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National cricket team captain Banja cries for women’s game

CRICKET By Elizabeth Mburugu | May 6th 2020
Captain Cricket Kenya Women during her training out of pitch as Covid-19 progresses in the country.

She says Kenya has talented female cricketers and CK should invest in them.

Local women cricketers forced to cross over to Uganda in order to play.

National cricket team captain Margaret Banja believes that all is not lost for the women’s game.

This is despite the girls being overlooked for years with no league or regular tournaments to keep them active.

Banja, who is one of the senior players and pioneers of women cricket in Kenya, says that lack of play time in the country has forced Kenyan players to seek refuge in Uganda where they not only nurture their skills but are also paid.

“Some of our girls play in Uganda because there is nothing for us here. We don’t have a league to help sharpen our skills therefore they are left with no option but to run the neighbouring country where they develop in the game and also earn from it,” Banja said.

She says she is fortunate to have come from a cricketing family which made it easier for her to grow, but shew believes Cricket Kenya (CK) needs to invest in the women’s game.

“I grew up surrounded by the best cricketers in Kenya, I peeped through the window all the time to watch the likes of Maurice Odumbe, Tikolo brothers Tom and Steve, Peter Ongondo, Joseph Angara among other top national team players who were our neighbours play,” she said.

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Coming from what she terms a big family that can form their own cricket club Banja would sneak to watch her brothers play without their knowledge.

“I’m lucky I was never coached from scratch because of my brothers. I never stayed at home but followed them to the ground and I would sometimes hide so I could learn a few things about the game.”

Cricket runs in Banja’s family with most of them having represented Kenya in the men and women national teams.

Lameck Onyango the eldest leads the way as one of the most dependable bowlers, Shem Ngoche, Nehemiah Odhiambo, James Ngoche and Joseph Owino are all cricketers.

She is not the only girl active in the sport. Her sisters Mary Belle and Dolin Adhiambo also had a stint with bat and ball.

Banja, who started playing cricket over a decade ago and is now a development coach says that the country has lost many promising players along the way who gave up on the sport due to lack of motivation.

“When I began playing in 2000 we were not many of us but then the numbers started growing and more girls developed interest after cricket was introduced in schools. However, along the way they gave up because there was nothing to motivate them.”

She adds that as CK works on the constitution which will pave way for election of new managers of cricket, they should have an all inclusive constitution that looks to develop the women’s game.

“My prayer is that the new constitution gives a voice to women and takes them into consideration because for many years we have been an afterthought. Our issues have not been taken seriously and the only way we can move cricket from where it is right now is if we are empowered,” she added.

Banja who coaches in primary and secondary schools around Starehe Constituency adds that over the years she has seen promising players waste away because of the bleak future that surrounds the sport.

“Many of the girls I coach come from needy families and they need motivation to stay in the game.

“Sometimes their parents approach me to help the girls where I can so if CK can invest in them by paying fees, it will inspire them to stay in the game and improve their skills.”

She adds that with players quitting the game, she has also assumed a parental role for her charges.

“I have to be a mother to these girls because I want them to be in the game. With no structures to ensure a smooth transition, I have to maintain a close relationship with them so I can keep track of what they are doing.”

She urges the incoming office to invest in the game by putting up structures that will ensure that age group cricket is vibrant as well as a women’s league that will ensure they play regularly.

“We need to have structures because it has been very difficult for the girls to remain in the game after they are done with school. We also need a vibrant women’s league so we can play weekly matches.

“We used to play with the men in the Nairobi Provincial Cricket Association but since the leadership wrangles started, we have not managed to play competitively,” Banja said.

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