been struggling to keep afloat is an understatement. But this year they came out of their shells with a bang and easily took the gong for the Team of the Year after winning two of the three titles at stake this year.
They outsmarted Rwanda Cricket Association (RCA) Development Team by five wickets to lift the Computer Point T20 Cup in August.
Yogesh Kulkarni put the brakes on the Development side’s charge with two wickets to restrict them to 129 and then Rishi Arya (41 off 28) hit the living daylights out of the young attack to sail across the line with five wickets in hands and eight balls to spare.
The Royals completed the perfect pair of diadems by scooping the UAExchange National 50-Over League on December 11. After going down to RCA Development XI by seven wickets in the pool phase, Telugu got their act together to dispatch Kerala Hunters by 62 runs to scrape through to the semifinals.
It was business as usual for the in-form side as they rode their luck to overcome Challengers by 20 runs. Captain Srinath Vardhineni snared four scalps and Ugandan-import Daniel Ruyange chipped in with three wickets as Telugu folded for just 109 in 32.2 overs.
But as Challengers were readying themselves to pop the champagne with a slot in the final within their midst, a trio act from Telugu had different ideas.
Lively paceman Ivan Mitali (4/36), Eric Ndangamyambi (3/10) and Kulkarni (2/25) ripped the hearts out of Challengers’ batting line-up to leave them at sea in 21 overs with the scoreboard reading an abysmal 89 all out.
The final was one-way traffic as the Royals strolled home with a 59-run triumph thanks to steady knock from Arya (68 off 97) who helped his side set 159.
White Clouds in heaven
If Telugu Royals deserve all the praise this season, then White Clouds Ladies Cricket Club can equally be mentioned in the same breath.
From a growing pack that includes Charity, She Guards, Fawe Girls and Queens of Victory, White Clouds read from Telugu’s script to win two of the three national tournaments on the calendar.
Like the men’s champions, they started off the season on a wrong note losing to Charity by four runs in an action-packed final of the V.R Naidu T20 Cup at Kicukiro in May.
Cathia Uwamahoro was the difference doing damage with both bat and ball. She scored a 35-ball 28 and then snared three wickets for 10 runs as the underdogs Charity made it their day.
But trust the character of a true champion. Charity showed their ‘bouncebackability’ to take home the Computer Point Women’s T20 Cup and UAExchange 20-Over National Ladies League.
Immaculate Muhawenimana (4 wickets), wicket-keeper Vestine Byukusenge (34) and opener Egidia Uwimana (30) were the architects as White Clouds obliterated Queens VCC by 9 wickets in the Computer Point tournament.
Then the combo of Betty Mukunzi (2 for 14 in 3 overs and 7*) and Flora Irakoze (17) rose to the occasion in the UAExchange final for a six-wicket win over Charity.
Such was their dominance, even the hardnosed pundit will concur that they’re the ladies Team of the Year.
Man of the Year
Is there anyone in doubt? Or does he even need an introduction? From his role as being the face of the game in Rwanda to putting up his hand for a noble cause to help Rwanda build a new home for the gentleman’s game, “Captain Fantastic” Eric Dusingizimana easily strolls to the podium for this award.
He has led from the front: from opening the batting for his mother country and spearheaded the project to nurture new talent from the grassroots over the years.
But nothing surpasses his tremendous act to put his hand up to start the monstrous campaign, alongside Alby Shale, to solicit funds to complete a state-of-the-art international cricket stadium in Gahanga.
Dusingizimana batted out 51 hours to enter the Guinness World Book of Records as the man to have played out the longest nets sessions at Amahoro Indoor Stadium starting out on July 11 and ended the mammoth innings on July13.
High caliber personalities like former British Premier Tony Blair, Sports and Culture Minister Juliette Uwacu and Miss Rwanda Jolly Mutesi sending down a couple of deliveries to the gentle giant.
Work in Gahanga has taken shape and a world class facility that will not only empower Rwandans but also improve the livelihoods of its natives will be open to the world in October.
RCA coming good
At the turn of the year, the association held its first ever Annual Awards Gala on December 17 at Kigali Golf Club, Nyarutarama on a black tie night that was graced by top honchos in the region and Abagurusi (elite veterans) from Uganda.
Eric Niyomugabo and Immaculate Muhawenimana were crowned Male and Female Cricketers of the Year whereas veteran Ugandan coach William Kamanyi notched the Lifetime Achievement Award for having been the first tutor of the game in Rwanda.
Also, International Cricket Council (ICC), during its development awards, gave the gong of 2015 Image of the Year to RCA, which was duly picked by President Charles Haba.
RCA will have a new team join the men’s fray in Vikings. That will make it 15 clubs (nine men and five women) for the new season that will also see teams don coloured jerseys and play the white ball for the first time in eons.
Hope springs eternal for the New Year.