Youngsters keep World Cup dreams alive: Cricket U19 national team off to restore long lost glory

By Elizabeth Mburugu: Saturday, December 30th 2017 at 00:00 GMT +3 | Cricket
U19 CRICKET Keeper/Batsman Ankit Hirani of Team Kenya during the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup Qualifier at Nairobi Gymkana Grounds on Saturday, July 01, 2017. [PHOTO: JONAH ONYANGO/STANDARD]

After 16 years of waiting, all eyes on Kenyan cricketers as they seek to make their fans smile again

Kenya’s return to the International Cricket Council (ICC) Under-19 World Cup will rekindle memories of a once revered cricketing nation that lost its glory, thanks to warring officials.

For long, Kenya was considered a nation whose cricketing prowess was on the rise, but all was lost and it can only be considered a sleeping giant that needs to wake up from deep slumber. The Under 19 World Cup, which bowls off mid next month in New Zealand, will give Kenyan youngsters an opportunity to rewrite cricket story as well as mark the beginning of another journey towards recovery and probable success.

The young men qualified for the global event after 16 years of failed attempts. Under the tutelage of former Kenyan international and skipper Jimmy Kamande, the U19 side succeeded where their predecessors had failed.

Under 19 crickets players receive sports Kits Under 19 crickets players,Sachin Bluidia captian,Maxwell Ager,Aman Gandhi and Rene Were,display their sports kits at Simba union on 22nd December 2017.[Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

The team left the country yesterday for Australia where they will play friendly matches against Australian side Sydney Thunder ahead of the World Cup set for January 13 to February 3 in New Zealand.

In New Zealand, all eyes will be on the Kenyan lads as cricket enthusiasts seek to witness Kenya’s prospects of regaining its lost status in the world of cricket.

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Their qualification did not come easy; they deserved it after a well fought battle in the African qualifiers. They played their hearts out to earn their ticket.

Their hard work, dedication, determination, hunger for success -- which could also be what was lacking in previous squads --and zeal bore fruit.

Their relentless battle against Uganda in the decisive match is still fresh in the minds of most fans. Having lost to Uganda by 69 runs in the first round, they were written off by most people, but they chose to keep the faith and Kamande, their coach, believed in them.

“I know my players too well, especially when it comes to their abilities. Losing in the first round did not make me lose faith in their capabilities and what we had worked on together,” Kamande says.

The Kenyan boys shocked the Ugandans, who thought they had already sealed the ticket after victory in the first round. They bowled them out for 60 in 17.1 overs and hit the target in nine overs. Led by captain Sachin Bhudia, the youngsters ended Kenya’s 16-year wait to return to the global junior event.

Spectacular bowling by Bhudia, Gerald Mwendwa and Maxwell Ager did it for Kenya as the trio dismissed Uganda with ease. Thomas Ochieng stood firm for Kenya with the bat and was named man-of-the match.

The Under-19 team breathed life into Kenyan cricket and their efforts have not gone unnoticed. For the first time in many years, cricket was nominated in the Safaricom Sports Personality of the Year Awards (SOYA). Kamande, who has been nominated in the SOYA Coach of the Year category, said it as a great honour not just for him but for the sport.

“It is a great honour to be recognised. This is the first time it’s happening (for a cricket coach to be nominated). I’m humbled that our efforts did not go unnoticed. I believe this is a new beginning forKenyan cricket because SOYA is the most prestigious award in the country as well as in East Africa. It’s no mean feat to make the list of nominees,” Kamande said.

His boys are were also nominated in the SOYA Team of the Year category while opening batsman Aman Gandhi and bowler Abhishek Chidambaran were shortlisted for the boys Most Promising Player category.

“It is a great achievement for the team and a success for cricket. For many years, we (cricketers) were never nominated and I believe it is because we never achieved much since SOYA was started.

“The boys have earned it and set the bar high and it is now every cricketer’s responsibility to make sure they maintain the upward trend,” Kamande said.

In SOYA's Coach of the Year category, Kamande is up against KCB rugby coach Curtis Olago, Telkom women’s hockey coach, last year’s SOYA winner Jos Openda, Kenya Lionesses’ (women’s rugby) coach Kevin Wambua and Vihiga United coach Edward Manoah.

His boys will be against Kenya Premier League champions Gor Mahia, KCB RFC, Kenya Police hockey team and Strathmore University handball team for the men’s Team of the Year award.

Gandhi and Chidambaran will face challenge from AFC Leopard’s Seth Oburu and Leonard Kipkemboi Bett of athletics.

The cricketing duo was excited: “The nomination amounts to success of cricket as a sport. I’m happy and when our team was nominated, it motivated us to work harder. We hope to win,” Chidambaran said.

“For us (cricketers) to be recognised with athletes from popular disciplines such as athletics, rugby and football is in itself an achievement. It is a morale booster and an inspiration to keep giving our all and aiming for better results,” Gandhi said.

Kenyans are hopeful the return to the U19 World Cup will act as a launching pad in their quest to reclaim the the country's lost glory.

Maurice Odumbe, a former Kenyan international and skipper, who was part of the Kenyan team that reached the 2003 senior World Cup semifinals, said the future of Kenyan cricket is bright.

“Our cricket standards have dwindled over the years. We are no longer the strong and respected cricketing nation we were over a decade ago. However, all is not lost and these boys have shown we can never run out of talented players. I believe this is a team we can build for a bright future,” Odumbe said.

Coach Kamande said for Kenya to rise, stand and remain firm, they will need to leave a mark at the U19 World Cup.

“The boys did their best and qualified and I believe they will give their best shot at the World Cup because they are all focusing on positive results.

“However, for the country to rise again will depend on how we perform at the event,” he said.

He added that a lot needs to done for the country to nurture talent.

“My players are talented and I see most of them breaking into the senior team very soon.

“But they need to be nurtured. They need more international friendly matches and if the right measures are put in place, it won’t take long for Kenya to qualify for the senior World Cup,” Kamande said.

He added that he believes his players have promising careers, just like top players in the world, who launched their careers in the U19 before rising to stardom.

“Most of the world’s successful cricketers such as Virat Kohli started their journey to success in the U19 World Cup. It only means that if we nurture these players, we will surely attain success."

Kenya are in Group A together with defending champions West Indies, South Africa and homeboys New Zealand.

They will begin their campaign against South Africa and a victory against the continental heavyweights will surely boost their confidence.

Group B has Australia, India, Papua New Guinea and Zimbabwe. Bangladesh, Canada, England and Namibia are in Group C while Afghanistan, Ireland, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are in Group D.