Time for a new start

Where now for Kenyan cricket?

Martin Williamson

November 20, 2004

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Kenya's ignominious exit from the ICC Intercontinental Cup, where they were comprehensively outplayed by Scotland at Abu Dhabi, highlighted just how rapid their decline has been. Less than two years ago they appeared in a World Cup semi-final. The springboard and opportunity that should have provided has sadly been squandered in a spectacular and avoidable fashion.

Since that March day at Durban, when they were beaten by India, nothing has gone right for Kenyan cricket. Sponsors have been lost and not replaced; the Kenyan Cricket Association (KCA), bedevilled by accusations of mismanagement and financial irregularity, has fallen out with almost everyone connected with the sport, not to mention attracting the concern of the government; there have been constant rumblings of unrest among the players, culminating in the recent and ongoing strike; civil war has erupted between the board and the two main domestic leagues; Maurice Odumbe has been banned following a hearing into his links with bookmakers. Attempts to paper over the cracks with rhetoric worked for a while - but no longer. Even the ICC is thought to be increasingly concerned at the situation.

The outburst on Monday by Ramesh Bhalla, Kenya's team manager, that most of the striking players were over the hill and wouldn't have made it to the current team anyway has been exposed as utter rot. The scale and manner of the drubbing by Scotland indicated that few of the new-look side are anywhere near being of a decent enough standard to play one-day internationals. Kenya's dream of Test cricket, so close to becoming a reality in recent years, is now in tatters.

For all the bullish noises made by the KCA, it has to shoulder the blame for the lack of decent cricket available to its players. Despite backing and financial support from the ICC, it has failed to ensure that its top players actually get to play, even though they are on contracts and so are paid to sit at home. The KCA's own league is a nonstarter, as is its one-day competition. From today, the next match Kenya are scheduled to play is not until next July, when the Intercontinental Cup resumes.

The effective civil war between much of Kenya's established cricketing fraternity and the board is at the root of the problem. The KCA continues to maintain that its efforts are producing results, but local administrators argue that the few decent players coming through are because of the hard work of enthusiastic amateurs and actually in spite, not because, of the board. There remain concerns about funding, and recently the ICC stepped in when it was revealed that money it was providing to the board for development was instead being used to pay players' salaries. That action indirectly led to the strike.

So where now? What is obvious is that little will change under the current administration. Too much has happened, too much muck has been thrown both at and by the KCA for it to be able to turn the alarming decline around.

For the sake of Kenyan cricket, there must be fair and transparent elections and all the dealings of the new regime have to be open to public scrutiny. Only then will investors and sponsors - and there are plenty in the wings - feel confident to step forward and start to help the rebuilding. As it stands now, finding out about the detail of the board's operations is nigh-on impossible.

Sadly, there is no sign that change is on the agenda. The KCA has started a review of its constitution, but that is already being discredited by accusations that it is not fair or even within the board's remit. Critics believe that it is little more than an attempt to keep the exiting regime in power. More court action seems inevitable.

Dispiriting though Scotland result is, some good might come out of it. At last the wider cricket world can see how dire the situation is, and that can only accelerate calls for change. That the KCA has to reform is inevitable. The only hope is that the damage done is not already terminal.

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Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.
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