Success is key element of Kenya strategy
Victory in this year's ICC Intercontinental Cup is vital to the future of Kenyan cricket according to its chairman Samir Inamdar.
"Winning this tournament is a key point for us," said Inamdar, as his players put the finishing touches to their preparations in Zimbabwe ahead of their semi-final against Bermuda starting in Namibia on October 23. "If we win it will ensure we are taken seriously as the best country playing cricket outside the Full Members of the ICC.
"This is three-day cricket, the longer form of the game for us, and traditionally it has been harder to reach a good standard for all sides outside the top flight. If we can win here it will underline our credentials so it is vital for us to do well."
Kenya appear well-placed to do just that and, along with Ireland, who face UAE in the other semi-final, are favourites to reach the final. They have the look of a settled side under temporary coach Mudassar Nazar and veteran captain Steve Tikolo, and have warmed up for their match-up with Bermuda with some thumping wins against Zimbabwe A.
It is all in stark contrast to 12 months ago when, under a previous administration, Kenya cricket was a shambles. Players refused to play in the semi-finals of the 2004 ICC Intercontinental Cup as disputes over entitlements rumbled on and a shadow side under Ragheb Aga was humiliated by eventual champions Scotland.
What has changed in the intervening period to make the senior players come out to play?
"It's a three-word answer," said Inamdar, who headed up a new administration earlier this year. "Keep our promises. We've always tried to ensure we don't make promises to the players we can't keep as this was the previous problem. They had been let down so badly. The team we saw in Sharjah last year was one that was broken. There was no team spirit, players refused to play and it was basically a second string Kenya side.
"What we have done since then is to try and win back the players' confidence in the Board and that has not been easy but one way we have done that is to always be clear what we can and can't do for them. Quite rightly they were wondering where their money was when we took over. They had not received salaries since 2003 and had not received prize money from 2003 and 2004.
"Slowly we have pieced it all together. We have been supported by the Government and things are coming right. Whether we are back to the heady days of the World Cup semi-finals of 2003 I don't know," he continued. "But everyone is fairly positive, there has been a sea-change in the way the game is run and there are lots of hopes and expectations."
The spine of this year's side is still the one that reached that semi-final against India in Durban. There is no Ravindu Shah, with the veteran opener still absent because of a knee injury sustained in last year's ICC Intercontinental Cup, but there should be no shortage of runs. Tikolo's brilliant 149 against Uganda is the highest score of this year's event so far and his presence, together with Maurice Ouma, Kennedy Otieno, David Obuya and Hitesh Modi makes for an imposing batting line-up.
Veteran seam-bowling allrounder Thomas Odoyo has been in great form in Zimbabwe as the Kenyans have humiliated their hosts and Collins Obuya, the legspinner who was one of the stars of the ICC Cricket World Cup of 2003, is also present.
The seam bowling stocks also include Aga, Lameck Onyango, Peter Ongondo and Martin and Tony Suji, all experienced, and on paper Kenya look a formidable unit.
Experience is a key word for Kenya but it also serves to strike a note of caution. Many of the players are nearer the end of their careers than the beginning and there is a fear their eventual departures could create a vast vacuum of cricketing skill and know-how.
"We know the players can't go on forever," said Inamdar. "But we think this group have certainly got it in themselves to play in the 2007 World Cup. After that, and even in the run-up to that event, we will start to see some new faces."
Some of those faces are already on the horizon. Nehemiah Ngoche, 22, and 23 year-old Alfred Luseno, both seam bowlers, are currently at the ICC Winter Training Camp in Pretoria, South Africa, and they will be joined by top-order batsman Kalpesh Patel, 20, after this Event.
Left-arm spinner Mohammad Sheikh, still only 25, returns to the fold but Amit Bhudia, a talented 25 year-old batsman, is absent because of work permit complications in Denmark, where he is currently living.
Kenya's quality and - that word again - experience make them heavy favourites to get past Bermuda but Inamdar says the side is taking nothing for granted. "We cannot and will not underestimate Bermuda," he said. "They are on a high after qualifying for the World Cup and the recent receipt of funding from their Government and have plenty of talent."
Kenya Steve Tikolo (capt), Thomas Odoyo, Kennedy Otieno, Maurice Ouma, Kalpesh Patel, Ragheb Aga, Lameck Onyango, Collins Obuya, Mohammed Sheikh, Peter Ongondo, Martin Suji, Hitesh Modi, Tony Suji.