CAC Challenge League B: Uganda's Five By Five, She Takes The Direction Of The > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more

Cricket news - CWC Challenge League B: Uganda's five-from-five takes them to the top

Uganda was led by Brian Masaba

Uganda was led by Brian Masaba

Uganda opened their Cricket World Cup Challenge league campaign with a perfect run through the opening round of Group B in Oman, which concluded today (December 12th). The week-long, six-team event at Al Amerat outside of Muscat (political unrest in Hong Kong having forced a last-minute change of venue) is the first of three such round-robin series that will make up one half of the Challenge League - the lowest of the three tiers of international fifty-over competitions that comprise the ICC's revised World Cup qualification structure. On the other side of the draw, Canada and Singapore shared honours in the first iteration of Group A with four wins apiece, but the "Cricket Cranes" went one better, stringing together five wins from five matches to go top of the table, three points clear of nearest rivals Hong Kong.

Italy too had a decent tournament, having scraped into the competition as bottom seed on the strength of a fourth-place finish at World Cricket League Division 5 in 2017, the Italians knocked over both Kenya and Bermuda and picked up another point in their washed-out game against Hong Kong to finish in third place on five points. Kenya's miserable run of fifty-over form continued, finishing fifth behind Jersey, whilst the beleaguered Bermudans went winless through another tournament, with a washout against Kenya accounting for their only point.

Despite starting the competition seeded third, having finished dead last in the final World Cricket League Division 3 at the same venue in 2018, Uganda were far from underdogs on arrival, coming off the back of a successful warm-up tour to Zimbabwe under the guidance of coach Steve Tikolo, whilst their chief rivals were all in varying degrees of disarray. Their win over Jersey in the tournament opener was underpinned by a solid showing from the Cranes' middle-order, a theme that would continue throughout the tournament. Tournament top-scorer Shahzad Ukani saw Uganda through an early wobble after a double-strike in the tenth by Julius Sumerauer had reduced them to 36-3, hitting the first 47 of his 275 runs in the tournament to set a platform before Dinesh Nakrani's unbeaten 79 from number six lifted them to 248-8, which the bowling unit would defend comfortably - 25 runs the margin in the first of their five wins.

Ukani would again be instrumental in their next match, scoring 60 off 84 as the Cranes chased down 254 against Kenya, his century partnership with Ronak Patel, who top-scored with 86 off 106 balls, setting up Uganda's first win over their West African rivals in List A cricket. Brian Masaba's side would again find themselves on the back foot early against Bermuda, as Kemau Leverock, Tre Manders and Delray Rawlins each struck half-centuries to see Bermuda to 159-2 by the start of the 30th over. But after right-arm seamer Bilal Hassun, who would go on to take ten wickets in the series, removed Rawlins, Bermuda would rapidly collapse - Henry Ssenyondo's left arm spin returning 4-35 as they slumped to 208 all-out. Ukani and Patel would rack up another hefty partnership to see Uganda through the chase, scoring 86 and 72* respectively as they put on 168 for the third wicket, he cranes eventually sauntering home with almost ten overs to spare. Italy likewise found no answer to the Ukani-Patel combination, the pair's third consecutive century partnership providing the bulk of Uganda's 218-run total, before Hassun's 5-27, together with Nakrani's 3-38 ensured the Italians would fall 38 runs short. A showdown in their final match with then-unbeaten top-seeds Hong Kong would prove somewhat anti-climactic, Hassun and newcomer Richard Agmiire dealing early blows as Hong Kong subsided to 147 all-out, before stand-in skipper Arnold Otwani shrugged off the rapid loss of three partners to see his side home, Uganda recovering from 40-4 as Otwani and Nakrani combined for the 5th wicket in an unbroken 110-run stand to see Uganda finish the first round with an unblemished record.

That loss would prove the only defeat of the tournament for the top seeds, and given the young and untested side that Trent Johnston has had to pick owing to the unavailability of at least a half dozen senior players for one reason or another, a strong second in the first round was arguably above expectations for Hong Kong. At the very least there's plenty of positives to be taken from the series, not least the all-round performance of Kinchit Shah, who has grown admirably into his senior role since the departure of skipper Anshuman Rath and the veteran Babar Hayat. Shah's offspin bagged 7 wickets at 16.42 across the tourney, while his 244 runs at an average of 81.33 saw him finish second behind Ukani on the run table. It was his perfectly-constructed, unbeaten 116 in their opening match that saw Hong Kong chase down 292 against Bermuda, and he was again the star in their second match against Jersey, taking 3-35 to help restrict the Channel Islanders to 173 before seeing his side home with an unbeaten 59 from number 4. He would pass fifty for the third time on the tour against Kenya, with skipper Aizaz Khan also notching a half-century after Nasrulla Rana had bagged five wickets in the first innings to set up a three-wicket win in the final match. Though the loss against Uganda, coupled with a wash-out against Italy leaves Hong Kong three points adrift of the top, with two more rounds to come there is time enough to play catch-up, and this youthful Hong Kong side has at least showed the potential to bounce back.

