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(Clockwise) Eric with Joe Root; with the kids at refugee camps and with the Rwandan national cricket team.

August 28, 1963. Around 250,000 civil rights supporters bore witness to Martin Luther King Jr’s iconic speech, immortalised by the phrase “I have a dream…”. The rest, as they say, is history. King was assassinated, but the speech remains a defining moment of American history. It paved way for the African Americans gaining recognition in their own land and not being judged on their colour, and granted immortality to King in many a heart that continues to beat today. While most of us have forgotten the learning from this rousing and historically important speech, there are some who have been inspired by King and his speech and are leading their lives on the same path.

One such man comes from King’s ancestral continent of Africa. He has a dream as well, and he is living with the sole objective of realising it. He lives it every day, every hour, every minute and every moment of his life. He goes by the name of Eric Dusingizimana. Chances are that you have not heard this name. You may not know the man, so there is no question of knowing about his story or journey. Let us, thus, begin with the basics: he is a Civil Engineer, a graduate in Architecture Technology, captain of Rwandan national cricket team, an administrator, a feature in the Guinness Book of World Records. Most importantly, he is a dreamer who hopes Rwanda plays the ICC Cricket World Cup some day.

At present, Dusingizimana is building the future of Rwanda cricket brick–by-brick through the ambitious project — that of construction of the first international cricket stadium in Rwanda. Being a Civil Engineer himself, he is overseeing the operations at the construction site, where the work is going on in full swing.

But to know more about his story, we need to understand his country Rwanda first.

For most of us, the general idea about the country does not stretch beyond Terry George’s 2004 magnum opus Hotel Rwanda. In fact, at the very first instance of reading this, most of you may land on Rwanda’s Wikipedia page or try locating it on the world map.

Let me save you of that effort by describing the country first. Located in the central-eastern part of the continent, Rwanda’s population hit the ten-million mark at the turn of the current decade. One of the poorest countries in the world, Rwanda also happens to be Africa’s most densely populated country (if one leaves out the two little countries, Mauritius and French-occupied Mayotte). Bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — countries that play cricket but nowhere close to the highest level — one can wonder whether Rwanda can have a cricketing connection. But the sport not only finds a place in the country: it is playing a crucial role in its integration.

The tiny nation had to go through a lot in the 1990s, when the Rwandan genocide saw racially motivated mass slaughter of estimated 800,000 to 1,000,000 Tutsis by members of the rival Hutu community during the 100-day period between April and July 1994. Since then, Rwanda has been rebuilding brick-by-brick and cricket has been instrumental in binding its people together.

UNHCR
Eric with the kids at refugee camps in Kigali. He teaches cricket to the young kids as a part of charity exercise © Eric Dusingizimana

However, cricket, the fastest growing sport in the country, needed a major infrastructural boost for further growth. The efforts for the same are being undertaken and at the centre of them is their cricket team’s captain — Eric Dusingizimana.

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“Sport has the power to change the world, and cricket is playing a paramount role in bringing people together in Rwanda,” says the humble skipper, as I connected with him for an exclusive feature on him and to know more about Rwanda cricket. It could not have begun without a reference to the genocide, as I was curious to know whether it affected Dusingizimana’s life too.

He recalled those horror days: “I was six years old during genocide. A family of six siblings, mom and dad, we lived in Kigali, the Rwandan capital and largest city of Rwanda … My dad sent a half of the children in the up-country and remained with the other three in Kigali. And luckily, we all survived.”

Those were tough times for the Rwandans. It took some time before peace was restored and the refugees (who had moved to neighbouring countries to save their lives) started returning back to the country.

The country needed to be rebuilt, and as has often been the case, sport played a key role in rekindling hope and morale and uniting people. Around the same time, cricket started picking pace in the country — and started healing the wounds.

“There is a deep relationship between the game and my studies. Mathematics and physics in A-level were the key attraction to the game, as I was dealing with geometrical angles on the paper in mathematics, friction forces, collision and motion in physics. At the same time, the batsman in me was dealing with it on a real paper called cricket pitch; through reaction to the bounce of a ball for a certain angle, turn and speed, as well as wind direction.”

