Regular top-class fixtures are needed
As I was scrolling through various cricket sites on the Internet, as I do every week, I came across an article that Dirk Nannes wrote regarding the associate nations. In his piece, Nannes said that the problem with the associate countries is that their players want to play at the highest level and against the top teams day in day out, which makes the young talent try and look for other countries to play for.
I guess Nannes is speaking from experience as he started his international cricketing career with associate nation Holland, before moving on to play for Australia. The seamer isn't the only player who has done this. Eoin Morgan and Ed Joyce both started off playing cricket for Ireland, before being selected for the England national team. This got me thinking of how Kenya would suffer if they started losing their core of youngsters in the same way.
The Kenyan cricket side has youngsters coming through who can also be available for other countries. Players like Duncan Allen, Seren Waters and Tanmay Mishra, could be called up to the Australia, England and India cricket sides if needed by those countries. Which brings me to the next question: what can Kenya do to ensure this doesn't happen?
Well, the clear answer is to ensure the Kenyan national team secures regular fixtures against the full-member ICC nations. This way, the players can get used to playing against top players, which will only see them develop as cricketers.
I say this time and time again: you can not expect associate nations to perform at World Cups if they don't take on the full-member nations regularly. How can a young associate cricketer face a bowler like Dale Steyn who bowls at 154 kph, if they don't face balls of this speed regularly?
The likes of Ireland, Scotland, Afghanistan and Holland are getting better as the years go by, as they play in England's county leagues where they face top-class cricketers. Kenya, on the other hand, get no support from their closest neighbours like South Africa and Zimbabwe, and have to be content in setting up their own tournaments like the East Africa Premier League and East Africa Cup. One can only wonder how well our players would become if they played against top sides regularly.
We all saw what happened in 2003, when Kenya reached the World Cup semifinals. It is true that we were lucky in doing so because the format used in that tournament highly favoured us, especially since New Zealand refused to travel to Nairobi and England refused to travel to Zimbabwe. However the level of cricket that the country showed during that time was fantastic, and this was because we played against the full members regularly in the build-up to the tournament.
Kenyan cricket is now at a crossroads, with the old board about to be replaced. As a lover of the game of cricket, I truly hope that whoever comes in can take the game back to the heights where we once were.