September 4, 2011

Kenya

No turning back for Kenya

Cricinfo

That a handful of Kenya's cricketers have again decided they are in a strong enough position to try to play hardball with Cricket Kenya is a masterclass in self-delusion and bad timing.

For a number of years Kenya's cricketers have been Associate cricket's most pampered professionals, while their performances and, in some cases, their commitment have been increasingly woeful. Strikes, boycotts of training, and internal bickering dominate the headlines more than anything achieved on the pitch. The nadir came at the World Cup earlier this year, when they were abject on the field and a shambles off it.

The board finally decided enough was enough and sent out the message that things would have to change. Top-to-bottom reform of the game's structure was undertaken, and the old guard in the squad was culled. The players expected to form the nucleus of the team going forward were offered new deals, but ones that meant they were more accountable. The clear message was that the old days, where the role for some was a virtual sinecure, were over. It is worth flagging at this point that Kenya's cricketers have been well rewarded, in terms of salaries and benefits, in recent years, and in comparison with the national average wage, their pay is good.

This new approach appears lost on some. Undoubtedly they are being advised - perhaps manipulated might be more accurate in certain instances - by people with agendas against the board, but only the most blinkered of them can think they have a morally defensible case.

It now seems some of players' decisions were not only about themselves but also about trying to force the board to take back some of those jettisoned after the World Cup farrago. They told the board - offer X and Y contracts as well, or we won't sign. When that failed, they resorted to plan B and simply demanded more money.

Up to now this kind of blackmail has worked because the board has had a small pool of players to choose from. But there are now youngsters coming through, and, correctly, Cricket Kenya has decided it would prefer to take a short-term hit in terms of results to allow it to build for the future, and at the same time cut out the cancer that has undermined all attempts at reform.

What all players were offered seems fair for any professional sportsman. Perform, stay fit and committed, and you will be looked after. Fail to do that and your place is at risk. However, those who refused contracts wanted all the perks with none of the responsibilities. As one Cricket Kenya official put it: "It's about time that professional players realised that they have to prove themselves on the field of play to justify the security they would get from cricket."

Any lingering sympathy for the players disappeared when, hours before they were due to play for franchise sides in the East Africa competitions last weekend, they all indicated they would refuse to do so. It was an old tactic, one that had cost them and their board money and credibility when they did exactly the same a year ago on the eve of a tour to England.

To its credit, the board, led by chief executive Tom Sears, has a new resolve and has called their bluff all the way. The players now find themselves without an income, and replaced by youngsters with the commitment and enthusiasm needed to play for their country. Far from being in the driving seat, the old guard now finds itself without the car.

For the good of the game it has to be hoped that some of the younger and more promising names among those who are at odds with the board realise that they need cricket more than it needs them. And that for those operating within the structure as it stands, the rewards are more worthwhile than the alternatives.

But if they don't, then it is vital Sears and his board stand firm. For too long Kenya's prospects have been undermined by selfishness and laziness, and those days have to end if Kenya are once more to be taken seriously on the world stage.

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