Before Bangladesh, Ireland or Afghanistan, everyone thought that Kenya was going to be the next big thing in the cricket arena. When Kenya reached the semi-final of the 2003 World Cup, that school of thought became more popular. But that has not been the case.Kenya is now almost a forgotten name.
Steve Tikolo reminisced about the time after Kenya’s defeat against India in the semi-final of the 2003 World Cup, “Michael Holding told me that the ICC had earmarked Kenya to be the next Test-playing country,”
That would have been a fairy tale ending for Kenya’s golden generation, a side that announced themselves to the world when they bundled out West Indies for 93 in the 1996 World Cup, and beat India in two ODIs before the glories of 2003.
But the fairy tale didn’t come true. Kenya never fulfilled their destiny. Kenya didn’t get enough chances to play against full Test playing nations. They have only played 35 ODIs against Test playing nations after the magical 2003 World Cup.
Their cricket authority was a part of the problem as well. Tikolo said, “Our cricket management let us down big time,” He reflected, calling corruption “an open secret”.
Corruption was prevalent in the team too. Maurice Odumbe was banned for five years because he was guilty of associating with a known bookmaker.
Kenya’s player base was very small. The management of the team was poor too. So, Kenya withered away. They couldn’t play well in the 2007 and 2011 World Cups. Later on, they failed to even qualify for the 2015 World Cup. They lost their ODI status in 2014.
In addition, they were not elligible to play the Intercontinental Cup which is ICC’s first-class tournament for the top 8 associate nations. The High Performance Programme didn’t help Kenya to perform well in the international circuit.Both the team and the infrastructure in Kenya was weak.
Lately, there is a glimmer of hope in Kenyan cricket. The Nairobi Gymkhana ground will hosts Kenya’s opening match against Hong Kong in the World Cricket League Championship this Friday.
This will be Kenya’s first home game in an ICC event after 4 years. Kenyan captain Rakep Patel stated, “There is palpable excitement with cricket returning”
He thinks that it is a chance to change the narrative around their cricket. He further said, “It’s been all doom and gloom in recent times with stories that Kenya cricket is dead.”
The obstacle for Kenya was huge. They had to grow the sport and they weren’t allowed to play in their own country! Cricket Kenya has tried to overcome this obstacle. The government and security forces helped Cricket Kenya bring international cricket back to the country.
This can be a new dawn for Kenya’s cricket because the government looks serious about improving the situation. Andy Hobbs, ICC’s acting Head of Global Development said, “Ten years ago their focus was very much on the national team, whereas now there’s a very strong focus on the whole cricket system.”
The Kenyan side is also improving day by day. Andy Hobbs also said, “They are definitely a team and country on the up,”Kenya played good cricket in the World T20 qualifiers in 2015 when they won 3 out of their 5 matches. In the World Cricket League Championship, they were victorious three times in their six fixtures.
This is nothing revolutionary. But this is a testament to the fact that Kenya is trying to make a comeback. There are many young players in this team who can play well.
Irfan Karim who is the leading batsman of the team played for Leicestershire 2nd XI last year. He says that the team must improve their mental strength and game awareness.
Cricket Kenya is currently working for youth development. The borad has started programmes to spread the sport throughout the country. The board is also working to educate the coaches.
In December, a new Under-19 tournament will launch to give the most talented youngsters a chance to flourish. ICC’s census states, there are now 3495 junior players in the country, up from 1100 in 2009.
But there are people who think this is too good to be true. Aasif Karim said, “Three thousand five hundred youngsters? It’s a joke.”
He added,”If we had 5% of those figures, I would be happy. Those figures are totally fabricated.”
His son, Irfan is not so blunt. He said, “Better facilities, academies and higher-qualified coaches need to be put in place for there to be progress.”
He further stated, “Increasing participation levels is not as easy as it sounds. Poverty is a problem in Kenya and some families are more focused on where their next meal is coming from.”
He then said, “Without the basic needs fulfilled, cricket or sport becomes a non-existent thought. This is where the government needs to intervene and provide support in whatever way possible.”
Improvement needs to happen in the domestic structure of Kenyan cricket too. No cricketing nation can improve without a strong base.
The good news is, Cricket Kenya is now far better than before. ” Jackie Janmohamed, the chairperson of Cricket Kenya and an eminent lawyer, has helped to improve governance of the game, yet her work remains unfinished.
Aasif Karim says,”The system is corrupt. It needs a complete jolt. The foundations are non-existent. It’s time Kenyan cricket must accept that we are really down. We keep on denying it.”
Kenya needs to set realistic targets now. At first, they need to regain their ODI status. Then, they need to try to play World Cups regularly. It is possible if the structure remains strong and clean.