Re-opening Kenyan Sports: The way forward for cricket


Over the course of the current series of posts, I will be looking at the situation of various Kenyan Sports, as the nation attempts to move forward in the wake of the global covid-pandemic.

In the last post I looked at the situation in football, this post will look at cricket. This is the most historically successful sport in Kenya, and one I have written a great deal about on this blog.

The Big picture
While as most other sports mostly have only the covid-19 pandemic to worry about, there is no shortage to the number of crises, or rather the scope of the existential crisis, gripping the game of cricket right now.

Lack of legitimate leadership at the top, wrangles between virtually all stakeholders of the game, lack of a development program, and dwindling player numbers means that the sport has a lot to contend with to survive the pandemic, or even grow in the aftermath.

The Domestic game
Ordinarily local cricket clubs participate in regional 50 over, 40 overs and T20 competions at the regional leval from March through to December. This is a bit of a hold-over from the traditional ‘English cricketing summer.’ The most vibrant competitions were based in the Nairobi and Mombasa region, with Rift Valley also at times putting together competitions for teams based around Nakuru.

So far it is not clear how what will become of these competitions, until the Kenyan government’s task force on sports concludes its work and give a way forward.

Thomas Odoyo in action in a Mombasa NIC bank sponsored competition (Source: The Standard)

National teams
At the global level, the men and women’s national teams were in the process of attempting to qualify for the next 2020 World Cup, when all cricket was suspended due to the covid-19 pandemic. The men’s 2020 world Cup has been pushed forward a year, and the global qualifying tournament suspended until further notice. Kenya was also scheduled to participate in the now postponed Africa T20 Cup midway through this year.
Though the International Cricket Council has since published guidelines for playing cricket in a ’socially distanced manner, the Africa Cricket Association has yet to give direction on how, or when the Africa T20 Cup tournament might possibly be re-scheduled.

There has also not been any communication of ne dates for pending qualifying tournaments that Kenya is scheduled to participate in for the foreseeable future

Off the field
Even before government regulations suspended cricket, as part of the suspension of public gatherings, the management structure of the game was on the brink of collapse. Elections for the top management board of Cricket Kenya failed, a draft constitution, meant to break the deadlock at the top management of Cricket Kenya was trashed literally days after it was released. Since then there does not seem to be much of an appetite for reconciliation who knows when or how the deadlock will be broken?

The Kobus Olivier Files


Recently, an audio interview with short lived Cricket Kenya CEO, Kobus Olivier. surfaced in a Whatsapp group in which I am a member. The clip appears to have come from an extensive podcast interview called the ‘Cricket Nomad‘ which Mr. Olivier talks about his life as a cricket nomad’.

The twelve minute clip sheds light on a period where the decline of the game in Kenya, for lack of a better description, really came out in the open. In this post I will address some of the themes that struck me about what Mr Olivier’s Kenya experience.

Kobus Olivier, at his desk when working for Cricket Kenya (Source: Cricket Kenya)

The National team
He describes a generation of players coming to the end of it’s life span without discernible replacements coming through the system.

He points out that at the qualifiers for the 2015 World Cup, Kenya had the oldest squad players, and that aside from Irfan Karim, whom he holds in quiet high regard there isn’t much ‘seasoning’ among the younger players coming through at that time

The board itself
In the audio, he paints a picture of a weak board, dominated by the chairperson, Mrs. Janmohamed, fixated only on the prospect of failure at the upcoming 2015 Cricket World Cup Qualifiers. No interest in his development plans, no development plans of their own, and an apparent fear of anyone taking initiative lest they offend the chairperson.

In this clip he reveals that ultimately, his work with Cricket Kenya came to an end after it turned out that the board had failed to secure a proper work permit for him, and that he was working illegally.

Former players
In his brief stint as Cricket Kenya CEO, Mr. Olivier developed quite a fond opinion of the former national team players that he engaged with. In particular he expresses alot of praise for former Kenya Cricket and Davis Cup tennis captain Aasif Karim.

