Cricket team has sunk to new lows
That Kenya’s national cricket team has been on the back foot for some years now is not new, but the team’s recent performance at the T20 World Cup qualifiers which saw it lose even to an unranked Nepal, left many former players, observers and administrators befuddled, and looking for answers.
“At this rate, Kenya will be dropped to a lower division,” observed former captain Steve Tikolo who retired after last year’s World Cup.
Even the ever-confident Cricket Kenya was appalled. “In the wake of the national team’s poor performance at the ICC World Twenty20 qualifying tournament in Dubai, Cricket Kenya has re-affirmed its commitment to improving standards of the game at all levels in the country,” a statement signed by CK CEO Tom Sears admitted in part.
“The governing body shares the disappointment of all Kenya cricket supporters but is making progress at all levels of the sport to ensure that performance at all levels improves.”
Kenya on sticky wicket
Ever since Kenya Cricket Association was disbanded and replaced by the CK and new office bearers, Kenya has been on a sticky wicket and has been limping from one loss to another against ‘smaller’ sides like Afghanistan, while the CK keeps hoping against hope that things will get better with time.
In order to get results, the CK has tried everything in the form book and it is not lost on observers that it is not trying hard enough, since the performance has been nothing but poor.
From replacing captains - Maurice Ouma before the 2011 World Cup where Kenya’s performance was dismal, and Jimmy Kamande after the World Cup - to hiring James Michael Hesson as coach to replace the hapless Eldine Baptiste, the downward spiral has continued, and what is starkly evident is that CK is not only fumbling and bumbling along, but also groping in the dark for a winning formula which has so far eluded it.
Apart from captains and coaches, players have been selected and dropped again and again, contracts have been given, withdrawn and given again, batting orders have been drawn, changed, redrawn and different ‘teams’ have been formed, disbanded and formed again and again, but there is still nothing much to write home about.
In its raft of changes, senior players were the first to be dropped and there was a hue and cry, but no one was listening, least of all the CK which figured out that it was time to break with the past and select a team of young players who could be moulded into winners.
But even before the so-called young players could take to the field, a section refused to sign on the dotted line and CK reacted in the best way it knows: by dropping them.
But it was not before long that the non-listening CK and the belligerent players came to an understanding of some sort, and the contracts were redrawn, with supposedly fairer terms, and they kissed and made up.
Even then, the performance did not improve and with the players fighting the urge to revolt, and CK fighting the urge to drop them, a simmering row was exposed, and it became clear that problems were simply glossed over but never solved - in another case of hoping against hope.
Infighting, low morale, power-plays, one-upmanship and deep mistrust within both the boardroom and the dressing room have seen officials and players pull in different directions.
Cricket has been replaced by blame game, and when both sides have blamed each other and one another so much that they cannot do it anymore, they have suddenly found a new entity to blame, the government, and people are wondering where they have been all along.
“Kenya is the country in the ICC High Performance Programme that does not receive substantial financial government funding,” read the CK press release.
“We do not receive any (funding) at all while the levels of government money invested in cricket in countries like Afghanistan, Ireland and others reach hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. We are not competing on a level playing field but we are doing everything we can with the resources we have.”
That statement elicited peals of dry laughter from Tikolo. He said:“We played cricket and posted good results when there was no government funding. CK should find out what the problem is and solve it instead of coming up with excuses.”
Tikolo says that it is not a secret that there is low morale in the team, and that players have no direction, thus, CK needs to come out clean and save the game.
His sentiments are echoed by Thomas Odoyo, a senior player who was also dropped in the changes, and who like Tikolo, is a veteran of Kenya’s five World Cup appearances.
“This blame game will not take Kenya anywhere, and if Kenya fails to qualify for the next World Cup, it will be dropped to a lower division. There should be some consistency and these changes will not amount to much unless the office realises what the impediments are,” Odoyo says.
According to the press release, CK shares “supporters’ frustration at results and are looking at ways we can address those with immediate effect”.
A number of steps were suggested to “create an environment where Kenyans can play cricket, want to play cricket and have the support to ensure they become the best they can be.”
Among those steps are establishment of an Emerging Players squad to create more competition for places in the full national squad and retaining a fully professional national squad on full-time contracts with comprehensive support staff and training programme.
The press release also revealed that CK is in negotiations with the ICC and Full Member countries to provide more opportunities for Kenyans to play at a higher level in international series and overseas domestic competitions.
At the moment, those changes remain on paper – and the downward spiral towards a lower division continues.