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KENYA, RWANDA MARCH INTO NEXT STAGE OF AFRICA QUALIFIERS, EIGHT MORE TEAMS JOSTLE FOR REMAINING TWO SPOTS

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Rwanda has been a beehive of activity over the last month with no less than 15 teams storming the land of a thousand hills with belief that they can snatch of the four spots up for grabs to the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Africa Qualifier in 2023.

With the journey clearer than ever before, the first event – the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Sub Regional Africa A Qualifier – that concluded last week in Kigali produced two winners of contrasting fortunes.

Rwanda, Kenya rise highest

Hosts Rwanda threw a spanner in the works right from the start, stunning higher ranked teams along the way, whereas a resurgent Kenya rose from the ruins of two No Results in their opening two fixtures to seal passage to the next stage that will be held in Windhoek, Namibia at the end of 2023.

Kenya, who won their final match against the Seychelles on November 25, a seven-wicket victory courtesy of DLS Method in a rain-shortened 17-over affair topped the group for the week, while Rwanda’s five wins from six games were enough to see them continue their spirited rise in the African ranks.

Led by inspirational Kenyan coach Martin Suji, Rwanda bagged two victories on Thursday, November 24 to seal their place in the qualifier.

Though their final match on Friday, November 25 was abandoned with them in a strong position.

They only needed a point to secure qualification, and they were on a course for a victory before the weather intervened.

Having started the competition seeded 71st, Rwanda were the biggest movers ascending to 65th in the global rankings.

For Kenya, they were at their clinical best in their final match as they restricted Seychelles to 94 for 8 in 20 overs, with Mazharul Islam notching a half-century at the top of the order.

Peter Langat’s tidy spell of three for 14 was well supported by Lucas Ndandason (two for 15) and Shem Ngoche (two for 19).

Kenya’s innings was reduced to 17 overs due to afternoon showers at Gahanga, but the target was no issue.

Pushkar Kumar (33 from 23 balls) gave them a positive start, before Rushabhvardhan Patel (20 not out) applied the finishing touches, with 19 balls to spare.

Tournament highlights

The last day’s morning action saw Vinoo Balakrishnan of Botswana score the only century of the week, as he helped his side notch 165 for two against St Helena.

His runs came off 70 balls, with five sixes. He got support from Reginald Nehonde, who added a run a ball 45 not out.

Brett Isaac’s 35 was the only notable contribution in the chase, as the tournament’s leading wicket taker Dhruvkumar Maisuria, 14 wickets, took four for 25 to seal a 59-run victory.

Meanwhile, Malawi did all they could to keep the pressure on Rwanda. A win for Malawi and a loss for the hosts on Friday would have seen Malawi qualify.

They did all they could, as they smashed Lesotho by 118 runs. Sami Sohail’s excellent week in Kigali was capped with a sparkling 94 not out, from just 60 balls, as his side amassed 185 for two.

Sohail deservedly scooped the Player of the Tournament gong with 241 runs at an average of 120 and strike rate of 150, nine wickets at an economy of 6.11 and three fielding dismissals for a haul of 1,212 points, 419 more than his closest rival Collins Omondi Obuya of Kenya (793).

Obuya’s consolation was his 205 runs at an average of 102 from five innings saw him share the Best Batsman’s accolade with fellow legend Rwandan Eric Dusingizimana who garnered 237 runs from seven innings at a strike rate of 122 and average of 47 per outing.

In reply, Lesotho was bowled out for 67, with Daniel Jakiel snaring career best figures of five for 11, a feat attained by a sextet of other bowlers including Kenya’s opening bowler Peter Langat Koech (6 for 17 vs Mali), St Helena’s medium pacer Andrew David Yon  (5/10 vs Lesotho), Botswana leg break bowler Dhruv Maisuria (5/30 vs Lesotho), Rwandan pacer Martin Akayezu (4/16 vs Botswana), Rwanda’s off spinner Kevin Irakoze (3/4 vs Mali) and South Africa-based Rwandan offspinner Emmanuel Sebareme (3/11 vs Mali).

It was fitting that Maisuria with 14 scalps shared the Best Bowler’s diadem with Sebareme (11 wickets), who held things tight for Rwanda upfront and cashed in with wickets at the end to help the hosts book an air-ticket to Windhoek.

Local batting sensation Orchide Tuyisenge was adjudged Best Fielder with 11 fielding dismissals comprising seven catches, two direct hits and indirect run outs.

Another exciting week on the cards

Kigali will continue to play host with the refurbished Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centre (IPRC) in Kicukiro District and Gahanga Cricket Stadium – the Home of Cricket in Rwanda ready to for a total of 28 matches for the eight African teams that must do the business and take the two remaining spots at stake.

Tanzania, at 31, and Nigeria, seeded 43 in the world, according to the latest ICC rankings, are the ‘big boys’ and forthwith favourites to steer through from this Sub Regional Africa B Qualifier.

But besides hoping the rain doesn’t play spoilsport, they must be wary of a much-improved Ghana side whose ‘golden generation’ will be itching to deliver as well as the duo of Sierra Leone and Mozambique, who are potential banana skins.

Ghana are ranked 54th and in captain Obed Harvey they have a cool-headed leader who will draw inspiration from Rwanda’s fairytale journey last week and look to turn the tables on the fancied sides.

In the tournament opener today, Tanzania battle Sierra Leone at Gahanga while Eswatini take on Ghana at IPRC. In the afternoon Nigeria face Mozambique while Eswatini will go up against Gambia in their second match of the day.

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