Cricket was not merely a source of entertainment in Rwanda in those days. As Dusingizimana says, “It also helped to rebuild communities by bringing the people of Rwanda together.”

Things reached the next level around 1999-00 when a few cricket enthusiasts in the country formed the Rwanda Cricket Association (RCA). However, perhaps the biggest moment in their short history thus far came in 2003, when they were granted Affiliate membership of ICC. Even till this point of time, cricket was not a popular sport in Rwanda.

“I started playing cricket around 2005-06 when I was in secondary school,” says Dusingizimana. Despite the ICC Affiliate status, cricket was still a relatively unknown sport in the country. It was also his first introduction to the game; the first time he picked up a cricket bat. He was all of 18.

How did it happen? “It was during a practice session of Coach Emmanuel Byiringiro, The Rwanda cricket development officer and a former cricketer with the national team. That is when it all started. I have been hooked on to the game ever since,” recalled Dusingizimana.

Eighteen is quite late to start a sport, considering that two of Eric’s three cricketing idols — MS Dhoni and AB de Villiers — had already made their international debuts by then. But as I said, cricket did not enjoy the same popularity in his country as it did in his idols’; not even remotely close.

We will come to his third idol later.

What attracted Dusingizimana towards cricket? What was it about the sport that he fell for it instantly? Eric’s response is indicative of his academic intellect: “You might find it weird. But I could relate to cricket because of my studies. There is a deep relationship between the game and my studies. Mathematics and physics in A-level were the key attraction to the game, as I was dealing with geometrical angles on the paper in mathematics, friction forces, collision and motion in physics. At the same time, the batsman in me was dealing with it on a real paper called cricket pitch; through reaction to the bounce of a ball for a certain angle, turn and speed, as well as wind direction.”

And this relation, fortunately for Eric, followed him at the University, where he enrolled for Civil Engineering. “I have been dealing with construction works, soil properties, compaction, etc and I found the best practice on cricket pitches (grass wicket) where soil properties (clay) and compaction can change the game. This relationship helped me a lot towards my performance on sides: school and cricket,” said the man, who opens the batting for Rwanda since 2008 — though he has no inhibition towards batting down the order.

And how he was picked to the Rwandan team, I ask. “The selection was based on player performance in local league. They [selectors] selected the best 30 players for training and ended up choosing the best 14 to represent the country. Since then I have been playing for Rwanda. After becoming the captain in 2011, I started attending meetings of the selection committee too,” replied Dusingizimana.

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But let us get back to Rwanda. Things had started rolling for cricket in the country once the refugees started returning. One of them who returned from the refugee camps was Charles Haba, now President of RCA. He was among those who brought cricket along with them from Uganda. Gradually, clubs formed as was RCA. Once the ICC Affiliate membership happened, Rwanda got the opportunity of playing in ICC African Division Three tournament against the likes of Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Botswana, Swaziland, Malawi and Mozambique. Currently, Rwanda plays in the African Division Two.

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The Rwandan national team © Eric Dusingizimana

“What started with a few cricket enthusiasts is being played by a large number of people today. There are over ten senior teams for men, five for women and eight university sides,” Dusingizimana let me know.

One positive aspect is the fact that majority of players playing the game are home-grown talents, like in Ireland and Afghanistan. This suggests the future of cricket in the country is safe. Interestingly, there is also a sizeable Indian community living in Rwanda, and the members play the game together with the Rwandans. In fact, the likes of Subhasis Samal, Sairam Gopalan and Srinath Vardhineni, who are a part of the Rwandan national team, are of Indian origin.

Rwandan cricket took some major strides in recent past. In 2010 the Under-19 girls’ team beat regional giants Kenya; the following year the men’s team won the ICC Africa Division Three Championships held in Ghana. It was team’s first assignment under Eric’s captaincy, and the team qualified for division two Africa.

