This weekend Kenya’s national cricket team are in Uganda to participate in the Africa leg of the pre-qualifiers of the 2014 T20 World Cup. Up until recently Kenya’s relatively strong historical performances meant that they were already pre-qualified to the final stage (global) qualifiers and we only entered a team to give exposure to up and coming young talent. However at the last global qualifier, the team’s overall ranking meant that not only were they far away from making the world cup, but they lost their automatic qualifier slot to Namibia, who themselves were only one game from making the World Cup itself. This time around they absolutely must finish in the top two to be assured of a space, as one of Africa’s two representatives, in the Global Qualifier in Dubai later this year.
Cricket Kenya have therefore, I believe, sent out the strongest team available for the tournament to be absolutely sure of making it out of this stage, never mind that, of the other teams in the competition, only Uganda have any kind of history of being competitive against, never mind beating Kenya’s men’s team in a cricket match.
The team will have Collins Obuya, Ragheb Aga and Tanmay Mishra, players with T20 experience in domestic competitions of the highest level. Collo and Ragheb have featured in England’s main T20 county competitions, whilst Mishra was a member of the now defunct IPL franchise, the Deccan Chargers last season. Aside from them, there is also Maurice Ouma, Hiren Varaiya, Nehemiah Odhiambo and Alex Obanda who featured in Kenya’s only trip to the T20 World Cup in 2007 and there is Rakep Patel and James Ngoche who have exposure in the 50 over version of the World Cup. They now carry the bulk of experience for the national team. They newer lads, Nelson Odhiambo, Lucas Oluoch, Dominic Wesonga, Emmanuel Bundi, and Irfan Karim have all shone in East Africa Cup and Premier League competitions, and for the most part they should be too skilled for the likes of Nigeria and Botswana. It is imperative however, that they bring their A games to be certain of making it out of what could be a tricky stage of qualification and set themselves up to have another go at the global qualifier.
The build up hasn’t been without controversy, with the squad heading out to Uganda just a week after one or two potential players featured in the non sanctioned Zuku Cricket Wars tournament. I’m not saying that these guys were certain to be in the team but one does wonder if being there did factor as a reason to leave them out by Cricket Kenya now or later on. That aside this blogger wants to wish our boys all the best in the qualifiers.
Former Zimbabwe international wicket keeper Robin Brown has been named as interim national team coach of the Kenya national cricket team. Brown, 61 years old, has been in Kenya for several months as Cricket Kenya’s head of cricket development. He comes from a generation of Zimbabwean cricketers that represented their country through that Nation’s first years after independence. His contemporaries include former ashes winning England coach Duncan Fletcher. In that time they did not lose so much as a single world cup qualifier, and famously, at the 1983 Cricket World Cup, defeated an India team that would go on to win the tournament. On the coaching side, Robin Brown served as Zimbabwe’s national coach (from 2007 to 2008) during a difficult time for the game of cricket there. In spite of the difficulties, he managed to inspire the team to shock victory over Australia at that year’s t20 world cup. It can also be argued that his spell in charge was the beginning of a revival of the Zimbabwe national team climaxing in it regaining its test status after 5yrs of self imposed exile. Its probably that reputation that got Cricket Kenya interested in his services to begin with. He takes over the national team at a time it is in need of new inspiration and focus. 6 points adrift of early World Cup qualification and facing Namibia, a team we were to sweeping aside with contempt, but have really struggled with over the past 2 years. Over the past 4 or 5 years, Kenya’s fans have also had to deal with the national team being bypassed by Ireland, The Netherlands, and Afghanistan, as the begu tier 2 cricketing nations. Robin’s mission however, is most likely to get the best out a talented, but underexposed group of players, and re-establish dominance over Namibia in October. Should he be able to do this, it will very likely put him in the driver’s seat to take the job full time and therefore have the kind of security of tenure needed to work a more long term solution to the national team’s woes.
