Struggling Kenya face bleak cricket future

2013-01-05 12:19:03 GMT2013-01-05 20:19:03(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

NAIROBI, Jan. 5 (Xinhua) -- For a while, the world stood still as Kenya curved its niche in cricket by reaching the semi finals of 2003 World Cup in South Africa.

Basking at the crescent of the wave, many had hoped that moment of glory and top performance would spur the country to greater success and help it peg a permanent spot among the premier cricket test playing countries.

But ten years down the line, since Kenya lost to India at the 2003 World Cup in South Africa in the semis of the discipline's biggest sporting stage, the beam of hope has since faded and been replaced by despair and disappointment leaving the country's membership as International Cricket Council (ICC) Associate member in limbo.

Sponsorships taps have since dried up and there are no funds tickling in. New talent is becoming rare to spot and the few who dare take up the sport are leaving fast after realising that there is less to achieve.

The Kenyan government is not interested or has shown negligible interest to salvage the situation while the international community doesn't seem to care much.

Former Kenya captain Steve Tikolo, a cricket all-rounder and now a coach, said more need to be done to resuscitate the game.

Change of tenure at the management of cricket in the country -- which saw the election of Jackie Janmohammed the first woman to head a national cricket board -- will do less if the players, government and other stakeholders don't dig deep to unearth the cause of the loss of interest and form by the country.

Coaches have come and gone, broken and frustrated by either the playing unit or lack of government support. Same has been the case of Chief Executive Officers, in charge organising international fixtures and other logistics.

"Kenya needs to play against stronger teams," Tikolo told Xinhua in an interview in Nairobi. "We have some talented youngsters but they desperately need exposure. Top matches are hard to comeby."

Since qualifying for the World Cup hosted by Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in 2011, it has been hard to string together three matches with associate of test countries. Kenya has looked ordinary in their play and Tikolo, who has since retired apportioned the blame to lack of exposure.

"We need to play more competitive games. We have to play against stronger sides otherwise it is going to be very difficult to bring any improvement to our performance," he said. "This has pushed back our development programme."

Cricket Kenya needs at least 1.2 million U.S. dollars to run the sport professionally in the country but there is a shortfall of around 800,000 dollars.

Kenya gets 450,000 dollars from the ICC and the government is not concerned to help offset the deficit. Sponsorship packages that included, 150,000 dollars from TV rights and 100,000 dollars from local company Tusker have since dried up.

"Kenya doesn't have a cricket culture which is why we badly need a proper schools structure to find new players and that is not possible without proper funding. The ICC is giving us a grant but it's far from enough. The government help is non-existent while sponsorship is scarce. We need more international support."

Teams that Kenya could easily beat in the last decade have made tremendous strides and have steadily risen up to be known as giants.

Bangladesh's ascent to the Test arena with the support of Asian powers India and Pakistan can attest to this.

Even fellow African countries that respected Kenya and would be willing to engage the national team in friendly and organised matches are now not keen to offer the exposure the players need.

South Africa and Zimbabwe - the only two Test teams from Africa -- will only play teams from outside the continent. Namibia, Uganda, and Tanzania were infants when Kenya stirred the cricket world in 2003, now they are at par.

South Africa haven't visited Kenya in six years while Zimbabwe last came to Nairobi in 2005. It is really frustrating.

Women cricket is not any better for Kenya. Much was expected of the women team to qualify for the first time for the ICC Twenty20 World Cup, but their attempt hit a dead wall. South Africa won the African qualifiers for the ICC Twenty20 Women's World Cup played in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania last month and will be joined by Zimbabwe at the 2014 tournament in Bangladesh.

The South Africans took part even though they had already got automatic qualification, leaving only one place up for grabs. Hosts Tanzania were the surprise package as they claimed third place thanks to wins over Kenya, Uganda and Namibia.

Kenya went into the tournament as the most likely challengers to Zimbabwe but failed so dismally to make any impression, finishing bottom in the standings without a win to cap a wretched year for the country's men's and women's sides.

"I don't think the selectors will be happy with the performance of some of the senior players in the team," team manager Dunn Okinyo admitted. "They have not done an inch of what they were supposed to do resulting to poor performance."

Generally, the future for Kenya in 2013 going forward is not appealing. Kenya will face a tough qualifying competition in 2014 for the following year's World Cup, and unless results improve dramatically they face losing substantial ICC funding. That would mean much of the internal structure falling apart.

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