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October 17, 2008
It's almost three years since a Full-Member country visited Nairobi for an ODI, and since the 2003 World Cup, four ODIs against Bangladesh is the best Kenyan cricket has been able to offer its small number of home supporters.
It has not been through want of trying. Initially, the gross mismanagement of the board deterred visiting sides, and more recently the political uncertainty has hampered the tireless efforts of Cricket Kenya to tempt countries to tour. A few A-teams have popped in, but the main action has been with other Associates.
The Ireland tour has been on the cards for some time, but it appeared set to be another bilateral series until Zimbabwe finally bowed to pressure from on high and agreed to make it a threesome. Since they were held 2-2 at home by Kenya in 2006, Zimbabwe have been sidestepping a return series, fearing the consequences of defeat by an Associate.
The chances of that, very real a couple of years ago, have now reduced considerably. Zimbabwe, with a continuing erosion of their player base, are no better than they were, but the two Associates they face certainly have certainly gone in reverse of late.
Kenya are at the crossroads. For more years that is healthy, they have been propped up by the same old faces, and that is no longer a viable option. There is new talent coming through - Seren Waters had a cracking debut last weekend - but the pool of talent is shallow, a legacy of the lack of investment of the previous regime. The new board is having to rebuild the development structure, and the rewards of that will not be felt for several years. For the time behind, Kenya are in virtual freefall, and so serious have things become that there is a real fear that they will struggle to qualify for the 2011 World Cup.
Ireland's problems are less deep rooted, centring more on availability rather than a lack of talent. The pressures of an increasingly hectic schedule on a largely amateur side has taken its toll, with several of the victorious 2007 World Cup squad absent. They also struggle to keep players from throwing in their lot with England, and a batting line-up which could include Ed Joyce and Eoin Morgan would be a daunting prospect. Despite that, they are probably now the leading Associate, a mantle which for many years was Kenya's. Last weekend's innings defeat of the Kenyans in Nairobi underlined their credentials.
Zimbabwe's woes are well documented, and the absence of Brendan Taylor, who is believed to be in Australia after one fall-out too many with the board, is a major blow. They have plenty of young cricketers but they are woefully inexperienced and the poor facilities at home, together with the lack of coaches, means their opportunities to improve are limited.
Zimbabwe should still be good enough to win the tri-series, and with the ICC still pouring millions into the murkiness that is the country's cricketing structure, so they should. But Ireland, who are ranked above them by the ICC, may well have what it takes to bloody their noses, as Canada, a much weaker side, did last week in Toronto. For locals, they can but hope that Kenya's long run of dismal performances when it really matters doesn't continue in front of their own fans.