"Lean forward. Keep your head still. Don't hit hard ... look for the timing. Go through the full shot, don't stop halfway." These were the exhortations of Eldine Baptiste, the Kenya coach, as he paced up and down the various nets on Sunday morning. It is not that the Kenyan batsmen do not know the basics. The problem is that they are not applying them leading to disastrous defeats in their previous three matches, where their highest score has been 142 while their bowlers have been wayward.
The rights and wrongs of the Associates being shunted out from the next World Cup has been widely debated, but what about the insufficient improvement countries like Kenya have made despite getting a big helping hand from the ICC. In fact, Jimmy Kamande, Kenya's captain, acknowledges the support Richard Done, the ICC's High Performance manager, has given to uplift the status of the game in the country known more for its marathon runners than cricketers.
As far as exposure goes Kenya have played one-day series against Zimbabwe twice in the last two years, played couple of domestic sides from India both at home and away, visited South Africa to play second-string domestic sides in addition to contesting in various Associates tournaments. So they are not exactly starting from scratch. Kenya remain the only Associate to make the knockouts stage in World Cup history, reaching the semi-finals in 2003. It was the most opportune moment to take a big stride forward, but Kenya have been back sliding since then.
Tomorrow they can learn from Canada, who nearly pulled the rug under Pakistan's feet earlier in the week. Though Canada's batsmen stuttered while chasing a low score, they showed a lot of character in the 46-run defeat. One of the big positives was their bowlers who just focussed on bowling a tighter line while Pakistan's batsmen plunged into mistakes with surprising conviction.
"It is a bit of an opportunity to perform against them from every corner to earn ourselves a bit of respect," Kamande said. "It has been tough for us in the past three games. We have not done justice to our abilities. Hopefully we'll put up a good score." Surely it is not an easy job to lead a side that is losing so badly. "It is a lot of work when you are losing in every series, not just the World Cup, to keep the guys strong, to keep working hard, to keep motivating them. We have to keep every player believe in himself so that he can believe he can do wonders."
Kamande could definitely do with some help especially from two men who have been their beacon of hope for long. Steve Tikolo and Thomas Odoyo, the grand old men of Kenyan cricket, have a lot to answer for and time is running out on them. They have to dispel the news that they are part of a clique that is against Baptiste's way of doing things. Odoyo missed out on playing Sri Lanka and had nothing much to say in the opening match against New Zealand where Kenya were knocked out for a record low of 67. Against Pakistan he was the highest wicket-taker with 3-41 and would need to produce better figures against Canada. But it is Tikolo who remains a mystery. Once a prodigious talent, Tikolo never managed to scale the heights expected of him and remains a failure so far this tournament, scoring a total of 22 runs. "They are the leaders. Steve is the guy with his experience in the batting," Kamande said. "Thomas is the new ball bowler and they play a big role for us."
The day before New Zealand dealt them the knockout punch in Chennai, Kamande had said that his team would like to bring to the table the Kenyan brand of cricket. And what is that brand? "Enjoying the game, hitting the ball and not playing defensive. The idea is to be positive," Kamande said. That has not happened yet. "We have not given ourselves a chance to express ourselves. I guarantee you tomorrow we are going to express much more than we did in the past matches," Kamande said, with an expression of a man who has been challenged.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo