Brotherly love for T20 World Cup debutants Uganda

Roger Mukasa on the left and Frank Nsubuga on the right in their Uganda cricket shirts, one holding a bat and one a ball
Brothers Roger Mukasa (left) and Frank Nsubuga (right) are playing together in Uganda's T20 World Cup debut [Getty Images]

History is full of famous sibling rivalries, but when it comes to cricket it seems the famed spirit of the game affords younger brothers some element of protection.

At least this is the case for Frank Nsubuga and Roger Mukasa, who are both representing Uganda in the country’s debut at the T20 World Cup.

“I cannot bowl a bouncer at him because I don’t want to kill my young brother,” said a laughing Nsubuga when speaking to BBC Sport Africa.

Part of that is explained by the all-rounder specialising in right-arm spin, but also wanting to nurture Mukasa’s talents.

“He was hitting the ball well. I thought that if he was older, the sky would be the limit,” Nsubuga recalls of their practice sessions growing up in Lugogo, an area in the east of the capital Kampala.

“I wanted to challenge both my brothers and that’s why I wanted to do everything - wicketkeeping, bowling and batting,” added Mukasa, 35, during a joint interview.

“I wanted to be like them.”

Another brother, Lawrence Sematimba, also played international cricket as a wicketkeeper for the East African nation, and is now coach of Uganda’s women’s team.

Dedication to their craft has taken Nsubuga and Mukasa, predominantly now a batter, all the way to Uganda’s first ever appearance at a global tournament.

Nsubuga, 43, has been playing competitive cricket for almost three decades, having started in 1997, and is the oldest player at this year’s T20 World Cup in the West Indies and United States.

He keeps himself in shape by running 8km (4.97 miles) every morning and, along with Pakistan’s Shoaib Malik and West Indies legend Chris Gayle, is one of few active players who have played competitively across four decades.

“I thought he would be retired by the time Uganda played in a World Cup,” Mukasa said.

“He is still pushing and is the most fit guy on the ground. It feels nice to play with a person who gave me some knowledge when I was growing up.

“We are representing the name of the Mukasa family. We are serving our country and want to leave a legacy in Ugandan sports.

“Maybe in future we can get our own ground, the Mukasa family ground. It will be nice for the family to be remembered by the country.”

Sibling rivalry

Frank Nsubuga celebrates with teammates after a successful DRS review to dismiss Hiri Hiri of Papua New Guinea LBW during the ICC Men's T20 Cricket World Cup West Indies & USA 2024 match between Papua New Guinea and Uganda at Providence Stadium on June 05, 2024 in Georgetown, Guyana
Nsubuga (centre) bowled the most economical four overs in T20 World Cup history against Papua New Guinea - with his two wickets costing only four runs [Getty Images]

In a country where football reigns supreme, cricket remains a minority sport in Uganda.

It meant that like many others, cricket was not the first port of call for the brothers growing up.

“All three brothers, we played tennis, hockey, badminton, table tennis, volleyball, football,” Nsubuga revealed. “We learned cricket last.”

But developing a love of the game always seemed likely as their parents were involved in serving food and drink at the local club.

“We used to enjoy ourselves playing as three brothers,” said Nsubuga, remembering games in the back yard.

“That’s how we came to fall in love with cricket, and cricket has been my life. Cricket has given us whatever we have.”

Showing a lack of respect for the family hierarchy, Mukasa never hesitated to bat aggressively against his older brother.

“I remember there was a game where he hit me (for a lot of runs),” Nsubuga said. “It was amazing seeing him hit the cricket ball like that.”

“If I am batting against him, it’s as though it’s a war,” Mukasa picks up the story.

The pair may have disagreements about matters on the field – but leave their differences at the boundary rope.

“We have wrangles sometimes like when he bowls badly or I bat badly,” Mukasa said.

“We don’t take it personally because we want to perform for the team. We leave it there after the game and it’s gone.“

Taking on the world together

Uganda were the surprise package in African qualification, finishing second to Namibia in the final tournament to earn their place at the ongoing World Cup.

An associate member of the International Cricket Council, Uganda offer contracts to their players, who are mostly semi-professionals.

A memorable five-wicket win over Zimbabwe - their first victory over a Test-playing nation - was among the highlights of their qualifying campaign.

“We want to leave a mark on this World Cup,” Nsubuga said before their campaign began.

“We are underdogs but we want to enjoy our moment and our cricket.”

However, the Cricket Cranes, ranked 22nd in the world, initially found the step up to tournament cricket challenging.

They opened with a crushing 125-run defeat at the hands of Afghanistan as the East Africans were all out for 58, with Mukasa falling for a golden duck.

But then came a piece of history as Uganda beat Papua New Guinea by three wickets on Thursday in Guyana.

Nsubuga was instrumental in dismissing the islanders for 77, bowling the most economical four overs in T20 World Cup history - with his two wickets costing only four runs.

With games against two-time champions the West Indies and New Zealand to come, Uganda still have hope of reaching the Super 8 stage.

Even if they do head home early, the two brothers will have shared an experience they could only have dreamed of during their sessions in the nets growing up in Lugogo, while also writing their names into Ugandan cricket history.