In Uganda,Africa sees news hope

Debuting at the T20 World Cup qualifiers,the underdogs are upbeat about their chances

Written by Associated Press | Dubai | Published: March 13, 2012 2:48 am

Making its first appearance in the Twenty20 World Cup cricket qualifying tournament,Uganda is hoping to prove there is more to cricket in Africa than South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The 10th-seeded Ugandans are joined by Kenya and Namibia in the 16-team tournament starting Tuesday. The African teams are likely to face a tough task against the likes of top-seeded Afghanistan,which won in 2010,and second-seeded Ireland the 2010 runner up.

Still,the faster format gives the African teams hope as they attempt to reach the finals and earn a place in the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka from September 18 to October 7.

“Cricket is being played not just in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Other African countries are picking the game up and think they can excel and go to the World Cup,” Uganda captain Davis Arinaitwe said. “The guys feel this is a good opportunity for us and it’s a chance for us to get into the World Cup.” Kenya captain Collins Obuya agreed.

“Cricket is improving. That is for sure,” said Obuya,who has played for the national team for 12 years including three World Cups. “You can see our neighboring countries like Uganda,Tanzania now coming up and Namibia is becoming very competitive. If we can go to the World Cup,maybe two African teams,it will really boost Africa as a whole.”

The fortunes of the two sides couldn’t be more different as they come into the tournament. Kenya is in a rebuilding phase after a steady decline since it reached the 2003 World Cup semifinals. Uganda,in contrast,is the rising star of African cricket and remains relaxed and upbeat about its chances.

“We are not here just to make up the numbers,” Arinaitwe said of his team,whose high point until now was reaching two under-19 World Cups. “We believe we have a good unit. We have small guys with extremely huge hearts who will go and perform for the 34 million Ugandans back home.”

Obuya’s team may not have the underdog tag of a Uganda,but the allrounder clearly recognizes what a World Cup appearance would mean for his beleaguered side. It is in desperate need of a good result after losing every match in the 2011 tournament and falling to last in the ICC one-day rankings. “If we can qualify for the World Cup,it will really boost the development of (cricket in) Kenya,” Obuya said. “It means a lot for the team and will make the guys in Kenya really,really happy.”

Namibia,led by new captain and top-order batsmen Sarel Burger,is talking up its chances of returning to the world stage after appearing in the 2003 World Cup. Burger said reaching Sri Lanka would be like a “dream come true” after his team qualified to play here by finishing runner-up to Uganda in the African tournament.

“We have got a very settled and mature side which has been coming together for the last couple of years,” Burger said. “There are a couple of exciting big hitters in the side to watch as well as a lot of skilled bowlers that can do the job with the ball.”

But the chances of an African side reaching the final are slim given the way Afghanistan,Ireland and the Netherlands have been playing. All three are bringing back squads filled with veterans who helped them all reach the final four in 2010.

Made up of war refugees who learned the game from watching the likes of Pakistan,India and South Africa,the South Asian nation of Afghanistan has gone from an ICC World Cricket League Division 5 nation in 2008 to one that earlier this year played its first ODI against a test-playing country in Pakistan.

Afghan captain Nawroz Mangal said he is optimistic about the team’s chances after it brought back former Pakistan bowler Kabir Khan as coach,and fielded a lineup that features fast bowlers Hamid Hassan,Dowlat Zadran and Zamir Khan in the squad. Anything but a defense of its title would be a disappointment.

Ireland is a much more experienced side from the one that knocked out Bangladesh in 2009 to reach the Super 8 stage of the tournament,but failed to advance beyond the group stages in 2010. It is returning several players from the 2010 squad including Kevin O’Brien,who matched the quickest World Cup century last year in a stunning defeat of England.

The Netherlands,which narrowly missed out on the 2010 World Cup when it lost to Ireland in the qualifying semifinals,has said nothing short of winning the tournament will do this time around.

“I believe we now have a side capable of doing that,” Netherlands captain Peter Borren said. “In the past,maybe we didn’t quite have that belief but this is a new team and I think other sides will be surprised to see by our improvement.”

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