Kenya July 16, 2007

Ghai on the comeback trail

Last week, in a twist that few predicted, Sharad Ghai, the former chairman of the Kenyan Cricket Association who left office in 2005, started on the comeback trail

Sharad Ghai © Cricinfo
Last week, in a twist that few predicted, Sharad Ghai, the former chairman of the Kenyan Cricket Association who left office in 2005, started on the comeback trail. From almost nowhere he re-emerged as one of the three delegates representing the Nairobi Gymkhana club at the Nairobi Provincial Cricket Association's Special General Meeting held on Saturday July 7 to discuss, among other matters, the long-overdue overhaul of the NPCA's constitution.

The meeting followed an acrimonious Annual General Meeting of the NPCA held on June 20 at which it transpired that the NPCA executive had, in breach of its existing constitution, failed to convene any general meetings involving its member clubs for over two years. Both the NPCA acting chairman's report and the treasurer's report were rejected by the members. Following this meeting, 10 of the 14 member clubs of the NPCA who attended signed a petition of no confidence in the NPCA executive. The three delegates representing Nairobi Gymkhana subscribed to the petition.

The Nairobi Gymkhana chairman, Bharat Shah, disapproved of his own club delegates' stance and promptly replaced them, drafting himself, Ravindra Patel (the club secretary) and Ghai to represent the club in their place at the July 7 meeting.

Cricinfo had heard that Ghai had been in contact with several clubs, but given what happened when he was involved in the old Kenyan Cricket Association, few believed the rumours were anything more than that.

But it now emerges that he has received backing from two surprising sources.

Firstly, the Gymkhana club, who were owed a large sum of money by the old KCA. In 2004 they had a dispute with the board and threatened to prevent any official matches being played at their ground. Only the personal intervention of Ghai staved off a showdown, but, even so, the club was left out of pocket when the KCA was wound up.

The second ally is even more eyebrow-raising. Sukhbans Singh, the acting chairman of the NPCA, was one of leading figures in attempts to remove Ghai and the old KCA executive between 2002 and 2005. But it now seems that Singh, under fire from his own clubs, and Ghai have struck up a relationship. It is the most unlikely of alliances.

That Ghai has regained a foothold in Kenyan cricket will surprise many. When he left office in 2005 Kenyan cricket was a shambles. The board was broke – Samir Inamdar, who replaced him as board chairman, estimated that he inherited debuts of US$500,000 – and virtually all the High-Performance money from the ICC was gone. The national side was in chaos – it had played only two ODIs in the previous two years and for six months the bulk of the national team had been on strike over non-payment of monies owed. There were no major sponsors willing to be associated with the game, and other international boards gave Kenya the cold shoulder. The KCA executive had fallen out with many stakeholders, and even the minister of sport had had enough and stepped in to dissolve it.

In the intervening two years the finances have been put back on an even keel, sponsors are beginning to come back and the board has done a six-year TV and marketing deal. On the field, the side has played 28 ODIs and in February they won the World Cricket League which means they will take part in the Twenty20 World Championship in September. Internally, there has been a period of relative peace and development. There is still a long way to go but things are heading the right way.

At this stage, Ghai is only one of three representatives for one of 17 registered Nairobi clubs. But there will be many who remember Kenya cricket's recent past who will be watching events with interest. Some of them are already expressing the view that the Gymkhana post may the springboard for a tilt at something bigger, perhaps even a challenge to Inamdar in 2008.

As things stand, Coast and Rift Valley provinces, who would both strongly oppose Ghai, muster enough votes to be able to prevent him succeeding. But there is talk that Centrals, who were booted out by Cricket Kenya last month after it became apparent that, to all intents and purposes they did not exist as a viable province, may be set to mount a challenge to that decision. Centrals was the creation of the old KCA.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa