Saturday 26 September 2020

Kenya weaker than other Associates

Kenyan cricket has dined out for years on reaching the World Cup semi-finals in 2003, but rather than being a launching board to great things – Test status was a real possibility at the time – it was the start of a gradual and often undignified slide down the global pecking order. From being the unquestioned leading Associate, Kenya are now not even among the best four. They were just lucky that qualification for this tournament took place almost two years ago, when they were still just about able to hold off strong challenges from Scotland and Afghanistan.

Kenya are paying for years of underinvestment in grass-roots cricket, and while that is now being addressed, and some talented players are emerging, it takes a long time to get things back on an even keel. The rot set in long before 2003, with a dysfunctional and mismanaged board squandering no end of international goodwill and money, and the new regime was too slow to put things right.

Recent results have been poor, and the scar of being trounced by allcomers at the ICC World Cricket League Division One competition – the main event for Associates – runs deep. There have been glimmers that things might be getting better, and the defeat of Ireland in a warm-up in Dubai was timely. Against that, they cannot overlook five straight losses to weakened state sides on a tour of India in January.

There is hope, and the handful of youngsters, some of who have only emerged in the last few months, does bode well for future tournaments. Or at least it would do had the ICC not decided that money mattered more than anything and banished Associates from what it will still laughably call the World Cup from 2015.

Inevitably, much attention will centre on Steve Tikolo, the 39-year-old allrounder who has been a key part of the Kenyan set-up since before many of his team-mates were born. There are those who see his continuing presence as a distraction in that too often he has been looked at to bail the side out when things go wrong. His enthusiasm, like his form, seems to be on the wane and this time last year he had retired and turned his back on the national side. One last tilt at the windmill proved too tempting, but the days of fireworks are behind him.

World Cup pedigree

Kenya have been an ever present since they first appeared in 1996, a tournament where they underlined their potential with a famous win over the still-decent West Indies. In 1999 they lost all five matches, and in 2003 they got within one match of the final before going down to India. But their progress came because they were awarded a walkover when New Zealand refused to play in Nairobi, and only one win in the so-called Super Sixes stage, against Zimbabwe, was enough to put them into the last four thanks to the ridiculous way points from group matches were carried forward. Nevertheless, victories over Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the utterly demoralised Zimbabweans were still quite an achievement. The 2007 tournament is best forgotten.

Where they will finish

Aside from 2003, Kenya have always finished bottom of their World Cup group and it is hard to see why this time should be any different. They are rank outsiders to beat any Full Member – even Zimbabwe, who two years ago would have represented a potential scalp, have improved enough to put them out of reach. Their only real chance is against Canada but they have been beaten by them in their last four 50-over meetings so the odds are against even that.


Lately as much fun to watch as a mugging and most of their games will last about as long. Associates can entertain. When Canada’s John Davison hammered his remarkable hundred in a losing cause against West Indies in 2003, it kept spectators enthralled in an otherwise one-sided game. Don’t expect similar from the Kenyans. Mind you, when Kenya take on Zimbabwe at the 82,000-capacity Eden Gardens, a game of spot-the-spectator could provide the best chance of entertainment for the die hards.

Players in focus

While what media attention there is will probably centre on Tikolo, Thomas Odoyo, seven years younger and still a potential match-winner with bat and ball, is another who has played in all of Kenya’s World Cups. The first Associate player to complete the 1500-run and 100-wicket double, his powers are on the wane, but despite that the side depends on him – his powerful hitting could trouble decent bowlers.

Back in 2003, Collins Obuya won the Man-of-the-Match award – and a county contract with Warwickshire – for his 5 for 24 in the defeat of Sri Lanka. But the legspinner developed the yips and even a stint with Terry Jenner was not able to cure it. But he has re-emerged as a genuine middle-order batsman, his rehabilitation so successful that it is him, and not Tikolo, who will be looked at to be the rock in an often fragile line-up.

One for the future is 20-year-old opener Seren Waters, who announced his arrival in international cricket in 2009 with a half-century against South Africa. His cricket may have been developed in England – he is currently on the books at Surrey – but if the selectors maintain their policy of picking players who are not resident in Kenya, he could be around for a long time to come.


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