That being the margin, expressed in Net Run Rate, by which Kenya’s attempt to get into the World T20 World Cup in 2012 fell short. Kenya eventually finished the tournament ranked 9 out of 16 participants and with an overall reccord of 5 wins and 4 losses. Obviously there is more to this failure than one run, or one less ball. That’s what this post is about. First lets look at the batting. Kenya’s batsmen turned out nothing short of a Jekyll and Hyde performance. In the 5 wins the batting looked as solid as any in the tournament. 50s were had by most of the people tasked to deliver them, and in general they did so at the kind of high strike rates that are the heart of T20 cricket. This we shall call the Dr. Jekyll. Doing as expected, conforming to expectations, but ultimately a facade. The Mr. Hyde in this case, and what a gruesome Hyde it was, came out particularly in the defeats to Ireland and Namibia. In these games Kenya were shot out for 77 and 108 respectively. These innings were marked with panic, slow run rates and multiple wickets falling in quick succession. A solid reliable top 6 suddenly had no answers to the questions posed to them by the bowlers. Note that the two teams that managed to draw out this level of panic from Kenya will meet in a playoff to fight for a slot in the T20 World Cup. It seems that the level of cricket the above mentioned two teams are operating marks a threshhold beyond which Kenya’s batsmen simply lose their way. As for the bowling, their failures were far less dramatic than those of their batting counterparts, however they still looked notably out of their depth against the teams who’ve since progressed farther than Kenya in the qualifiers. Can that be helped? Notably both Namibia and Ireland have one thing in common that Kenya doesn’t. A core of players continually exposed to levels of cricket (in South Africa and England) which they have to cope with the pressure of being outskilled on a regular basis. This is something I alluded to in my preview to this tournament. Our boys boys don’t seen to know what to do when their natural gifts don’t give them a significant advantage against their opponents. In my previous post I noted that unlike Kenya’s cricket teams of the past this lot have virtually no exposure to anything better than their buddies at club level. Players whom they are so much better than. This puts Kenya in a Catch 22 situation. In order to get better they must qualify for the big ICC tournaments on a regular basis, but in order to qualify for these big tournaments, they have to find a way past the Irelands and Namibias of this world. In order to do that they have to get better. In the medium term Cricket Kenya’s East Africa Premier League could possibly attract a level of outside talent that will force Kenya’s players to learn how to win even when outgunned. However until then, Cricket Kenya has to find other ways to raise the level of competition Kenya is exposed to or next time the margin won’t be 0.007.
In little over 18 hours from the publication of this post, Kenya will begin the quest for qualifiction to the 2012 T20 Cricket World Cup to be hosted by Sri Lanka, in September by facing Scotland in a round robin match. Kenya is one of 12 associate (2nd tier) teams fighting over 2 slots in a qualifying tournament in U.A.E starting tomorrow. The other teams in Kenya’s group are: Namibia, Uganda, Italy and Oman. The winner of this group wil face the winner of group A (Ireland, Afghanistan, U.A.E, Denmark, Papua New Guinea and Bermuda) in final number one, for one of the two World cup places. The teams that finish 2nd and 3rd in their respective groups will themselves go head to head to determine which one will play the loser of final number one, for the other world cup slot. I have no idea why it has to be this convoluted, but that’s how the ICC seem to like doing things. Kenya haven’t been to the world cup for this format since the inaugural event in 2007, and the less we talk about what happened then, the better. Kenya’s team has been through a massive evolution, nay revolution since then and even now can still be said to be transition. This is transition from a generation, who developed their game when Kenya was stuck in the No Mans land of being sole ODI nation, to a generation of players who have virtually none of the exposure to the big guns of world cricket their predecessors had but are still expected to somehow assert dominance over the rest their associate peers. What are Kenya’s chances of earning one of these two World Cup slots? Its imperative that this team believes in its own ability to deliver the goods. All the players selected have shown in sparks here and again that individually they can wreak havoc (both as batsmen and bowlers) on players and teams even when on paper it shouldn’t be possible. Many fans will remember Collins Obuya’s sparkling 98 against Australia at the 2011 World Cup. Its not for nothing Tanmay Mishra’s become only the second