Things can only get better
When you think of Kenyan Cricket, the first image that pops into mind is the unexpected wins against West Indies in the 1996 World Cup and Sri Lanka in the 2003 World Cup. This is followed by thoughts of disappointing performances. However, cricket fans in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi all have one question: "How can a team that reached the semifinals of a World Cup only nine years ago have lost its way so badly?"
Internal wrangles have blighted the sport since then, starting with the banning of former Kenya skipper Maurice Odumbe for match fixing in 2004. Odumbe was instrumental in bringing cricket to the forefront, alongside other legendary names like Steve Tikolo, Thomas Odoyo, Ravindu Shah, Asif Karim and many more.
However it wasn't only the banning of Odumbe that caused the slip. Alleged mismanagement by the then Kenya Cricket Association, and players' strikes have also contributed to the downfall of the sport, and the ramifications can still be felt today.
Kenya was abysmal at last year's ICC Cricket World Cup on the subcontinent, losing all their matches, the biggest shock coming against fellow associates Canada. A detailed report on the failing of the side was put together by Cricket Kenya, and this saw the dismissal of coach Eldine Baptiste and also the sacking of skipper Jimmy Kamande.
The board decided that the structures in place in the country would be tweaked, and this started off with a change in personnel, with the old guard being dropped for younger players. Gone were the likes of Odoyo, Kamande and Tikolo, and in came the young blood – players like Rageb Aga, Duncan Allen and Nelson Odhiambo, among others. Cricket Kenya also brought in a new coach, New Zealander Mike Hesson.
This was supposed to be a new chapter for cricket in Kenya. However, Hesson has now quit from his post, citing security issues in Nairobi, and once again Kenya will have to begin the process of looking for a new coach to take the side forward. Hesson's resignation came a week after the news that CEO Tom Sears will be taking up a position with Ireland Rugby. This is yet another big blow to the sport here in Kenya.
Though many believe that Sears hasn't done enough in his two years at the helm, I believe that he has put the correct procedures in place that will hopefully unearth future stars of the game. Eight astro wickets have been installed at various schools around the country, which will allow the sport to be taken up at grassroots level, while a national secondary school league was also developed, which will help the country's selectors to scout talent for the emerging players squad, and hopefully for the main team as well.
Former Zimbabwe International Robin Brown has been appointed as the head of the national elite programme, and it will be his job to scout for players from the grassroots to the top level. Sears was also instrumental in starting the East Africa competitions, which is a regional event that consists of four teams from Kenya and two from Uganda. These sides take part in the 20-over East Africa Premier League Competition, as well as the 50-over East Africa Cup.
With Kenya being given very few competitive matches, the players are never put into a position where they are under serious pressure in a match. Having friendlies against other countries is all well and good, however the team must be able to play in highly competitive tournaments, where they can learn how to play under serious pressure situations – and the East Africa tournaments will teach them that.
Despite all the problems that the country has experienced over the past year or so, I am optimistic that things can only get better. We are a country in transition at the moment, and as the James Morrison song goes,"When it all falls down, the only way is up". We have seen it with teams like West Indies, who got rid of the old guard, and have now found star players who can compete at the top level. Hopefully we will get to see the same with Kenya.
With elections for the top positions in Cricket Kenya set to take place this month, one can only hope that the new board will come in with one agenda, and one agenda only: to take the sport back to where it is meant to be. To do this, the infighting between players and officials must stop, and they must join hands and work together in making Kenya the best associate country in the world, and then hopefully aim for a place alongside the likes of South Africa, India, Australia, et al.