He describes Mr. Karim as a man who knows the game inside out, anda massive potential asset to the game in Kenya. Also highlighted for praise are former captains Morris Odumbe, and Steve Tikolo, and former pace man (an current Botswana coach) Joseph Angara.

The ICC

The International Cricket Council, through the Africa Cricket Association, are presented as being reluctant to intervene in the workings of a democratically elected board, even as their officers on the ground commiserate with Mr. Olivier’s struggles

The Future of Cricket in Kenya

Mr. Olivier draws parralels with the situation in South Africa, where Cricket South Africa has put legendary players such as Graeme Smith and Mark Boucher in charge of the national team. He believes that the same should apply to Kenya. He argues that the exposure an Aasif Karim or a Morris Odumbe brings to the table from their own careers cannot be gotten by any other means.


Summary
Mr Olivier served as Cricket Kenya in the year 2014, at a time when Mrs. Jackie Janmohamed, was coming to the end of her first term as Cricket Kenya Chief Executive. It was also during this time that Kenya missed their first World Cup in close to 20 years.

Since then, Mrs Janmohamed, has been re-elected and resigned twice as the head of Cricket Kenya, and now heads up a hold over committee as well as chairing the Africa Cricket Association.The process of re-writing Cricket Kenya’s Constitution continues to stutter through acrimony and allegations of vested interests. Nairobi’s clubs no longer organise their leagues through the Nairobi County Cricket Association among other problems.

Conclusion

In light of Mr. Olivier’s assertions, it seems that there is little hope in expecting the current status quo to resolve the impasse Cricket Kenya is in on their own. It seems that unless some radical intervention (possibly on the level of India’s Supreme Court dissolving India’s BCCI and appointing neutral administrators) takes place, Kenyan cricket is doomed to a cycle of half baked initiatives, torpedoed by vested interests who in turn come in with half baked initiatives that get the game nowhere.

A Preview of Kenya’s Cricketing Summer tour of UK & Ireland


Kenya’s mens national team is in the UK to play the UAE, in the first leg of the World Cricket League, and then the qualifiers for the preliminary leg of the T20 World Cup, being co-hosted by Ireland and Scotland.

First the World Cricket League. Because of the funky world of International Cricket Council management and its arbitrary decision making, Kenya are back in Division 1 of the World Cricket League, not on merit, but as a side effect of a gerrymandering of the ODI world rankings to include Ireland and Afghanistan.

This was done to soothe the pain of their sevision to cut 4 teams from the next edition of the ODI world cup.

Kenya open with 2 games against UAE, an opponent they drew with 1-1, the last time they met.

The T20 world cup qualifiers on the other hand represent the final hurdle for associates from all over the globe to get on the high table of this fotmat of the game. There will be 6 slots, which will be earned through an excessively contrived series of playoffs I will not dwell on here.

Anyway, having safely dispatched Uganda in a warm up series, Kenya will hope the momentum gathered will help them get past opponents, who have proven a tough nut to crack in recent times.

During the regional T20 qualifiers,and division 2 of the WCL,when facing higher opponents particularly of the calibre, of the Netherland, or Namibia, Kenya struggled to impose their will on proceedings, as they did against the likes of Uganda.

The WC, and T20 matches represent another step up in quality. Thus the ability of Kenya to grind out results against teams, that are significantly more seasoned, will be tested severally.

Kenya have added a little youth, to a largely unchanged squad from the ICC sssignments earlier in the year. 

The bedrock of the batting will likely be Collins Obuya, Rakep Patel, Morris Ouma and Irfan Karim, with Narendra Patel, and the young guns Karan Kaul, and Gurdeep Singh looking to deliver break out performances, wherever they get the chance.

On the bowling front, This blogger expects Elijah Otieno and the Ngoche brothers: Nehemiah, Shem, and James, should carry the bulk of the workload, with Bundi, and Ndandason, providing variety with their different styles of seam bowling.

