All roads from this weekend lead to Gahanga Cricket Stadium as the country welcomes the region to Kigali for the 2018 ICC T20 Group B qualifiers tournament.
The week-long tournament will be contested by; Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda and hosts Rwanda – squaring-off in a double round-robin format – which will see the top two teams progress to the next round of African qualifiers later this year.
Rivals Kenya and Uganda, arguably the top favorites, face-off in the tournament’s opener today at 10:30am while Rwanda take on Tanzania in the afternoon – starting at 2:50pm.
Without any doubt, Kenya and Uganda are the two teams to watch out for, ranking well ahead of the hosts and their Tanzania counterparts.
Given the unpredictable nature of T20 cricket, Rwanda and Tanzania will endeavor to cause a few upsets over the next one week.
It is also important to note that three out of the four nations are all handled by former Kenyan international cricketers, except Tanzania which is under Indian coach Vispy Mehta.
Martin Suji is leading Rwanda, Steve Tikolo the one-time Kenyan batting titan heads the Cricket Cranes; Maurice Odumbe is coaching the Simba’s of Kenya.
Ahead of the tournament’s kick-off this morning at 10:30am, Saturday Sport’s Jejje Muhinde takes a look at each team in the competition and the chance they stand.
Without a doubt the spotlight will be on the home side, which is making its T20 status debut in front of very ardent enthusiasts as they look to play to the best of their ability.
Since taking over as head coach in March, Suji has ever since drastically transformed the team and is impressed by the prospects made by domestic players over the past three months.
His friendly test against Zambia in the T20 series in May this year was a success. The ex-Kenyan cricketer believes there is talent in Rwanda.
“I was impressed by the talent, commitment and passion shown by the players during our preparations and friendly series against Zambia in May. The team is in good shape,” he explains.
“If that is there then there is always a success” though he warns that “Rwanda will be playing against better-established teams. Uganda for years have been working on their skills and Kenya was recently demoted to the third division.”
Suji previously had a brief stint with the Cricket Cranes of Uganda which ended on low note. He will be seeking to get one over his former employers.
Suji comprehends that their skills are still up there and it will require a lot of work by his side to acquire the standards that other teams have obtained to reach that level, but that said and done, the coach is optimistic the team [Rwanda] is capable.
Eric Hirwa Dusabemungu will lead Rwanda as team captain, his vast experience and leadership will add in more confidence and morale to the home side.
Dusabemungu thinks the home advantage and the support of fans will give them extra gear, warning that, “Regional teams have beaten us in the past, they will be surprised this time.”
Coach Mehta landed in Kigali on Thursday night with a fourteen-man squad that includes; Kassim Nassoro, Salum Jumbe, wicketkeeper Kelvin Nasibu, Khalil Rehemtulla, Ashish Kamania and youngster Aaryan Premji.
Others are; middle-order batsman Riziki Kiseto, Raahil Amarshi, Karsh Ramaiya, top-order batsman Abhik Patwa, Zamoyoni Jabeneke, Muhammad Khan, Jitin Singh and Jatinkumar Darji.
They have not featured much on international scene in the recent, there is some talk that Tanzania might finally do something stunning, but we have heard murmurs before and they have time again come short, having been regular participants at Africa T20 tournaments.
However, don’t get surprised if they surprise the dominant sides in this tournament. All we can wish is the best for coach Mehta and his side.
Tanzania takes on Rwanda in their opening game today before facing Uganda on Sunday and taking on pre-tournament favorites on Monday.
The country’s potential in the sport is well known – at least in the region. The Kenya Simbas ooze class given their experience and exposure on the cricket international scene.
Despite changes in management, the Simbas will be looking forward to rising from the ashes of their implosion. The administration saw an overhaul but players have remained.
Kenya’s national team coach, Maurice Odumbe, has said that he is optimistic his charges will not disappoint in Kigali.
Odumbe says the boys batted well during the team’s tour in Zimbabwe, in June, but the bowlers let them down. That is why he summoned both Elijah Otieno to strengthen that department.
Karan Kaul who missed out of the 14-man squad because he is nursing an injured wrist; was replaced by Dhiren Gondaria who will open the batting with Alex Obanda.
This is Odumbe’s first main assignment with the Sambas since he took over from Thomas Odoyo as head coach. The coach expects his side to make it to the final.
Kenya, boast a wealth of experience in their own squad, with 2003 ICC World Cup surprise package Collins Obuya still twirling his leg-spinners to great effect.
Final squad: Shem Ngoche (captain) Dhiren Gondaria, Alex Obanda, Rakep Patel, Gurdeep Singh, Rushab Patel, Elijah Otieno, Emmanuel Bundi, Nehemiah Odhiambo, Nelson Odhiambo, Pushpaak Kerai, Eugene Ochieng, Collins Obuya and Lucas Oluoch.
Coach Steve Tikolo is using this tournament as a build up for the important Division three tournaments later this year.
The former Kenya national team coach has made only two changes to this 14-man squad that won the 2018 ICC World Cricket League Division Four title in Malaysia two months ago.
Roger Mukasa will lead the team, assisted by Brian Masaba. Fred Achellam and Kenneth Waiswa who were impressive during the Malaysian tour also made the trip to Kigali along with the experienced duo of Ronak Patel and Dinesh Nakrani.
Simon Ssesazi and Derrick Bakunzi did not make the cut to Tikolo’s final squad. The former Kenya international will have to rely on other players such as Riazat Shah and Irfan Afridi.
Kenya and Uganda will meet for the first time in a qualifying tournament since the Cricket Cranes series win in Kampala last year.
Kenya’s first task will be against rivals Uganda in the tournament’s opener – starting at 10:30qm.