A match that merits inclusion less for being a thrilling exhibition of the game and more for the story that went into it, Mali’s women’s T20I debut was a demolition by every metric. Mali were bowled out for a scarcely-believable 6, which Rwanda then polished off within the first over. It was a match so stunningly lopsided that it briefly drew attention from a turgid group stage at the Cricket World Cup, though unfortunately much of the media coverage focused on the statistical anomalies rather than the broader significance of the match.
Hosted at the picturesque Gahanga stadium, the Kwibuka Tournament was first held in 2014 and forms part of Rwanda’s yearly remembrance of the 1994 Genocide. 2019 was Mali’s first appearance at the tournament, and indeed their first international outing since a regional tournament in Gambia in 2015. Students of geography may be surprised at the West African nation joining Rwanda and its neighbours Uganda and Tanzania for a tournament thousands of miles away, but Mali is uniquely entwined with the Kwibuka story. At a time when no-one wanted to deal with them, the state stepped in to act as gaoler for several of the most notorious genocide leaders. And in addition to the historical cultural ties, protracted ethnic conflicts in Mali led the cricket board, FeMaCrik, to find inspiration in Rwanda’s experience in using sport as part of its healing process.
Speaking to Emerging Cricket after the tournament, FeMaCrik president Kawory Berthé explained: “Mali has a social crisis. There’s been so many attacks, so much violence, you wouldn’t call it a genocide but still, in the central regions of the country there are ethnic groups fighting, killing each other. So we decided it was important to participate. It wasn’t just the sporting carnival, but it’s more the other aspect, which is about contributing to social cohesion. Mali needs that.”
On the field, the experience was chastening, but also fertile ground for learning. While EC’s player to watch, middle-order bat Gisele Ishimwe, didn’t get the chance to make much of an impression during the game, she was part of a touching display of sportsmanship as Rwanda used the extra time provided by the early finish to help Mali learn from the experience with a whole-team coaching session. “The Rwandan team, those ladies, they beat us in the morning, and after lunch… they spent the whole afternoon with us, sharing their knowledge. So really that was very motivating.”