How MYSA reject Shem Ngoche ditched football to captain Kenya cricket team

Cricket Kenya captain Shem Ngoche in action during a training session at the Nairobi Gymkhana Cricket ground on August 24, 2022, ahead of the bilateral series between Kenya and Nepal set for August 25 to September 5. [Kelly Ayodi, Standard]

While growing up in Park Road estate in Nairobi, Shem Ngoche had high hopes to be the Lionel Messi of Kenyan football.

He trained hard to be the best in the game in all departments. He was actually a jack of all trades; a goalkeeper, a midfield maestro and a lethal striker.

He also embraced cricket which was the main sport played in the hood where he was raised as well as the surrounding Ngara and Ziwani estates.

Despite playing cricket, his love for football was unrivalled then. This inspired him one day to go for the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) U-15 trials for the annual Norway Cup.

Never did he know that this great leap of faith would break his heart forever with football, parting with the sport he dearly cherished.

"I remember I attended the MYSA selection with Tusker FC midfielder Humphrey Mieno who was a good childhood friend," said Ngoche told Standard Sports.

"I later found out that there was this unwritten rule, by the selectors, that only players from Eastlands, especially from Mathare slums, were to be given priority in the selection.

"Those of us hailing from Ngara, Ziwani and Park Road were told by the coaches that we were still very young and should instead try our luck the following year.

"This meant some of us who were already 15 years old had no chance as we would be over age come the next intake.

"I really felt bad because I had looked forward to boarding my first plane to Norway."

As fate would have it, there was an U-15 cricket selection the following week after his MYSA flop and he attended the session at the Nairobi Gymkhana.

Ngoche was no doubt roped into the Kenyan junior team on what he says was on merit.

That move gradually dislodged himself from football, even though he managed to partially play for Pelico Ngara Youth FC in the then Kenya Football Federation Nationwide League, but not with the same vigor and conviction he had while growing up playing the game.

"Getting a chance in the U-15 cricket team showed me there is greater opportunity in the sport than in football where there was less honesty. In football, I felt I might be victimised never to realise my full potential," Ngoche underlined.

"I learnt early that I needed a Godfather, a great connection or to offer a certain favour in order to prosper in football rather than my talent taking me places."

The 33 year old bowler has since risen in cricket, with his greatest moment in the sport being in 2011 where he played in the ICC World Cup in India, co-hosted by Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

"It was a moment that came true as I played alongside my three other siblings; Nehemiah Odhiambo, Lamech Onyango and James Ngoche.

"My other lovely moment in the sport was in 2012 against visiting Ireland in Mombasa. I won the man of the match after bowling 4 overs, 5 wickets and 12 runs," he recalls.

The right-handed bowler has since scaled up the ladder in the cricket world, both at the club level where he has featured for top league sides Impala, Stray Lions, Kongonis and Swamibapa as well as the national team.

He took over the national team captaincy from the 2003 South Africa World Cup talisman Collins Obuya in 2018 and has since led Kenya in other major outings including the ICC World Cricket League Division 3 in Oman that same year.

He skippered Kenya in the T20 World Cup African Qualifier in Uganda (2018-2019), the ICC T20 World Cup Qualifier in the United Arab Emirates (2019) and the ICC Men's T20 World Cup African Qualifier in Rwanda (2021).

Last week, he captained the team in the ICC World Cup Qualifier in Jersey where Kenya won four of the five matches.

He is currently steering the Kenyan side against the visiting Nepal at the Nairobi Gymkhana in a five-day T20 series and a three-one dayers (ODI) challenge.

"We are looking forward to winning three of the five T20 matches against Nepal. If we triumph even in two that will be a great boost for Kenya in relation to the ICC ranking as the opponents are ranked way ahead of us," Ngoche underlined.

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