The dictator who inspired real hunger in his cricketers

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The Independent Online

I have received many letters of appreciation of the late Idi Amin, the Ugandan statesman, and in his honour would like to print a few of them today.

From Sir George "Gubby" Trotter

Sir, I am surprised to see that in all the glowing tributes paid to the late General Idi Amin there has been no mention of his great and abiding love of cricket.

I myself have a vivid memory of touring East Africa in about 1969 with a wandering cricket team known as the Wind of Change XI. We played a two-day fixture against a Ugandan Combined Forces XI, in which Idi Amin was the appointed wicketkeeper. In the morning session, when we were batting, Amin tended to rely on the ball hitting his bulky frame to stop it going past him, rather than putting out a hand to catch it, and his captain, a slim man called Captain Agati, several times remonstrated with him to buck his ideas up.

After a protracted lunch the Ugandan side took the field again, this time without Captain Agati. It seemed that Amin himself had taken over as captain. When I ventured to ask Amin what had happened to the former skipper, he said: "Captain Agati was not showing enough revolutionary zeal. He had to be removed from power. A new forward-looking chain of command is now in place. Here comes the bowler, white boy - you better pay attention."

This was all said with a big smile which made it clear it was all in fun, and that is the Idi Amin I much prefer to remember.

Yours etc

From Mr Reg "Reginald" Pickering

Sir, I can vouch for Idi Amin's enthusiasm for cricket. I was hired by his government in the early 1970s, just after he had taken over, to raise the standard of the national cricket team of Uganda, and it didn't take me long to spot that the main cricketing talent in the country was all Asian in origin and yet none of these guys were being used in the national team, which was all African by birth. The African chaps were all very willing, but cricket is simply not part of the African colonial tradition. (History might have been very different if it had been.)

"So what is the answer to our lack of cricketing prowess?" Amin asked me.

"The answer, I am afraid, can be traced to the complete exclusion of the Asian citizens of your country," I told him.

He looked rather thoughtful at this.

The very next week I heard he had thrown out the entire Asian population of Uganda. To this day I can only hope it was not because he had misunderstood what I had said.

Yours etc

From Sir Eustace Nonchalant

Sir, I can vouch for whatever it is the other chaps are saying.

Shortly before Britain broke off diplomatic relations with Uganda, I was attached to the embassy in Kampala and was invited to play in a cricket match organised by Idi Amin. Amin saw himself as a fine opening batsman, and was proud to tell me that he had been given a decoration by the MCC, namely, the Freedom of Lord's Cricket Ground.

"I also have the MCC Cross for gallantry under fire," he told me. "Also the Queen has told me I can play at Balmoral any time I like."

One took what Amin said with a pinch of salt, I hasten to add. Anyway, the team I was playing for was President Amin's XI. We were playing against President Amin's Other XI. (He liked to have pretty much everything in Uganda named after himself.)

Before the match he called the teams together and told us: "Whichever team loses the match, let them be eaten."

I thought I had misheard him and said to a fellow player: "I suppose he means, let the losing side pay for the dinner afterwards?" "I wouldn't be too sure," he said. Looking back, I am quite glad it was a draw.

Yours etc