Rwanda beat Seychelles in the final, with Morocco, Mali, Gambia, Cameroon and Lesotho being the other participating countries apart from the finalists. Eric’s major contribution, apart from leading the side to win, came against Lesotho, when he scored 89 runs in Rwanda’s 217-run win.

The triumph made the game more popular in Rwanda and more young children started playing it.

“What started with a few cricket enthusiasts is being played by a large number of people today. There are over ten senior teams for men, five for women and eight university sides.”

However, as was expected, with popularity came challenges, the most significant of which was infrastructure. “Facilities were always a challenge. We had to play all our international matches abroad because there are no grass wickets in Rwanda. The only training facilities we had had were the unlevelled ground with an Astroturf and a net for practice. We did have trained coaches, one national team coach from Uganda — Davis Turinawe — and more local coach players, but playing conditions were always a problem. At times we would get to the cricket ground to see some other guys playing soccer — Rwanda’s most favourite sport — on it. They don’t really understand cricket and that we need the whole ground to play and train. So it was difficult to convince them,” says Eric.

In fact, even at a local bar Plus 250, where there is a huge television screen, the locals would mostly prefer watching the English Premier League. Eric and his teammates would often turn up to the bar in the hope of watching international cricket — an important way of picking some tricks of the trade. But it was not easy: “We used to turn up there and ask for the channel to be switched from football to cricket, but the guys there would not …  But now we turn up all the time to watch, so they know we are serious about our game.”

Rwanda’s first and, as of now, only, cricket ground is in the campus of Kicukiro College of Technology. It is made up of one concrete wicket covered with worn matting. It has an old and uneven concrete net and a basic shed to house the limited equipments the cricketers have. The players have no changing room either. Despite this, they play and practice with unparalleled passion and enthusiasm.

Friendly game RDA vs KICC
Rwanda’s only cricket ground in the campus of Kicukiro College of Technology, where the players practice on concrete wicket © Eric Dusingizimana

As Eric says, “We knew cricket had a bright future in Rwanda if the facilities were improved.” Thus, with increase in popularity of the sport and with an eye on the future, the need for a proper ground soon became of utmost importance. And this is how, the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation (RCSF) came into existence.

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​“The Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation was formed in August 2011 to build and manage, on a not-for-profit basis, the first dedicated international cricket ground in Rwanda. Our vision is to facilitate reconciliation, through the essential values of cricket, by supporting the rebuilding of communities in Rwanda,” reads the home page on the RCSF website.

When asked about its inception, Eric got slightly emotional: “It was late Christopher Shale’s noble vision of building an international cricket stadium in Rwanda after seeing how the game brought joy to the people of the country with a troubled past and lack of facilities.” Shale, a British businessman, philanthropist and Conservative Party politician, first visited Rwanda to work on a social action project in Kigali in the year 2007. It was during his time spent in the country that he realised the need for a home for Rwandan cricket. Shale witnessed the growth in enthusiasm for cricket in the country, and realised that facilities were sorely lacking. It is then that RCSF, an NGO registered in UK, came up under his visionary guidance. Unfortunately, Shale he died an untimely death shortly afterwards.

But RCSF continues. His son Alby, himself an accomplished amateur cricketer and sportsman, heads the project now, with Dusingizimana serving as General Manager. It has prominent names associated with it. Former British Prime Minister David Cameron is an Honorary Patron of RCSF, as are Brian Lara and Heather Knight.

So, the need of having an international stadium in the country was identified. “We got 4.5 hectares of land in Gahanga, at the outskirts of Kigali, for the stadium,” says Eric, before sharing that despite crossing the first hurdle, the next challenge was ready. Before the dream of a new stadium could become a reality, the RCSF had to raise nearly a million pounds. This is when Eric decided to take matter in his hands.

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The site for the first international cricket stadium in Kigali, where the construction work is going on at the moment © Eric Dusingizimana

“RCSF had to raise nearly one million pounds. And to help raise this money, I attempted to get my name into the Guinness Book of World Records for longest individual net session by batting for 51 hours straight,” says Eric. With a positive mindset and single-minded determination of breaking the record to raise the money, Eric began his marathon quest on May 11 this year. He was allowed a five-minute break after every one hour to eat and recuperate, after which he would continue with the session. Many well-wishers and supporters of his cause played their bit by bowling to him; the list included former British Premier Tony Blair was one of them.

“It was really incredible; hard but I have done it due to my cause. My strongest point was my persistence. I never give up. I fought till the last ball.”

Dusingizimana recalled that the crowd kept growing as he progressed towards the record with more and more people gathering at the venue and cheering for him. By the time he approached the 40th hour he felt he could not do it anymore: “It was really incredible; hard but I have done it due to my cause. My strongest point was my persistence. I never give up. I fought till the last ball.” He added that it was the headstand he did that reenergised him and allowed him to go on.

I asked him what went through his mind during those 51 hours. His response was simple: “All I cared about was the record. You may find it strange, but I felt as if I was an actor in a movie and had to play the role to perfection.”

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Image captured when Eric’s Guinness World Record feat was in progress © Eric Dusingizimana

The last hour was extremely special, with every local radio station in Rwanda doing the countdown. The last ball, bowled by Eric’s wife, was received by massive cheers from the jubilant crowd who had flocked the Amahoro Stadium in Kigali. The marathon effort earned him the world record for longest individual net session. Incidentally, he broke the record of Virag More, an Indian who had set a record of 50 hours 4 minutes 51 seconds in December 2015.

There were more good things in store for the man. He was invited to England for a fund-raising trip. During his sojourn, he made a visit to Lord’s, 10 Downing Street and a Coldplay concert at Wembley, all of which had been in his checklist. But perhaps the one thing he cherishes most from that visit was meeting his third idol — Joe Root. England’s assistant coach Paul Farbrace arranged for Dusingizimana to join the English team at their net session ahead of their ODI series against Sri Lanka. To make things more special for Eric, Root even gave him a pair of his batting gloves.

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Eric met Joe Root, one of his idols, during his fund-raising trip to London © Eric Dusingizimana

The trip was extremely satisfying for him, as the fundraising dinner at Lord’s saw £120,000 being pledged to the charity appeal to build the stadium in Rwanda. Further, Surrey CCC also donated £10,000 and pledged to commit a further £40,000 over the next five years.

This set the stadium work going, Dusingizimana says, while sharing the good things that have happened post the GWR effort. “More than 10,000 people are playing the game in Rwanda today. After breaking the World Record, the number of people playing and interested to the lovely game of cricket are rapidly increasing.” The challenges, however, have not ended yet.

“We need to raise £150,000 more to finish our field of dreams. Any donation to finish our field of dreams will be helpful,” says Eric, when asked about future challenges. The funds RCA is granted by ICC are spent in participation in international tournaments. They are not sufficient to keep cricket activities going in the country. Besides, there are no corporate sponsorships too, as cricket misses out on those to its biggest rival football.

“The status of sponsorship deals is low but it has started to improve,” said Dusingizimana, before adding “We also need help from other boards.” He referred to Cricket South Africa, the most powerful cricket board in the region, and BCCI, the strongest board in world cricket.

“We need help in terms of money, support for ground maintenance and cricket equipments. We also expect our team Rwanda to play more international games. If the bigger countries can host ICC/Africa tournaments which we participate in, that will be good for us,” he says.

Eric also hopes to create professional players. At the moment, the whole team is amateur and the players have day jobs. They play and train after work and on weekends. Eric himself deals with construction activities to manage his livelihood.

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Eric dons many hats. He is the captain of the Rwanda team. He attends selection committee meetings. He is an engineer, and thus deals with construction activities too. Being the General Manager of the RCSF, he is involved in fund-raising activities for the stadium besides overseeing the construction work of the stadium.

A cricket evangelist, Dusingizimana is also the Ambassador for Cricket without Boundaries (CWB), a charity organisation through which he, along with other cricketers and volunteers, teaches cricket to thousands of kids in the schools and at refugee camps. Amidst all this, he finds time to train as well.

