Rwanda's qualification for the tournament was one of great cricket stories in 2022, and Gisele Ishimwe's side could well write more heroic chapters in 2023.
Gisele Ishimwe (c), Merveille Uwase, Henriette Isimbi, Marie Jose Tumukunde, Giovannis Uwase, Sharila Niyomuhoza, Sylvia Usabyimana, Henriette Therese Ishimwe, Divine Gihozo Ishimwe, Belyse Murekatete, Cynthia Uwera, Cesarie Muragajimana, Rosine Uwera, Zurafat Ishimwe.
January 15 v Pakistan in Potchefstroom
January 17 v Zimbabwe in Potchefstroom
January 19 v England in Potchefstroom
Key Player - Gisele Ishimwe
Few players have the senior international experience of seam-bowling all-rounder Gisele Ishimwe, and the skipper is the perfect player to lead an emerging force in African cricket.
No other player at the tournament can boast a T20I century, with Ishimwe posting 114* against Eswatini at the 2021 Africa Qualifier for the T20 World Cup. Ishimwe hit 12 fours from the opening spot, facing 69 deliveries as she batted through.
Gisele boasts two T20I fifties to compliment the ton, with a performance against regional giants Kenya in June 2022 perhaps her career highlight to this point. Her 56* helped Rwanda to a competitive total of 113, before claiming a crucial late wicket in her team’s total defence. Marie Bimenyimana trusted her with the final over, though was pipped by Kenya No.3 batter Venasa Ooko as Kenya snuck home with two balls to spare.
Gisele will likely bowl first change on top of her batting and captaincy responsibilities, and holds the key if Rwanda are to make a fairytale run at the tournament.
There is something hugely symbolic about Rwanda’s Under-19 women becoming the country’s first ever representatives at a global cricket event.
Nineteen years after becoming Members of the ICC, the game of cricket embodies a cultural and historical shift away from atrocities in a bygone era that so cruelly denied the country’s mothers and aunties.
Picking up the pieces in the wake of the 1994 genocide, Rwanda enthroned English as its official language, in a move to distance itself from the Francophonic sphere of Africa. The seeds of British culture led to further cultural roots, and cricket, introduced by those previously exiled to neighbouring countries on their return, found its feet. Flourishing by freeing the country of baggage or inhibition, and the competition in a fiercely competitive region, Rwanda has bloomed a World Cup-ready team in 2023.
Their qualification journey is also one of immense character. Defending just 79 in their Africa Qualifier opener against Nigeria, Ishimwe’s side showed calmness under pressure, also coming back from a heart-breaking one-run defeat to Tanzania. Negotiating the larger of the two first round groups in qualifying, Rwanda trounced a more-fancied Uganda in the semi final, before hitting back against Tanzania to claim a six-wicket win in the final.
Rwanda’s versatility with the ball is their strength, and Gisele will likely have six or seven other bowlers at her disposal to change things up. Gisele’s namesake Henriette Ishimwe is one of three other squad members with senior experience, alongside seamer Belise Murekatete and opening batter Merveille Uwase. Cesarie Muragajimana, Marie Tumukunde and Rosine Uwera will back the frontline bowlers with their work in the middle overs.
A brutal group means Rwanda are no better than an outside chance of progression, but their qualification is already a win for spirit through sport, as the country builds its way to becoming a cricket power.