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Cricket Cranes: Story of Uganda’s century-old cricket team

The game of cricket in Uganda has been played for a long time, and the national team made its international debut 108 years ago. Many years on, the sport in the East African country, and the national side itself, are still both climbing up the ladder of world cricket. Notable progress has been made over the past few decades. Uganda Cricket Association’s spokesman speaks to us about these strides, and the vision for cricket in the country.



Uganda’s national cricket team has returned home from an important T20 World Cup qualification tournament in Zimbabwe without the big prize, but with a lot of hope for the future, and a lasting impression left on spectators. 

The bat-and-ball game has a long tradition in Uganda, a very proud one.  The entertaining brand of cricket the Ugandans exhibited in Zimbabwe was testament to it. 

Their delegation in Zimbabwe’s second largest city Bulawayo included the very articulate Denis Musali, probably the most appropriate person in Ugandan cricket today to provide insight into the game in the East African country.

35-year-old Musali is a remarkable all-rounder – a former national team player, a self-taught writer and keen blogger. Musali travelled to Zimbabwe as media manager of Uganda, a team nicknamed the Cricket Cranes. They finished fifth out of the eight teams in Bulawayo following a play-off win over Hong Kong, who they beat twice in the tournament. 


The vast majority of Uganda’s best cricketers were taught the game at the country’s top missionary schools, where cricket is a major sport.

Musali, quite a historian of Ugandan cricket, was one of those lucky boys to attend such schools. 

“You won’t find millions of people playing cricket in Uganda, but there is a very small fraternity that has passed down the tradition for many years,” Musali told This Is Africa as Uganda defeated Hong Kong in their first pool match. 

Uganda’s Cosmas Kyewuta bowls against Papua New Guinea in Bulawayo. Pic: KB Mpofu/This Is Africa

“It’s a very small fraternity, but very passionate about the sport. If you didn’t go to the missionary schools, the privileged schools – the church-founded schools, Roman Catholic, Muslim – you probably were less likely to play cricket.”

The Uganda Cricket Association has however structured grassroots training programmes to take the game to as many people as possible countrywide.

“If you don’t do that, there is no pipeline,” commented Musali about the outreach. “The plan is to set up community development offices. It is to help us galvanise communities, to help us rally communities. The response has been good, we are pleased with the interest cricket is getting. We are starting with the simpler form of cricket to make people pick up the game, before the difficult part.”


This will nurture future Uganda international cricketers from a more diversified selection base. For now, the national side is a mixture of indigenous Ugandans from the historical conveyor belt, and Asian citizens of the country. 

“We have a big Asian community, they are a big part of the system in the local league,” said Musali.

“We have 22 teams in the league, 11 are Asian teams. They play Sunday league. The guys in the national team are part of the league.”

Just like with rugby, cricket matches – particular of an international flavour – are big social events in Uganda with good crowds attending and just having a jolly good time with friends.

Bob Ndimwibo, the only Ugandan fan who travelled with the team to Bulawayo, cheers on the Cricket Cranes against Hong Kong in the two teams’ tournament opener. Pic: KB Mpofu/ This Is Africa

Earlier this year, Uganda hosted a six-nation tournament in Kampala, the Cricket World Cup Challenge League B, which registered record attendances for any cricket event in the country, daresay even on the continent.

This doesn’t surprise Musali at all: turning out in large numbers for sporting activities is a favourite pastime of Ugandans, and a huge boost for cricket’s growth. 


“It means a lot for people, even those not familiar with cricket,” remarked Musali. “Ugandans always rally behind a Ugandan cause. It’s about the experience, a good time. Ugandans love to party. As long as there is vibe. We’ve learnt from the ‘Football Cranes’ (Uganda national football team). It’s about the experience. Other sports are also now trying to leverage on the lifestyle of Ugandans. If you put cricket on a Monday, people will not turn up. If you put cricket on a Saturday or Sunday, people will come to have a good time – beer, meat.”

Uganda’s national team, which first played an international match in 1914, against East Africa Protectorate, has unfortunately once again failed to reach its first World Cup in cricket. But there are signs of improvement each time they play.

“The team is making good progress,” said Musali. “But there is now pressure on the other areas like development, funding. Good things are happening but we need the other things as well. In 10 years we have to be an ODI (One-Day International) nation. (Uganda has been an Associate member of the International Cricket Council since 1998). We have to expose a lot of players as possible to good quality cricket and have to play lots of games at home.”

Musali was schooled at Busoga College Mwiri, also the alma mater of Uganda’s first Prime Minister, Milton Obote. The school, located in Jinja, plays cricket at a highly competitive level. Musali then graduated with a degree in Economics from the famous Makerere University, something he is immensely proud of. 

A wicketkeeper-batsman, Musali had a short international career with Uganda. One of the highlights of his playing days, though, was being a member of Uganda’s team at the 2004 Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh.


Denis Musali (file photo) on assignment for the Uganda Cricket Association in 2019. Pic: Denis Musali/ Facebook

His media work these days gives him the opportunity, post-playing, to stay involved with the game. Musali is the Ugandan cricket board’s digital communications manager.

“I’m fortunate to earn a living around things I love, cricket and writing,” he said.

Uganda definitely has the potential to be a force to reckon with in international cricket, certainly if they keep tapping into the knowledge of some of the best brains in the game, from the more established cricketing nations.

South African Laurence Mahatlane has been Uganda’s national team coach since 2020, with a huge chunk of the Cricket Cranes’ recent successes credited to the 46-year-old. 

Mahatlane has previously coached against Ugandan opposition when he was in charge of South Africa’s Under-19 team, so he knows well the kind of cricketers the East Africans are.

“I think he connected to the style he saw in us,” commented Musali. “He is trying to make us a good global team, which he has achieved so far. It means a lot. He understands where black players come from. Being not from a very privileged background himself, he relates and always try to make them better cricketers. It’s a good thing to have him around our set-up.”


It’s a functioning African connection, bringing together south and east. 

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