First, the flashback.
Itâ€™s a paradox that is part of life itself. Of difference too â€” a virtual duality of both design and presence. Long thought to be minnows, Kenya delivered a superb KO punch, which would have made Muhammed Ali proud â€” not just in terms of its inspired performances, but at least for â€˜engineeringâ€™ a major scare to the biggies of one-day cricket, West Indies. Besides, thereâ€™s more to Kenyaâ€™s wondrous safari than what met the ball with the bat, and vice versa, despite the fact that it lost 9 out of 11 matches in World Cup 1996, and every game in the next edition of the tourney.
Evidence? As much as Sri Lanka bungled to the tweaky repertoire of Collins Obuyo, or Zimbabwe buckled under a motivated onslaught, and India scraped through, thanks primarily to Saurav Gangulyâ€™s brilliant century, with its resurgent, middle-order batting line-up, Kenya seemed to have really come of age. It was now a strong contender for possibleTest status â€” one that would be more than justifiable vis-Ã -vis Bangladeshâ€™s premature elevation, so to speak.
This brings us to yet another irony. The skewed pretence of Bangladesh, at one time â€” as a cricketing outfit on the international arena. Bangladesh, to be up-front, could not just hold a candle to Steve Tikoloâ€™s enterprising squad â€” more so, in the wake of the African nationâ€™s spirited journey in World Cup 2003. Besides, the Asian nation was just not there â€” that is, anywhere near accepted standards in terms of its cricketing worth. The team would not have made it to a place high up on Indiaâ€™s domestic Ranji Trophy circuit too â€” though the idea is only hypothetical â€” or, maybe, in any of the competitionâ€™s zonal horizons.
That Bangladesh was beaten to pulp was part of World Cup 2003 folklore. In addition, its ignominious track â€˜actâ€™ â€” in either version of the game â€” was hardly worth a mention in the record books. Quite unlike Kenya. Kenya had the better of the West Indians, in the World Cup group match already cited. Besides, Kenyaâ€™s unexpected victory had left the likes of Brian Lara and company shell-shocked. It was, in realistic terms, a dramatic triumph â€” not what looked like a farce in Blighty 1999, when Pakistan appeared only too happy to â€˜assistâ€™ Bangladesh register its first winning tune in the big tournament â€” a performance that was deemed valid enough for a Test berth.
Look how the sparklers surfaced. As much as Bangladesh went back with hardly any accolade in the bag, Kenya romped â€˜home,â€™ and with it into not just the top league â€” or, Super Six â€” but, also into the semi-finals, which it lost to India, thanks to Sachin Tendulkar and Gangulyâ€™s â€” yet again â€” fireworks. A record, no less â€” for a non-Test playing nation making it where it all matters, and where only the big guys last another day.
It makes sad reading while relating the point of Kenya cricket being there in the sun, and not being there at all â€” for reasons other than cricket. You got it right. Kenya cricket is in the doldrums. It was only what it was earlier because of its players, who were putting their hearts and souls into the game. Besides, there were no real sponsors, except for one that only filled the fringe, with no huge pay-packets, incentives, or advertisement contracts, for Kenya players unlike most of our stars, or demi-gods. Also, the so-called fee, or the position Kenya players held, by way of a job, or designation in companies, in Nairobi, or elsewhere, to meet both ends, was next to nothing in comparison to the cushy corporate package for a first-class cricketer, this side of the Suez.
This is not all. Thereâ€™s yet another â€˜absurdity.â€™ It hurt terribly in the belly. Kenya, if one goes by way of media reports etc., did not meet the basic requirement for World Cup Prize Money, anywhere on par with the big guns, when it mattered most, because it wasnâ€™t a Test-playing country. Isnâ€™t this a dichotomy of sorts, or sheer discrimination â€” in what we portray as a world of equality; or, equality of opportunity; or, call it what you may?
This wasnâ€™t cricket to say the least â€” and, even if the powers-that-be arrived at a solution, the remedy, at that juncture, seemed to be worse than the â€˜disease.â€™
While it may be argued that one swallow does not a summer make a la Kenyaâ€™s meritorious run in South Africa, not too long ago, there were a few plus-points in the countryâ€™s cricketing armour. Yes, players like Tikolo were of international quality. The stocky guy could walk into any Test side, on his own, as it were. Besides, youâ€™d players like Maurice Obumbe, Ravindu Shah, David and Kennedy Obuya, who were decent performers, aside from Martin Suji, and others, whoâ€™d be more than handy with the bat, or ball, on a given day.
However, the top brass of the Kenya outfit were getting old with age â€” and, there seemed to be no real Kenya assembly-line as in other countries. Cricket, in Kenya, isnâ€™t like India with its domestic tournaments, or Sri Lanka where schoolsâ€™ cricket is the gameâ€™s real oxygen â€” even if the standard seems to be going down a bit, especially on the bowling front. Domestic circuit is the lifeblood for the game to grow and expand, and Kenya is obviously short of it. Aside from that, it does not have invites to play, or tour cricketing nations to hone its playersâ€™ skills â€” on a regular basis â€” like emerging lions, Afghanistan, under its cerebral coach, Lalchand Rajput.
This is not only Kenyaâ€™s concern, but also ICCâ€™s concern. Because, it is only when the game grows can it attract youngsters to its fold â€” youngsters who have the fire and the focus to do well for themselves and their country. Not that the playing fields in Kenya should be full of bright prospects in terms of money. It has to be good enough â€” for talented youngsters to make a reasonably decent living out of it, supplemented by a system of professional contracts, or jobs. This would obviously be difficult, knowing Kenyaâ€™s business-corporate â€˜reputation,â€™ more so in the present dispensation.
To go back a little. The Kenya government itself had almost â€˜killedâ€™ Kenya Cricket, a few years ago, thanks to allegations of aficionadosâ€™ fancies, high-handedness and financial bungling. Things returned to a state of relative normalcy only after ICC intervention.
The fact remains. Things have turned full circle. Kenya is no match to Bangladesh, today. Also, Kenyaâ€™s performance, on the whole, has been, in the recent past, awfully catastrophic. As Asif Karim, the countryâ€™s veteran off-spinner quipped, â€œKenya cricket is dead and buried.â€
â€”Â First published @Â HOLDINGWILLEY
Photo, Courtesy:Â ICC CRICKET