Qualifiers Uganda have been bouncing back and forth between World Cricket League Divisions three and two more or less since the competition began, never failing to win promotion from the former but then invariably suffering relegation from the latter. Conventional wisdom regards WCLd2 as something of a natural ceiling for Ugandan cricket, and certainly their showing at last year's World Cup Qualifier in New Zealand, where they looked entirely out of their depth and failed to register a single win, would seem to bear out that assessment.
Nonetheless Uganda have once again bounced back from the third division - held in Kuala Lumpur in October - notching up four victories in the tournament before losing their rematch with Nepal in the final, and coach Peter Kirsten's side will be looking to establish a new precedent in Windhoek.
All-rounder Roger Mukasa will be the key figure in Uganda's Division Two campaign, as he was in Division Three. Mukasa's contributions with bat or ball were instrumental in each of Uganda's wins in Kuala Lumpur, where his 265 runs at 44.16 and 13 wickets at 9.61 put him at the top of Uganda's run-scoring and wicket-taking tables and earned him player of the tournament - this despite reportedly suffering from Malaria in the latter stages of the competition. The award capped off a phenomenal year for the 25 year-old, whose domestic dominance also saw him named Ugandan Cricketer of the year in April. Yet even if Mukasa maintains this exemplary run of form with bat and ball, Uganda cannot expect him to carry them through a tournament as tough as this.
Uganda will look to Pretoria-born Phillemon Mukobe Selowa, their second -highest run-scorer in Division Three, to provide some stability to the batting. The return of Selowa's former Northerns team-mate Abram Ndhlovu Mutyagaba, who now plays his cricket for KwaZulu-Natal, shores up what looked like a somewhat rickety top-order - and provides at least half an answer to the question of the opening partnership. Mukasa is the obvious other half, though some would argue that his ability to add impetus in the middle order outstrips his value as an opener. Uganda have played him in both positions before, in fact in the WCLd3 final he served admirably in both roles in the same innings.
But Uganda's batting still lacks anyone to reliably play the anchor role, and familiar complaints regarding an unwillingness to rotate the strike or play sensibly against slow bowling are still commonly leveled at most of the line-up. Nonetheless Kirsten will take some comfort from the recent form of Brian Masaba, who struck an assured 57 in a losing cause against Western Province in Cape Town on Friday.
The seam-friendlier wickets expected in Windhoek may also serve to insulate the Ugandan batting order somewhat from their long-standing vulnerability to spin, but is also likely to expose their lack of real quick bowling options. Charles Waiswa, Uganda's lead wicket-taker in New Zealand, is missing from the squad owing to his academic commitments at Kampala International University, and his absence leaves a substantial gap in the fast-bowling department. The return of the Patrick Ochan from Australian exile affords a near like-for-like replacement, but the prodigal Ochan remains the closest thing to a genuine express pace in the Ugandan attack.
The option of opening with his own off-spin, exercised on occasion in Malaysia, is a rather more dubious proposition in the conditions, so skipper Franco Nsubuga will likely look to either Jonathan Sebanja or Deusdedit Muhumuza to partner Ochan with the new ball, though neither is currently in the best of form. The spin section looks a good deal more solid however, with off-spinner Davis Arinaitwe coming off the back of a excellent showing at WCLd3, and Nsubuga's own tournament figures of 11-185 in 50 overs likewise encouraging.
In summary then, Uganda are sending a dangerous, occasionally explosive, but ultimately fragile side to a tournament where they have a historically poor record. Yet whilst it's difficult to argue that Uganda's Cricket Cranes are heading into the tournament as anything other than underdogs, they nonetheless remain, alongside Nepal, one of only two sides going into the tournament on an upward trajectory.
Uganda WCLd2 Fixtures:
17 Jan - Uganda v Nepal (Wanderers Affies)
18 Jan - Namibia v Uganda (Wanderers
19 Jan - Rest/reserve day
20 Jan - Kenya v Uganda (United)
21 Jan - Canada v Uganda (Wanderers Affies)
22 Jan - Rest/reserve day
23 Jan - Netherlands v Uganda (Wanderers)
24 Jan - Final (Wanderers), 3rd v 4th play-off (United), 5th v 6th play-off (Wanderers Affies)
All matches are scheduled to start at 0930 local time