Media sniping undermines efforts to rebuild
The incessant sniping at the Cricket Kenya board continues in The Nation, Kenya's leading newspaper. For reasons that remain unclear, some of the paper's sports reporters seem to be of the view that the old Kenyan Cricket Association could do little wrong while the new board has taken the game to new lows.
On September 21, Richard Mwangi wrote on the eve of the county's tour of Uganda: "The Kenyans must register impressive wins if they wish to maintain their position as one of the top associate members of ICC ... Uganda has a development programme which has seen the game spread all over the country unlike Kenya where the game only exists in private clubs. This tour is a litmus test for Kenya 's cricket and the future of the game in the country could be determined by it."
Kenya duly won all three ODIs against Uganda by impressive margins, and one would have expected that met the standards set by the paper. Instead, in his article on September 29, Mwangi poured cold water on the clean sweep by saying that the Ugandans failed to offer the expected competition and turned his attack on the board's poor preparations for the World Cup by claiming the "current local league is not helping matters as the standards are at their lowest ebb". The comprehensive victory in the three-day match which followed later in the week was not even mentioned.
A few facts. Under the old KCA, in the 12 months leading up to the 2003 World Cup, Kenya played nine ODIs (they lost every one). In the two years after the 2003 World Cup they played five, and two of those were in the Champions Trophy in 2004 where they had to be invited (they lost them all). The reasons for Kenya 's international isolation are well documented, as are the player strikes, the withdrawal of sponsors etc. There is really no need here to rehearse these all over again.
In the 12 months ahead of the 2007 World Cup, Kenya will have played at least 25 ODIs - these include ODIs in a tri-series against Scotland and Canada in Mombasa in early January 2007 and the World Cricket League Division 1 in late January/early February 2007 when Kenya play host to the other five Associate qualifiers for the World Cup in an intensive 16-match tournament in Nairobi.
In the last seven months alone Kenya has played 13 ODIs winning 4 of them. Eleven of these ODIs have been against Full Member sides. It has also faced a strong Australian Academy side (comprising six players named as part of the 30-strong Australian World Cup Squad) which, after comprehensively beating the Kenyans 3-0 earlier in September, went on to register an even more emphatic 3 - 0 victory against a strong Zimbabwe side. This kind of exposure can only be good for a Kenyan team trying to find its way back to top-flight cricket after having effectively been shunned by the world's cricketing fraternity.
Critics will be quick to point out that back in the good old days the opposition were Australia, West Indies, Pakistan etc and now it is Zimbabwe , Bangladesh and Bermuda. That's true. But, in 2000 (for the Champions Trophy) and in 2002-03 (for the World Cup) Kenya was able to co-host a global event with the ICC's backing and there was a willingness by major countries to help. The current CK board inherited no goodwill, and when even Zimbabwe and Bangladesh struggle to get the big boys to play them, what hope does Kenya have until it rebuilds its reputation?
And when one actually looks at the preparations and the programme, contrary to what Mwangi says, the truth is that never has the Kenyan national cricket team seen such an active build-up before any World Cup that it has participated in. Apart from the matches themselves, and despite the meagre resources available to the new CK board, four Kenyan youngsters who are certainties for their World Cup side, are soon off to the High Performance Centre in Pretoria for a six-week training camp organised by the ICC. They return in time to rejoin their team to take on Bermuda in an Intercontinental Cup tie and the three ODIs which follow.
As for the argument about the local leagues ... well, critics might forget that the Nairobi Provincial Cricket Association and Coast Cricket Association operated largely in spite of the KCA and not because of it. The CCA, for example, received almost no central funding, and the KCA even went as far as kicking out the NPCA and refusing to acknowledge it and risibly attempting to establish its own rival set-up. The standards might not be as high as are wanted and there is a lot of catching up to do. Again, it will take time and hard work.
No-one is saying the Nation's journalists should slavishly praise the activities of the board. It is their duty as employees of Kenya 's leading - and most respected - newspaper to be critical and to scrutinise where necessary. But articles which are often negative - and base that negativity on dubious comparisons with the alleged achievements of the old KCA - seem to be based on a predetermined agenda. More to the point, where was that scrutiny a few years ago?
And, perhaps tellingly, enquiries to the board reveal that little attempt has been made to speak to it about the situation or to directly put the journalists' criticism to any of the officials.
A few weeks ago one of the journalists from the paper concerned sent an official complaint to Cricinfo that our articles relating to Kenyan cricket were damaging the company's reputation. A detailed response was given, asking for clarification and justification of that journalist's position. His brief reply was as follows: "I have no time for holier-than-thou Brits like you who imagine you have all the solutions to our problems when you are manifestly very ignorant about the problems facing Kenyan cricket. So just go **** yourself inside out."
It does make you wonder just what solutions he and his like have to offer.
Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa