Kenya v Namibia, Aga Khan Club October 4, 2004

At last ... some good news for Kenya

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Lameck Onyango: first-day hero © Getty Images
There has been little good news where Kenyan cricket is concerned since the World Cup in March 2003. The national side has hardly been seen, and when it finally emerged from hibernation last month it was humbled in the Champions Trophy; in July, Maurice Odumbe was banned for five years for his association with bookmakers; at home, the dispute between the Kenyan board on the one side, and most players and officials on the other has grown increasingly bitter, and last week 13 leading players went on strike.

So, when one or two remaining experienced players, supplemented by raw recruits, took to the field for the Intercontinental Cup tie against Namibia at the Aga Khan Sports Club last weekend, there was little reason to think that they would earn the draw necessary for Kenya to reach November's semi-finals in Sharjah. Shortly before lunch on the second day, when Kenya were 24 for 4 in reply to Namibia's 357 for 6, the writing seemed on the wall.

But this time it was different. As one insider explained, the team spirit in the young side was remarkable, and they refused to roll over. They battled back to reduce the first-innings deficit to under 100, and then on the third day would have pulled off a remarkable victory had Namibia not thrown in the towel with 10 overs remaining and only 43 runs needed.

The players and coaching staff were clearly delighted, and justifiably so. Less pleased were the striking players.

Until the end of last week, there was considerable sympathy for them. They had been treated in a shabby manner by the KCA, were owed money, had seen their salaries cut as cash ran out, and to cap it all had been offered new contracts which had every appearance of being designed to suit the board and not the players.

But that sympathy evaporated when some of them turned up at the Aga Khan. It seemed unlikely they were there to support the side, but more to watch over what was expected to be their humiliation. While they silently scowled, a few former players and a couple of dozen vocal supporters turned on their replacements. The chanting and insulting comments did the cause of the strikers no good, nor did it enhance the image of Kenyan cricket. The reaction of the players on the field was admirable, and as Ravindu Shah batted Kenya towards the semi-finals with his last-day hundred, the dissenters slowly disappeared.

What was also shameful were the racist undertones of the protests at the ground. With all the strikers black, and all but one of the side playing Asian, the taunting centred on the ethnic background of the team. There were many chants that the side was actually "Kenyan Asians" or "Kenya Indians". Some comments were even less palatable. It was, therefore, satisfying that the man who rescued Kenya's first innings was Lameck Onyango with a gutsy 67. Onyango was the only black in the side.

The KCA should not really take any credit for Kenya's success at the Aga Khan and it continues to be at loggerheads with most of the people it should be representing. But it should now encourage the selectors to stick with the side that got them to Sharjah. They might not be as talented man-for-man as many of those they replaced, but they showed a heart and determination which has been missing from the Kenya side for a long time.