For third-placed Italy the series can likewise be regarded as something of a success, especially given their lack of competitive 50-over cricket leading into the tour. The return of Gareth Berg to national colours for the first time since 2012 made an immediate impact for the Azzuri, the veteran seamer finishing top of the wicket-taking table with 11 scalps at just over 13. Likewise, Nicolai Smith, who plays his cricket for Northern Knights in the Irish Inter-Pros, has proved a valuable addition to the side, especially in the absence of stalwarts Carl Sandri, Damien Crowley and Peter Petricola. Smith's unbeaten century saw Italy to an opening win over Kenya, whilst his figures of 4-44 against Uganda gave the Italians a chance of handing the Cranes what would have been their sole defeat. Italy had also looked in with a shot at upsetting Hong Kong, who had been held to 170-7 with less than five overs remaining when the rare rains came to Al Amerat, and though a comfortable win over the hapless Bermudans in their final match keeps Italy in the hunt, the fragility of the top order, as exposed by Jersey in their 122-run thrashing, will have to be addressed if Italy are to mount a serious challenge.

For Jersey themselves fourth place is an undoubted disappointment, despite two comprehensive wins - Nick Greenwood's century and Jonty Jenner's 88 setting up the aforementioned trouncing of Italy and twin 4-fers from Elliot Miles and Daniel Birrell skittling Bermuda for 110 in their final match - the islanders were unable to recover from a poor start, coming up against Uganda and Hong Kong in their first two games and stumbling to consecutive defeats. There is some heart to be taken from opening bowler Julius Sumerauer's tournament return of 10-200 and a smattering of scores from batsmen besides the middle-order engine of Jonty Jenner and Ben Stevens, most notably Greenwood's knock against Italy and Corey Bisson's unbeaten, counter-attacking 58 against Kenya, but none of the Jersey batting roster managed any sort of consistency, nor an average over 35.

Bisson's knock against Kenya would be eclipsed by an unbeaten century from Rakep Patel which would see his side to their only win of the tour, an innings which would also deny his partner Rushab Patel a ton of his own. The latter Patel would be stranded on 99* as his namesake overtook him in their race to three figures, Rakep leapfrogging Rushab with a six off the final ball of the match. Their partnership of 195 for the fourth wicket would be the highlight of an otherwise forgettable tour for Kenya, otherwise notable mostly for the surprise return of the 46-year-old seamer Lameck Onyango to national colours. Onyango's best figures of 3-52 would come in the first innings of the doomed game against Bermuda, where the rain would eventually deliver Kenya their only other point. At fifth place and fully 7 points adrift of their neighbours Uganda after the first round, Kenya's hopes of challenging for the title are now fanciful indeed, their precipitous, decade-long decline from "permanent" ODI status a few short years ago now leaving them facing very real prospect of crashing out of ICC one-day competition altogether.

Things look still more bleak for Bermuda, who again went home from a tournament winless. The wash-out against Kenya delivered them their only point, and even for a side drawn from a population of barely 60,000 it was a disappointing showing. As at the T20 Qualifier last month there were flashes of the disproportionate talent the island nation habitually produces, most consistently from the belligerent Kamau Leverock at the top of the order who amassed 205 runs across the series at an average of 41 and an implausible strike rate of 168. Tre Manders also had a fine tour with the bat, striking three consecutive half-centuries against Hong Kong, Uganda and Kenya, albeit all in losing causes.

Sussex's Delray Rawlins was the next highest run-getter for Bermuda with 156 at 30, but as much as that is a disappointing return for a much-hyped potential England prospect, Bermuda's principal weakness was predictably in the field, or off it. With none of the bowlers managing more than 4 wickets across the tour, Bermuda's failure to defend 291 against Hong Kong proved a sign of thing to come. Meanwhile, opinions may differ as to whether Onias Bascome's warningless (and in the match context, pointless) mankading of Ben Stevens with Jersey at 75-1 chasing 110 was inexcusable and mean-spirited or profoundly amusing (especially in the light of Bermuda's history of mankading Jerseymen), but another suspension for indiscipline for Deunte Darrell called to mind the off-field problems the team had in Dubai, as indeed did another mid-tournament change of captains.

Whilst Challenge League Group A still looks comparatively open at both ends of the table, Bermuda at least look destined for relegation to the Challenge Playoff, barring a remarkable turnaround on and off the field, whilst Uganda look clear favourites to win through from Group B. With the next Group B tourney scheduled to be held at Kampala in July next year, the frontrunner will have the benefit of home advantage for the next round of matches and even at this early stage look well-placed to claim the solitary World Cup Qualifier Playoff berth.

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