Over the past week, Kenyan cricket fans were subject to the national team’s worst international showing since at least 1990. Following an acrimonious wage dispute, Kenya went to defend their World Cricket League Division one trophy with the worst possible preparations possible. It showed. They lost all their competitive matches, failed to bat out their allocated overs in four of their six games and between them could only muster 2 half centuries over the entire tournament. They also set a record low team total v. associates (112 a.o.) Three years ago, many of the same players of that team swept pretty much the same opposition aside in marching to win that very same title in Nairobi. How could a team fall that far that quickly?
In my opinion, as much as Kenya played fantastic cricket in 2003, Kenya would certainly not have made the semi finals without the aid of the way that tournament’s points format skewed (probably in attempt to prevent upstarts like Kenya upsetting the apple cart in the first place). That the points Kenya earned from New Zealand’s boycott, and that famous win over Sri Lanka, plus the happy fact that both these teams made the second round meaning Kenya got to keep those point meant Kenya only had to win one match to make the semis. However, I digress. In my opinion that Kenya happened to go so far in that particular tournament (circumstances aside) seems to have blinded all manner of stakeholders in Kenya cricket to long running inadequacies in the game.
I will start with the national team itself. It seems the achievements of 2003 have got into the heads of some of the players in a very negative fashion. One would think they had been ordained gods among men. For a while, it seemed to get them places as cricket Kenya introduced central contracts to pay the core team members and everything seemed to be sailing smoothly. However, somebody forgot to tell the players that cricket Kenya is not a mint and that other projects were crying out for funding too. No… it seems the policy with them is no money no peace! Never mind their standard of play is slipping. Never mind that every year they find yet another opponent to hand that prized first ever win over Kenya. In fact, in this state of rage I could say that their appetite for unearned money can only be bettered in Kenya by our elected MPs. . Never mind the whole lot seem to be related in some weird mafiaesque kind of way.
Then there is the board. Cobbled together from the wreckage of the late Kenya Cricket Association, they started out with plenty of promise. Central contracts were introduced, constitutionalism was enshrined, and the much-maligned Rift Valley branch suddenly metamorphosed into an active affiliate with its own leagues. Then there came a women’s national team, then that women’s team. This was followed by WOMENS YOUTH teams. There was even a national league. Then somewhere along the line, it seems the momentum started dying out. The psyche that brought back the RVCA did not carry over to Central Province (which to the best of my knowledge is still a non-starter). The national league went one season then stalled. Though they occasionally surface for tour games the Kenya A team has not quite become the permanent fixture initially envisioned. Therefore, when the national team’s players fail, it seems they can get away with it because there is hardly any one good enough to replace them. All in all, though Cricket Kenya may have dragged the game of cricket in Kenya out of the funeral home, it is still very much in the ICU. Far from, what Kenya needs to return to the head of the line in demanding test status. Nay retaining the ability to qualify for events like the ICC’s 2 Worlds Cups, perhaps even dominating the East Africa region in the long run.
The big question now is where to go next. I have just read and article by on Cricinfo calling for a total overhaul and though I disagree with one or two specifics I think that on the whole that piece is as close to a fire alarm in a burning house a Cricket Kenya are as likely to hear from anywhere. The player base in Kenya is desperately small and involvement by the citizenry (outside a few International schools and Parkland estate in Nairobi) virtually non-existent. I am sure I have called for it before, and I will call for it again. Cricket Kenya (probably through its provincial affiliates) needs to reach out to the public schools system in a similar way that Kenya Rugby Union did several years back and make the game parts of that school games schedule. That would open the game to a completely new audience on the one hand, and on the other hand tap a colossal resource of potential players in fixed locations (boarding school) for nine out of twelve months of the year. While they are at it, they could consider approaching sports affiliated associations to consider adding cricket to their repertoires. Would it be too much to dream of a Mathare CCC (MYSA) or an Ulinzi Stars CC (Armed Forces)?
Then there is that matter of a national league. Cricket Kenya managed to run a season’s worth of Elite cricket league is much to their credit, but why did the initiative die? Perhaps it might have been better to have the thing focus exclusively on the one format of cricket that the players were not getting at club level (First class) or on the more money-spinning version of T20. Then there may yet be space for that.
Perhaps, it might be the most painful pill to swallow but the national team need their collective egos cut to down to size. With the team returning from Holland any day, know they certainly have no authority to bully any more money from Cricket Kenya than they already have. No other Kenyan national team I am aware of gets as much has it as good as they do and the only sports people who can match their lifestyles earn every single cent of their moneys with their own sweat (or rather with their running shoes.). In fact, if the decision were left entirely up to me, I would pack the lot of them off to an athletics training camp in Iten, or Nyahururu, maybe even Kapenguria and just leave them there until the next assignment. On that cheeky note, I conclude this post.