Tikolo seeks more exposure for Kenya
On their visit to Pakistan, Kenya lost all five of their games to Pakistan A by big margins, but coach Steve Tikolo is confident the tour was a positive learning experience for his boys. He said Kenyan cricket is in the process of rebuilding with a new group of players, even while financial issues are compounded by the loss of the team's ODI status and the funding from the ICC that goes hand-in-hand with that.
Kenya had come into this series looking for a tough workout against a Test-playing nation, to prepare as best they can for the ICC World Cricket League Division Two that will be played in Windhoek, Namibia, in January, and that is what they got, Tikolo said. "For my boys, it is the first time they came here to Pakistan, and for them it's good experience playing against tough opposition," Tikolo told ESPNcricinfo. "For me, I want to believe that they are learning. They must learn quickly to play at this level.
"Overall it has been a good experience. We have gained a lot of experience. Looking at how the Pakistan players are playing, if my players can learn from them, I am sure this [tour] is a success. For example, our batsmen are not spending a lot of time on the wicket, while the Pakistan batsmen are spending much more time and scoring runs. So from that perspective, our batsmen can learn from them. Obviously they can't learn everything overnight, but they are taking away a lot from their trip."
On the tour, Nelson Odhiambo, an allrounder, was the top-scorer with 84 runs, and the top wicket-taker with five wickets. Those are hardly impressive numbers, but Tikolo offered some justification: "Pakistan is a Test-playing country, you have to consider that and look at the level of facilities they have in place, which is exceptional. Kenya don't have it. It's a sort of blessing that players can sleep at the National Cricket Academy and wake up and go straight into indoor practice; we don't have that and that is a major difference.
"If my players get games like this frequently, they obviously will come good and become a better team. The problem is that we do not have development processes in place for players to come through. If Steve Tikolo retires, there is no player to come and replace him. If Aasif Karim retires, no one is ready to replace him. So we are guilty of not doing that."
Cricket in Kenya probably reached a high point when the team qualified for the World Cup semi-final in 2003. Tikolo said the game hadn't taken off because things were not managed well. "At that time we had very good players like myself, the Suji brothers, the Odumbe brothers, the Obuya brothers. We played together for five years, so we knew each other, we knew our strengths and weaknesses. And we had also got good games leading up to the World Cup, like against Pakistan A, Sri Lanka A, India A, Karnataka, Mumbai…
"I keep getting the same question [why didn't we build on the good times], and I don't shy away from it. If you don't manage things well, you never get to stand. So, after that time, things were not managed well, hence the system kept on tripping up and was never the same again.
"When you look at this team, they don't get enough games - as much as we used to have - and hence none of them is experienced enough at the highest level. This year we have played only played 14 games or so, before we are going to play the ICC qualifier, so these are the things that make a difference."
Tikolo is one of the best players to come out of Kenya, having played 135 ODIs and scored 3428 runs with three hundreds and 24 fifties. Last October he was called out of international retirement in a bid to help the team qualify for the 2014 World Twenty20. Kenya did not qualify, and Tikolo has moved on to coaching now. While he is happy in his new role, the switch from coach to player is not necessarily an easy one, he said. "It's tough, because sometimes you get frustrated; if you are a player you can go out and execute and do whatever is required, but as coach you can only give instructions and someone else has to carry it out.
"So it's a little bit tough when you look at it that way, but all I know is that I am enjoying my coaching role and I hope the knowledge I have I can pass to the players. So far it's taking me some time to get the right results, but I am optimistic that things have started to look good for Kenyan cricket.
"Right now we are trying to rebuild and that's why we have brought in more youngsters, just to give them the much-needed experience at this level. To make them realise that this level is not easy and you have to do hard work, and I think this trip served the purpose. We don't have money, but these boys are playing today for the love of the game. They don't get enough, but have made a personal choice." No wonder Tikolo is confident of a brighter future then; such commitment can only be good for Kenyan cricket.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson