When Nigeria last visited Rwanda in 2020, the closely contested series ended 3-2 in favour of the hosts and the writing was clear on the wall that this was going to be a tense thriller when the two renewed their rivalries.
The big occasion was Game 8 on Match Day 4 of the seventh edition of the Kwibuka Women’s T20 International Tournament at Gahanga Stadium and it was a do-or-die affair with both teams with a semifinal berth at stake.
The hosts, who had the Sports Minister Aurore Mimosa Munyangaju watching from the first ball of the match, didn’t disappoint as they threw their bodies on the line to clinch the humdinger derby by six runs to the excitement of their fans that turned up in good numbers, albeit keeping all the set Covid-19 standard operating procedures.
Samantha Agazuma won the pre-match toss and decided that the Green and Yellow Girls of Nigeria would bowl first as she looked to limit them to 80-odd runs.
Rwanda coach Leonard Nhamburo, however, had some new tricks up his sleeves.
He expertly shuffled the batting line-up and it proved a gem with the top five batters; Sifa Ingabire (24 runs off 40 balls), Delphine Mukarurangwa (16 runs off 27 balls), Henriette Ishimwe (24 runs off 23 balls), Cathia Uwamahoro (15 runs off 10 balls) and Diane Marie Bimenyimana (11 runs off 14 balls), all reaching double figures as Rwanda posted its first 100 score of the yearly showpiece – 108 runs for 7 wickets in the allotted 20 overs.
Nigeria’s chase was aided by the constant extras gifted to them by Rwanda in the second innings. They accounted for 18 runs of their eventual total of 102 runs and were actually the top scorer.
Salome Sunday (17 runs off 17 balls), Omonye Asika (16 runs off 27 balls), captain Samantha Agazuma (15 runs off 20 balls) and all-rounder Agatha Obulor (12 runs off 12 balls) all threw their hats in the ring and kept the West Africans dreaming with fighting knocks.
But with the required run-rate creeping just over 7 per over, the Nigerians paid the price for playing hit-and-run cricket. Three of their eight wickets that fell were run outs and then Ishimwe returned to haunt them with the ball with figures of 2 wickets for 5 runs in 3 overs including one maiden. Ishimwe also picked the Player of Match award from Aurore Mimosa Munyangaju.
Spinner Margueritte Vumiliya picked two wickets and all-rounder Bimenyimana (0 wickets for 13 runs in 3 overs) sealed victory with a nerve-less last over that cost only five runs and two wickets – run outs — with the visitors needing 12 to steal the win.
The celebrations by the Rwandan fans and players at the end of the match were wild and all justified as they had put in a shift that was worth victory which saw them follow table-toppers Namibia in the semifinals.
Namibia confirmed their spot in the semifinals with a convincing 36-run win over Kenya in a table-toppers clash to make it four consecutive wins for the southern Africans who are on debut at the annual event since its inception in 2014.
The win saw Namibia keep their top spot on the table with 8 points, four ahead of Kenya and Rwanda, while Nigeria and Botswana’s winless run kept them bottom of the table.
Rwanda will now play their last round-robin match against Kenya tomorrow morning without much pressure knowing that they have already sealed their semifinal spot. Nigeria and Botswana are the two teams which remain winless in the tournament.