In addition to that, both Patels can chip in with the occasional spell of finger spin, while Nelson Odhiambo has shown some glimpses of making the kind of all round contributions that made Thomas Odoyo (his uncle) and Maurice Odumbe household names in their pomp.

Anyway, having drifted downwards over the past few years, this tour represents an opportunity to set the rehabilitation of the cricket team into a higher gear. Surely grabbing any one of the 6 slots in the t20 preliminary round, and perhaps winning the one or both games against UAE is not too much to ask?

KENYA squad for T20 qualifiers: Rakep Patel (captain), Emmanuel Bundi (Ringeera),  Narendra Kalyan (Patel), Irfan Karim (wk), Karan Kaul, Lucas Ndandason (Oluoch), James Ngoche, Shem Ngoche, Collins Obuya, Eugene Ochieng, Nehemiah Odhiambo, Nelson Odhiambo, Elijah Otieno, Morris Ouma (wk), Gurdeep Singh

Change Cometh, and Cricket Kenya must deal with it


Cricket Kenya has a new chairperson. This blogger understands that Jackie Jan Mohammed has very recently stepped down from the position of Chairperson of Cricket Kenya, citing personal reasons, and her deputy chairperson, one Mr. Anil Patel has taken over.

To the best of my knowledge she was the only woman to have ever headed a national sports body in Kenyan history, and will likely the only one who may have the privilege and responsibility to do so for the foreseeable future.

Jackie Janmohammed (Source: imgci.com)

It would not be fair to pass judgment on Jackie’s tenure at the head of Cricket Kenya without first coming to grips with the situation the organization was in leading up to her tenure. Her reign began as part of a settlement to put a stop to a bunch of litigation that had dragged the process of replacing Samir Inamdar, her predecessor, out for two years.

Her predecessor had himself been come to be in charge of Cricket Kenya at the tail end of even more litigation, through which the old Kenya Cricket Association was dissolved and replaced by Cricket Kenya.
In between there were, a whole bunch of other intrigues that saw Kenya’s senior players on strike on several occasions, the site for a proposed national academy repossessed and turned into part of a super highway, and pretty much all structure in the game slip away
In that context her time could therefore be seen as the facing the consequences for the past decade’s stagnation.

On the field Kenya’s men’s national team failed to qualify for the 50 over World Cup for the first time since 1992, were relegated out of Division 1 of the World Cricket League, and lost the One Day International Status, upon which a lot of the support that Cricket in Kenya was getting from the International Cricket Council was being channeled.

However, on the domestic, though she did preside over the settling in and expansion of The East Africa Premier League and Cup, to the extent that the T20 competition was even able to attract some serious international level talent in its most recent edition.

Both tournaments have been in a way ‘cursed’ by their own success, as the extra revenues generated seem to have just become another avenue for the same old back door power games, and intrigue rather than a vehicle for the overall growth of the game.

Her successor, Mr. Anil Patel, has a very full plate once he gets into the swing of things. The last time I checked, Cricket Kenya did not have a Chief Executive Officer, the East Africa Leagues season is around the corner, and the board is certainly looking at a cut in funding from the ICC, as well as a truncated schedule of fixtures (from the ICC’s programs for associates) to keep the national teams at all levels active.

So in the short term those will be the challenges.
The national team have February’s World Cricket league Division II to begin their rehabilitation, and earn the right to be in the next edition of the Intercontinental Cup.

The women’s and youth national teams do not even have the certainty of that, until the full implications of the cuts by the ICC to regional youth and women’s cricket become fully known, at least.
In the medium to long term there is continuing to build trust among the corporates and institutions that have invested in Kenyan cricket so far. There is the need to work out how to get additional resources from wherever and whomever they can get onto the band wagon of making Kenyan cricket grow.

