Khoda: It's time to rebuild Kenya's battered cricket

Swamibapa's Bowler James Ng'oche throwing the ball under the keen watch of Umpire Rocky Demelo during Nairobi Provincial Cricket Association League at Sikh Union, Nairobi. Sept 26, 2021. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

The road to recovery for Kenyan cricket is long and tortuous and the country cannot afford another round of lawsuits, former Swamibapa cricketer Harshad Khoda has said.

Instead, Khoda wants the newly elected Cricket Kenya officials to be accorded support to revive the country’s dwindling fortunes in the sport.

“My heart bleeds when I see a number of people rushing to court to try and block the new office.

“Running to court is a complete waste of time given where our game is today. The solution is not in the courts. The sooner we realise that and channel the meagre resources to developing cricket facilities the better,” Khoda said in an interview.

Khoda is also a member of non-profit organisation Swamibapa Group that is currently spearheading maintenance of the cricket pitch at Jamhuri High School, said Kenya has a lot to do for recover the lost ground in cricket development.

According to Swamibapa group, to restore the lost glory of the sport, Cricket should be introduced in the Kenyan curriculum for young people to embrace it at a tender age.

“If we change our mindset, then the future of the sport, will be nothing but bright. We should all come together in partnership with the government and any other willing organization to help, and restore the Kenyan cricket back to its glory days,” said Kishore Sanghani, a team manager at the Club.

“I call upon all those who have lodged lawsuits against the new office to withdraw them. We are not looking good in the eyes of International Cricket Council and our government, who have done a lot to restore sanity in Cricket Kenya,” he said.

On Swamibapa Group’s partnership with Jamhuri High School, Khoda said it was aimed at reconnecting youngsters to cricket.

“We want to re-trace the steps that made Kenya a force to reckon with starting in early 90s to 2003. Swamibapa has produced many players that have played for the national team such as the Tikolo brothers, Tom, Steve and David Tikolo. Others are; Abbas Akram, Angara (Dennis), Tariq Iqbal, Nitin Patel and many others,” Khoda said.

The former Swamibapa player has now teamed up with Narendra Patel, Kishore Sanghani, Bassant Halai and Harshad Vassani among others to maintain the Cricket pitch at the Nairobi-based school.

“With the blessings of our past and present gurus, we hope to re-ignite the passion in our cricket for the sake of the youngsters. I am happy that we have the support of such people as Hitesh Ghorosia and Gansham Patel who have supported Swamibapa’s initiatives to develop cricket, all for the good of Kenya,” Khoda said.

The Swamibapa’s mission had been to improve facilities at the School, which is the second oldest school in Nairobi and the biggest day secondary school countrywide.

Popularly known as “Jamuu” or by the older nickname “Dukes”, the school located to the present site in Ngara, on Limuru Road, the school has had its facilities rehabilitated to admirable standards.

The school principal Fredrick Awour said in its glory days, the school performed well in academics and they were outstanding in hockey and cricket. Presently all that is a pale shadow of previous achievements.

Groundsmen maintain the cricket pitch at Jamhuri.[Courtesy]

However, he is optimistic they are slowly returning to their heydays.

“Since 2017 we partnered with Swamibapa Sports Group for them to put up a cricket court and also maintain the fields for us, that was a partnership that was very important with the board of management, this Group and also the Ministry of Education," said Awuor.

“This has helped a lot in terms of rehabilitating our grounds which were dilapidated but now are very good because a lot of funding has been done almost to a tune of Sh25million since the project started over five years ago,” Awour said.

The well-maintained facilities; football and rugby pitches as well as an ultra-modern cricket court has boosted the school’s sporting capabilities with the boys enjoying being on the pitch according to Awour.

“As a school, we could not have done this on our own, but when you partner, you can grow bigger, get better because everyone has a piece of the activities and I think that is the way to go,” said Awour, who joined the institution in 2017 when the condition was very bad.

“We couldn’t talk about grass, you could not see the greenery because as it is now even if it is dry, we have underground water pipes which ensure the field is wet and well maintained. We had to close the pitch for many months to allow work to be done, the cricket wicket is done in a specialized way which needs a lot of time to complete,” said Awour.

As for groundsman Wycliffe Lukayu, getting grounds running again after such a long time has taken patience, dedication and most importantly resources.

Lukayu said a dense, wear-resistant sod is essential on athletic fields and play areas to provide playing safety, good footing, and a pleasant appearance.

“Production and maintenance of such a ground depends on the type of grasses used, proper design and construction, good soil drainage, proper seedbed preparation, adequate fertility, and a maintenance program which recognizes the special nature of the care involved,” he said.

Lukayu says little more care is needed when managing the upkeep of a cricket pitch.

“Scarification, aeration, regular mowing and applying fertiliser are all required for the perfect green, particularly in the off season when grass growth should be encouraged in preparation for the following season,” Lukayu said while explaining that regularly keeping the court in shape is tough given the high population in the school.

With a population of approximately 1500 students, Awour said proper management is needed to help the students share the grounds.

“During the day, the Swamibapa team trains on the pitch and in the evening, from 5pm, we have the students on the pitch well spread out in different sports, that way we make sure there is a balance in maintaining the field.”

Awuor also explained how the school has improved on the standards of the game and they want to diversify because a lot of talents can be nurtured.

At the same time, cricketer Prakash Pindoria said the Swamibapa club is in the process of setting up a talent academy at the school to help assimilate more upcoming cricketers to the sport.

Currently among the top sides in the Nairobi Provincial Cricket Association Super League, the club too has their home at Jamhuri where they play their matches from.

“We have our home now unlike when we used to play at Impala in Ngong road, having identity is such a nice thing, besides we recently held a night tournament here that was hugely successful, it something the community wants held in regular basis because of the impact it had,” said Sanghani.

The former Swamibapa player has now teamed up with Narendra Patel, Kishore Sanghani, Vassant Hlai and Harshad Vassani, among others, to maintain the cricket pitch at the Nairobi-based school.

“We have to start somewhere, by training cricketers from an early age, one can almost be certain we shall have a strong senior teams sides in the years to come," said Pindoria, whose playing career span over 15 years.