Dubai: Making their first appearance the Twenty20 World Cup cricket qualifying tournament, Uganda are hoping to prove there is more to cricket in Africa than South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The 10th-seeded Ugandans are joined by Kenya and Namibia in the 16-team tournament starting Tuesday. The African teams are likely to face a tough road against the likes of top-seeded Afghanistan, who won in 2010, and second-seeded Ireland the 2010 runner up.
Still, the faster format gives the African teams hope as they attempt to reach the finals and earn a place in the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka from Sept. 18 to Oct. 7.
"Cricket is being played not just in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Other African countries are picking up the game up and think they can excel and go to the World Cup," Uganda captain Davis Arinaitwe told The Associated Press.
"The guys feel this is a good opportunity for us and it's a chance for us to get into the World Cup."
Kenya captain Collins Obuya agreed.
"Cricket is improving. That is for sure," said Obuya, who has played 12 years for the national team including three World Cups.
"You can see our neighboring countries like Uganda, Tanzania now coming up and Namibia are becoming very competitive. If we can go to the World Cup — maybe two African teams — it will really boost Africa as a whole."
The fortunes of the two sides couldn't be more different as they come into the tournament. Kenya are almost in a rebuilding phase after a steady decline since they reached the 2003 World Cup semifinals. Uganda, in contrast, are the rising star of African cricket and remain relaxed and upbeat about their chances.
"We are not here just to make up the numbers," Arinaitwe said of his team, whose high point until now was reaching two under-19 World Cups.
"We believe we have a good unit. We have small guys with extremely huge hearts who will go and perform for the 34 million Ugandans back home."
Obuya's team may not have the underdog tag of a Uganda, but the allrounder clearly recognizes what a World Cup appearance would mean for his beleaguered side. It is in desperate need of a good result after losing every match in the 2011 tournament and falling to last in the ICC one-day rankings.
"If we can qualify for the World Cup, it will really boost the development of (cricket in) Kenya," Obuya said. "It means a lot for the team and will make the guys in Kenya really, really happy."
Namibia, led by new captain and top-order batsmen Sarel Burger, are talking up their chances of returning to the world stage after appearing in the 2003 World Cup. Burger said reaching Sri Lanka would be like a "dream come true" after his team qualified to play here by finishing runner-up to Uganda in African tournament.
"We have got a very settled and mature side which has been coming together for the last couple of years," Burger said. "There are a couple of exciting big hitters in the side to watch as well as a lot of skilled bowlers that can do the job with the ball."
But the chances of an African side reaching the final are slim given the way Afghanistan, Ireland and the Netherlands have been playing. All three are bringing back squads filled with veterans who helped them all reach the final four in 2010.