And of course, the resident pachyderm in the building called Kenya’s tiny player base. I have called for this many time before and will call for it again. Cricket Kenya needs to get a formula to get cricket into public schools and institutions in a sustainable way. We are talking about getting a portion of the ~97% of school going children countrywide.

That is a story for another day.  For now, its to wish Mr Patel, and the remnant of the Cricket Kenya board installed in 2012, all the best as they steer the game forwards.

More ICC (The cricket One) Shenanigans


It has been a while since International Cricket Council set about overhauling its global structure to better place it (at least according to the people running the changes) to tackle the challenges of keeping the sport of cricket viable, and relevant in the 21st century.

The initial ideas were based around the Woolfe report, which recommended much moreinclusivity, openness and support for the developing teams within the cricketing universe. What actually happened was the document was tossed out and the decision makers decided to head in the opposite direction.

Most of the widely debated changes touched upon the inner circle of full members (voting rights, revenue sharing, obligations to play one another and everybody else). Countries like Kenya, which is an associate member, were largely left in limbo: Waiting for clarification and structure to vague hints at promises that may or may not materialize from the ‘charity’ of the big boys.

The final version of the overhaul was agreed upon earlier last month. It generally is the tightening of overall control and moneysof the ICC to a cabal of 3 nations (India, England and Australia) and will see the ICC is presided over (initially) by a man who was barred from running his nation’s own cricket board by its supreme court.

On a how this is all relevant to Cricket in Kenya level, what it means is that rather than being accorded more support (in keeping with the idea that they might be developed into future powerhouses of the game), associates like Kenya will find it harder than before to become part of the cricket mainstream, and a lot easier to slip into oblivion if they do not work extra hard to keep the little access they do have.

A Summary of the changes that will affect Kenya, from avid cricket writer Andrew Nixon

 

No longer is a place at the showpiece 50 Over World Cup a guarantee (the one Kenya made the semi-finals of in 2003).Making it to the t20 version of the World Cup proper has had an additional level of qualifiers tossed in. The World Cricket Leagues and Intercontinental Cup (through which Kenya’s national teams kept busy) have been trimmed down, as well as the youth and developmental tournaments that used to support spreading the game.

It is true there has been an actual offer to provide a pathway to qualifying for test status, but it remains an unsubstantiated promise with no guarantee (at least from the way the ICC has backtracked on other things) of ever becoming reality.
Anyway, I have blown a fuse previously on the absurdity of the so called reforms with regards to how they hurt rather than help the game in countries like Kenya.

Lots of other bloggers have done the same, but for now it seem that even if the local administrators were to get their house in order and get the game in Kenya growing again, it may be for nought.

In short, If cricket stakeholders in Kenya didn’t know this befor they should now understand that ther is simply no future to being a small fish within the International Cricket Council.

Africa T20 Qualifiers


 Even as I write this the International Cricket Council has screwed its associate members AGAIN!  Apparently in exchange for not being chucked out of the 2015 50 over World Cup (we only get chucked out in 2019), the ICC has decided that they are going to take back 4 of the 6 slots they had previously allocated to associates in the T20 World Cup. Never mind the qualifiers have already started. It’s like CAF deciding today to slash the number of participants at the Cup of nations to 8 [/rant]
 Back to the matter at hand, In all honesty, from the fixture list if Kenya doesn’t mercilessly thrash all and sundry (maybe with the exception of our stubborn neighbours Uganda) then we can conclude that Cricket in Kenya is dead and move on to baseball and hockey. Then again with almost the entire ‘golden generation’ of Kenyan cricketers now passed out of circulation (some of whom were kicking and screaming on the way out) maybe this blogger ought not to take it for granted that the current crop will sweep past the likes of Ghana and Nigeria.
Either way as a matter of the standards that we  expect of ourselves and the rest of the cricketing world has come to expect from Kenya we really should win this tournaments and then move on to the global qualifier where the real business of determining who gets the six oops I mean two spaces on the  high table for associates and affiliates.