St Helena’s cricketers still have one of the big challenges to face in their debut tournament this week in South Africa.
They can take confidence from their three victories and one exquisitely close defeat so far, but today (Saturday) they take to the crease against the defending champions, Rwanda – who went into the contest “expecting a good scrap”.
Rwanda claimed the title last year by beating the Seychelles – the team that fought St Helena to a tantalising 128-run draw on Thursday, but then scored highest in a deciding “super over”.
But there is every reason for optimism on the basis of Rwanda’s results at Benoni this year.
They secured a strong victory against Cameroon, but so did the islanders.
Yesterday they lost to tournament favourites Zambia by eight wickets – a far greater margin than St Helena experienced against the same team.
But Rwanda was beaten by Gambia – who were themselves beaten by St Helena yesterday. Both matches ended with only 11 runs between the teams, suggesting a close-run battle today.
It may come down to the quality of the bowling: although Rwanda lost the match, they took eight wickets from Gambia in an innings that ran to the full 20 overs.
“The lads are very keen to get on with the action after three weeks of intensive training,” said top-order batsman Eric Dusingizimana. “We have played in the competition since 2004 and have good experience at this level and can comfortably say that the team is really competitive and is going to get stuck in.
“People will be looking out for us because we won it last year, but we’ve been together another year and we know we can get over the line. We have that in our advantage.”
Rwanda’s coach, Collin Siller, told allAfrica.com that his batsmen had struggled against pace bowlers and much faster spinners on the Uganda tour.
The Saints can expect the Rwandans to go all-out in the first six overs in order to “disorganise” their opponents.
“It’s crucial that we go on the attack early on when the fielding restrictions are still in play,” he said.
Dusingizimana saw the key threat as coming from Zambia – the only team that has convincingly beaten the South Atlantic islanders. He was expecting a tough game against them yesterday.
But one comment might leave Saint fans slightly baffled:
“Unlike all the other teams, we have not played against Zambia and know very little about them,” he said.
St Helenians will have to do some serious head-scratching to recall a previous encounter between Rwanda and the islanders.
Before the start of this week, none of the other nations knew very much about St Helena’s cricketers.
They do now.
St Helena also faces Morocco today.