Tanzania is not a country that is widely associated with cricket. It is more renowned for its iconic natural features which include the spectacular UNESCO World Heritage listed sites of Serengeti National Park and Mt Kilimanjaro. Nevertheless, this sprawling East African nation of 64 million people has a surprisingly rich cricket history going back hundreds of years.
There are historical records of regular games taking place between British settlers and the British Navy on the island of Zanzibar, after the former introduced the game in the late 1800s. While the epicentre of Tanzanian cricket has since shifted to Dar es Salaam from Zanzibar, the domestic scene has grown considerably, both in terms of awareness and participation numbers. The success of the women’s team has provided much of the heavy lifting.
Emerging Cricket caught up with Atif Salim, the Media and Information Officer at Tanzanian Cricket Association (TCA), to chat about the growth of cricket, the milestones, the challenges and the future of the sport in the country.
Past & Present
Tanzania’s national team started its cricketing chapter under the moniker of Tanganyika in 1951, when it started playing regular series against its neighbouring nations throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s. During this time, it also hosted two tours by the MCC in 1957 and 1963.
Its crowning moment occurred in 1975, when Tanzania was invited to participate in the inaugural Cricket World Cup alongside Kenya, Uganda and Zambia under the combined banner of East Africa. However, East Africa’s one and only appearance at the World Cup was not a happy one. It suffered heavy losses in each of its league games against India, England and New Zealand. While Praful Mehta and Shiraz Sumar made up the small Tanzanian player contingent at the World Cup; the nation’s most famous cricketing export has been John Solanky. The all-rounder enjoyed a stellar county cricket career for Glamorgan (1972-1976), taking 275 wickets and scoring 3,508 runs across the First Class and List A formats.
After Tanzania finally became an ICC associate member on its own right in 2001 (ditching the East and Central Africa label), the sport has undergone a dramatic period of renaissance, especially in the last decade.
“We don’t have the exact numbers but currently we have around 40,000 cricket players in the country. This includes all the centres that we have opened nationwide, plus, we are planning to expand this figure to 80,000 in the coming years. It will certainly be a challenge but that’s the challenge that we are very much in for,” says Salim. This staggering growth is a far cry from the situation in the 1970’s, when participation numbers declined sharply after rising African nationalist sentiment caused many of the local British and Indian communities in Tanzania to emigrate.
Kwibuka T20 and Women’s Cricket
These days community relations are much improved with the multicultural makeup of the men’s team a shining example. But it is the achievements of the women’s team which are breaking down barriers and gaining international recognition.
The Tanzanian Ladies boast a superb record in T20 International cricket, winning 26 of their last 30 games (five of them were played before universal T20 status), with the only defeats coming at the hands of Thailand, Zimbabwe and Namibia. Since March 2018, they possess a 100% winning record against their neighbours Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Mozambique; as well as Bhutan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Botswana, Brazil, Eswatini, Germany, Mali and Nigeria on a more global level.
Their recent triumph at the 2022 Kwibuka Women’s T20 Tournament was hailed by the national government including the President and the Minister of Culture, Arts and Sports.
“Winning the Kwibuka tournament this year has really opened big doors for us especially in women’s cricket. It was particularly pleasing to have our victory recognised by President Samia Suluhu Hassan herself, our country’s first female president,” Salim states.
“She acknowledged TCA’s efforts in moving the game forward in the country and congratulated the women’s team again in her recent speech during a special private ceremony at the state house.”
“The recognition from the top authority in the country has enabled many more aspiring cricketers to learn about the game. This is a huge deal for us,” he emphasises.
Tanzania’s impressive run of results have catapulted them to the top of the Associate ladder in Africa. Currently, the Ladies are ranked 17th in the world and No. 3 in Africa, behind Full Members South Africa (5th) and Zimbabwe (12th).
An integral part of Tanzania’s success has been captain Fatuma Kibasu, who has brilliantly led the team from the front. Her dominant batting displays as an opener have propelled the Ladies to victory on numerous occasions. Kibasu possesses the all-time highest batting average (47.50) in T20I cricket with her 855 runs coming at a strike rate of 112.94. Although these numbers are based on a small sample size of 25 innings, they are nevertheless impressive.
Furthermore, she is the only the fifth women’s player and the first from an Associate nation to score multiple T20I centuries. Salim is unsurprisingly all praises for Kibasu.
“Fatima has put in so many great performances for us. Her batting in the 2021 ICC T20 qualifier got her selected in the first ever privately funded tournament for women called Fairbreak Global. She got to play in the Dubai stadium and shared the dressing room with all these Full Member international players. She can really open the doors for so many girls in cricket.”
On the youth front, things also point to a bright future ahead. The men’s U-19 team came agonisingly close to 2022 Under-19 World Cup qualification, losing out on net run rate after a walloping by Uganda in their final league game.
“It was so close,” Salim laments. “Had they qualified, it would have made Tanzanian sports history. Would have been the first time a Tanzanian national team (on its own) in any sport has participated in a World Cup.”