international from outside the test (1st tier) nations to get an IPL Contract. Then there is the Ngoche brothers. They are the spine of Kenya’s bowling just now and have outclassed all the opposition batsmen at least once. Surely the penny’s got to drop soon and these sparks will develop into a big roaring flame. Maybe I’m getting a little carried away. Lets look at Kenya’s opponents. In group B. Italy and Oman haven’t done anything remotely notable in Cricket so, except for massive complacency on Kenya’s part these games should be won fairly easily. The other three teams in the group: Namibia, Uganda and Scotland, on the other hand represent a much tougher prospect and should be approached with utmost seriousness if Kenya are to get victory. Namibia is a team that have blown plenty of match exposure from being a part of South Africa’s domestic competitions and thus have lots of team chemistry. A Kenyan XI squad visited Namibia late last year and played 8 t20 matches losing 6 of them and winning 2. Though one could qualify the outcome by saying that not all of Kenya’s best players travelled and there was a huge amount of chopping and changing of line ups across the matches, its still a good indicator of how strong Namibia can be in this format of cricket. Scotland also have several seasons of playing as a team, this time in England, however Kenya’s head to head record against them in t20s is markedly better than that against Namibia. Nonetheless, they still represent one of the strongest squads in the tournament and Kenya would do well not to spare any slack when dealing with them. Uganda have developed a liking for putting egg on the faces of Kenya of late, they beat us as recently as Sunday. Though not normally a big contender for World cup places and the like, they do like to save their best for Kenya. Should Kenya come through this group, my expectation is the most likely competitors they will face, in whichever final they may have to play, will be Ireland and The Netherlands. Not only do both these teams have better head to head records in the T20 format against Kenya but they both have giant killing form characteristic of teams full of confidence in what they are doing. Which is not to say that they can’t be beaten, only that for it to be done there can be no room for complacency. Having said all that, Kenya’s is, a young squad, arguably not at the height of its powers. Coming through all this and securing a place at the high take of World Cricket in Sri Lanka come September would send a massive statement that Kenyan cricket is truly back.
As I write this Kenya’s national Cricket team are on their way back from Zimbabwe after playing 3 of that Nation’s domestic franchises (and the Zimbabwe Under 19s) in a series of T20 matches. The final analysis was 2 wins, 4 losses and 1 abandonment. Generally, with the exception of a 3 wicket win against the Eagles ([url= http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/540219.html%5Dmostly Rakep Patel’s hard work[/url]) our batting struggled for momentum. Indeed the above victory is th only game we managed more than 130 in our own innings. On the other hand the closeness of most of the games nonetheless points to a fighting spirit which this blogger reckons will stand that squad well in the future. However, depending on an explosive innings by top order batsman conveniently booted down the order, or a bowler defying gravity is hardly…sustainable. Somebody, or some of the batsmen have to start putting their hands up on a more consistent basis so the bowlers aren’t up against it so often. This being something that Kenya have struggled in reada years and not just in this format of cricket. I pray earnestly that this won’t be the case soon. Over to you, Mile Hesson.
Four years since being reduced to 0/4 by New Zealand (in an eventual 10 wicket thrashing) on the biggest stage in the world of T20 cricket, Kenya find themselves on the wrong end of a 6-2 series defeat at the hands of Namibia. From that scoreline, and the chopping and changing that sticks out like a sore thumb, when you take a closer look at the scorecards, it is obvious we are still to master the newest incarnation of the gentleman’s game. The team made up mainly from the best performers in the recently concluded East Africa Premier League (where no Kenyan teams qualified for the finals) didn’t seem to have any answers to what an older and much more exposed Namibia squad brought to the table. At one point they were 5-0 down in the series having failed to defend even targets as his as 197 in 20 overs. With a few bright spots amidst the carnage, see Nehemiah Odhiambo and Ragheb Aga’s batting as well as Lucas Oluoch’s bowling, Kenya still have to click as a unit and it behoves that a winning formula be found sooner rather than later, so that amongst other things the colossal levels of chopping and changing that is evident in the lineup so far in the tour can come to a stop. Over to you, Mike Hesson.