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As the ambassador for Cricket without Boundaries (CWB), a charity organisation, Eric teaches cricket to thousands of kids in the schools and at refugee camps © Eric Dusingizimana

How does he balance his time juggling between all these roles? “Balancing my time is easier because all I do is for cricket.” When he asked about his favourite role, he insisted it was  General Manager of RCSF: “Once this role is well performed others will benefit. My team Rwanda will have a home of cricket. This time I’m lucky, as I am in construction of the first international cricket stadium in Rwanda — a stadium for the lovely game I play,” explained the proud captain.

His entire focus is currently placed on the construction of the stadium. The construction site is his current address. So if you are in Kigali, you may find Eric supervising the workers as well as chipping in with help wherever required: “The works are progressing well, the ground is well levelled, irrigation pipes, sprinkles are in, the pitch construction is done and we will start to seed in a few days. Once that happens we will start phase two: pavilion construction.”

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‘Civil Engineer’ Eric contributing during the pitch construction at the construction site of international cricket stadium in Kigali © Eric Dusingizimana

The work is indeed taking place at war footing, for they have a deadline to meet. “The opening ceremony is in October 2017,” says Eric, which means. They do not even have a year.

Dusingizimana has his eyes set firmly on the future of Rwandan cricket. However, for cricket to become a success in the country, he has to contribute significantly to the present of Rwandan cricket, and he is aware of it: “I have been playing for eight years now. I am only 29, and have ten more years playing cricket”.

A couple of years back, Eric had smashed a 60-ball hundred while playing for Right Guards Cricket Club against Indorwa Cricket Club in Computer Point (T20 Tournament). It is a knock Dusingizimana holds very close to his heart. He is getting better with time, and it will be a blessing to Rwanda cricket if he does play for another decade.

But what will he do after he hangs up his boots? “The rest of my life will also be dedicated to the game, as I wish to stay associated with it all my life,” he says.

The pillar of strength to the Rwandan cricket has his support system too, to whom he is eternally grateful: “My family has been too supportive. My mum, brothers and sisters, and my wife, all of them. Then of course the RCSF, CWB, ICC, Government of Rwanda, etc have been our support system in the journey of cricket in Rwanda.”

If all goes right, Rwanda will have a new international cricket stadium — Eric’s field of dreams — in October 2017. It will be the first step towards realising another dream of the inspirational skipper — to see Rwanda play in the cricket World Cup. Dusingizimana may or may not be able to contribute as a player when that dream comes true. He may not get a chance to play for his country in front of the world in premier tournaments in front of packed grounds. He may not get a chance to play alongside and rub shoulders with his idols de Villiers, Dhoni or Root.

But that does not bother him; perhaps because he is cast in a different mould.

The world cricket has witnessed Ali Bacher — the man instrumental in the unification of South Africa’s racially divided cricket unions in 1991 and a widely respected administrator of the game. He played a prominent role in the transformation of cricket in the country and the transition of South Africa from an apartheid state to a democratic nation.

Leona Ford had done a lot for Cuba; Magdalena Pokludova, the Sussex fast bowler, for Czech Republic; but none of them have served their nations in as many ways.

Though Eric Dusingizimana may not get to become hero-worshipped across the world like his idol Dhoni, he may well play the role of the ultimate kingmaker, guiding and mentoring future generations of Rwanda to greater glories in international cricket.

For now, a content man, Dusingizimana is happy that his ultimate dream, the construction of the stadium in Rwanda, is on its way of getting accomplished. He is happy that the journey, as well as the healing process for the Rwandans, has begun. And though he still needs a little push (£150,000, to be precise), Eric is optimistic of realising his vision and cricket’s future in his country. Indeed, as they say, well begun is half done.

(A self-confessed cricket freak, Chinmay Jawalekar is a senior writer with CricketCountry. When not writing or following cricket, he loves to read, eat and sleep. He can be followed here @CricfreakTweets)