WP_20130217_015Freddie Wilde, volunteering with Cricket Without Boundaries is given a rare insight into the bizarre and fascinating world of associate-nation cricket.

It is just six days before Uganda host the 50-over African Pepsi Cup and on a golden Sunday evening, the Lugogo National cricket stadium is alive with activity.

In the middle of the playing field a groundsman is attentively hosing the square, whilst another is driving a heavy roller towards one of the few wickets. At one end of the stadium a group of men are beginning to paint blue Pepsi branding onto the large perimeter walls that enclose the ground. Meanwhile, opposite to them, another group of men are organizing the scoreboard numbers. Some of them are smoking and drinking; clearly enjoying themselves as their piles of numbers increase and the shadows lengthen across the busy ground.

The general hub of activity is droned out by a pair of men who are hoisted up a large metal frame preparing advertising for the imminent tournament. Their chainsaws cut deep and loud into the metal, bright orange sparks shower the ground below. This is a peculiar blend of construction-site, yet national cricket ground, which plays host to an international tournament in less than a week!

There seems to be something going on at every turn, and in front of the large, semi-reconstructed pavilion, a pair of Cricket Without Boundaries officials are being interviewed by local TV station NTV.

On-pitch preparations are also occurring, as five members of the men’s national team, who will be competing on Saturday, gently jog around the ground. Meanwhile, whilst the current generation are honing their fitness the next generation is being forged. The organized chaos of the ground is dominated by hoards of children. The youngest must be about five or six, the eldest in their final teenage years. Cricket balls, tennis balls, and more tennis balls are being hit, bowled, caught and thrown in every direction – the pop-up games and drills are being played in and out of Saturday’s preparations. There are no elder coaches, this isn’t a training session or an organized drill, it’s merely children having fun on a Sunday afternoon.

A diving one-handed catch, of the type Jonty Rhodes would be proud of is taken by a boy who cannot be more than ten years old. A textbook, Kallis-esque cover drive is smoked across the outfield by another child, whilst a seven year old sends a fifteen year olds middle stump flying backwards. Granted, these kids are a select group of some of the most talented young cricketers in Uganda, but they’d be putting some Men’s First XI cricketers to shame. They really are that good. One boy, who cannot be older than ten, points and shouts a few instructions at his peers, thirty seconds later the group have formed an orderly line and are running a catching drill.

In the mean time, under some trees at the boundaries edge, there is a larger group, not of boys, but of men and women. A barbeque is roaring away and plates of meat and crates of beer lie around a set of plastic tables and chairs. It turns out that this group of people are in fact the power-people of Ugandan cricket. The Chairman of the board is there, the CEO too, as well as coaches, captains, a hoard of players, both female and male, and their wives, husbands, girlfriends and boyfriends too. The players and administrators joke together, whilst telling tales and just simply talking cricket, only occasionally interrupted by a ball struck by one of the many kids playing just a stone’s throw behind them.

The Chairman & CEO of cricket Uganda talk casually and openly about sincere and formal issues such ICC funding cuts, division promotion and national aspirations whilst holding a beer in one hand and a hunk of pork in the other. It’s hard to imagine BCCI President N Srinivasan, Indian captain MS Dhoni and the rest of the board and players enjoying a barbeque on the outfield of Eden Gardens stadium in Kolkata!

This extraordinary blend of grass-roots cricket and national cricketing power is both bizarre and heart-warming. Looking around the Lugogo cricket ground it appears to be everything that all good cricket clubs should be. This is jovial, yet serious; fun, but technical; carefree yet important. There are mixed genders, mixed ages, and an undeniable love for the game of cricket. This is cricket at international level being displayed in its purest and simplest form.

The Volunteers first assignment has been coaching both teachers and children at Ndejje School, about two hours drive outside Kampala. A Blog post on this trip will be posted tomorrow.