Kenyan cricket must stop living in the past

There is an international cricket series that started in Kenya yesterday.

The hosts are fielding two sides, Kenya XI and Kenya Select, against Oman, Malaysia, and Singapore.

The matches are being played at Simba Union and Jaffreys Ground and the series will run till May 20.

That is good news, but it was 14 years ago that Kenya’s cricket team made a big mark in the cricketing world.

For those who might have forgotten, and they cannot be blamed, the men’s national team reached the semi-finals of the Cricket World Cup that was held in South Africa, with some matches being played in Kenya and Zimbabwe.

No doubt the team was good, but by some stroke of good luck, New Zealand refused to honour their match against Kenya in Nairobi and Kenya bagged those points.

Sri Lanka, who were the co-hosts with Pakistan and India in 1996 when Kenya played in the World Cup for the first time, were not bothered by the (in)security concerns of the New Zealanders and agreed to honour their fixture in Nairobi.

They were beaten black and blue by the Kenyans. The 2003 win against Sri Lanka meant so much for Kenya because in 1996, Sri Lanka had set a record when they beat Kenya in Kandy. Sri Lanka won the World Cup in 1996 even though Kenya pulled one of the biggest upsets in cricketing history by beating the mighty West Indies in Pune. In football terms, that is equivalent to Harambee Stars beating Brazil — only that Harambee Stars would have to qualify for the Fifa World Cup first!

In 1996, Kenya was little-known, but they were on the world stage without any corporate sponsors, and it was the only team whose jerseys had only a badge, but that single win against the mighty West Indies made everyone sit back and start looking at them differently.

In seven short years, they pulled another upset by beating another world champion and the cricketing world started thinking that Africa’s cricketing landscape, which had been dominated by South Africa and Zimbabwe, was going to change and would see a third power.

That is too much history.

A few years down the line, that success, or good history, was replaced by hysteria and a downward spiral started. Things changed. The name of Kenya’s cricketing body changed, the office bearers changed, the coaches were changed, and the game plan changed. Kenya stopped playing cricket. They started playing the blame game and ultimately, the country lost its One Day International status and was sent to lower rungs of world cricket.

That is where Kenya is now. Last month, Kenya was beaten black and blue, and all colours of the national flag, by Uganda. Kenya’s fans were enraged, more so because Uganda’s coach is not just a former Kenyan coach, but a former Kenyan player.

Whenever Kenya loses to a smaller team, people fall back on history — and everyone speaks about 2003, the good old days of 2003 when it was thought that Kenya was ready to join cricket’s elite club of Test-playing nations.

Several other factors occasioned by self-inflicted wounds ensured that Kenya did not get that coveted status. Finger-pointing and name-calling and talking at one another on the crease, in the dressing room, in the boardroom, in the stands and, yes, in court rooms saw the country’s cricketing fortunes dwindle.

Kenya’s cricket was on a sticky wicket, on the back foot, was being hit for sixes, was being stumped, and getting bowled and was losing matches as if they were going to get some kind of a trophy for it.

The name of the game was blame game and there was no time for introspection. Every loss was followed by excuses, not explanations. Poor results were piling up and no one wanted to take responsibility. Those who were in charge were playing victims and when questions were asked, they fell back on 2003, on history. They wanted the team to be as good as it was then, but did not want to know what was done for it to get there.

They were changing structures, or not putting any in place, and the results kept getting poorer, but they were on the defensive, fighting enemies that existed only in their heads and blaming people and circumstances the rest of the cricketing world knew naught about.

They wanted to go back to the good old days of 2003, when Kenya was winning matches and players were disciplined and happy and coaches were respected, but their collective attitude held them back. Nowadays, Kenya plays in the World Cricket League. That is their qualification route to the World Cup, and it is not a smooth ride. The chances of the team making it to the next World Cup in 2019 are slim, and they will get slimmer as long as Kenyan cricket refuses to pick itself up and continues living in the past.

The writer is an editor with the Weekend editions of Standard.

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