Jimmy Kamande, the Kenya captain, belied the occasion of a pre-game World Cup conference; his demeanour suggested he was at a party. The shoulders were relaxed, the eyes smiled naughtily, the legs dangled to an inner tune and the mouth was curved into an ever-present smile. There was an easy, joyous gaiety about him. He spoke confidently, said the right things and looked the part of a captain of an associate team who knew the pressure would be on his bigger opponents. However, you could sense a quiet determination to prove that they belonged at this level. There was even a bit of bravado. "Any team that will take us lightly will do so at their own peril," Kamande said. Not the usual, "we are here to learn" sound bytes from him that you might expect from a smaller team like Kenya. Kamande, and by extension Kenya, seem to favour flamboyance. They will now have to walk the talk.
Ever since the peak of 2003, when they reached the semi-finals, Kenya have been slowly slipping out of the radar. Steve Tikolo, the 39-year old former captain, saw it as a management failure. "The management let us down after our performance in that World Cup. While most teams would use the platform to take the leap into the next level and try to get Test status, we remained an associate nation," Tikolo said. "There is definitely a lack of talent at the grassroots level but that has more to do with financial limitations more than anything else. At present not too many people are keen to play cricket in Kenya."
This tournament gives them an opportunity to wow and lure young kids back to the game. Tomorrow is not just another day and Kenya know it. "If we can upset New Zealand, and beat Canada and Zimbabwe, we can be in the second round," Tikolo said.
The captain feels they couldn't have prepared better. "I doubt whether the Test teams are working on some of the areas that we have been. We have been working very hard for the last few months or so. In this tournament the top 14 countries in the world are competing and nobody should be taken lightly. The results will talk about our performance at the end of the day." Kenya's preparations indeed have been pretty elaborate. They played a few games in Ahmedabad and Vadodara in India in January, trained in Nairobi, and had a conditioning camp at the ICC High Performance Centre in Dubai. They beat Ireland and Netherlands in Dubai and had a couple of tightly fought warm-up games in Colombo. The batting, led by Tikolo and the young Seren Waters, looks promising and it remains to be seen how the bowlers fare.
"What I have seen from my side these days is that we have improved on the batting side and on the bowling side they are coming up together," Kamande said. "We want to play to our potential and enjoy ourselves and the results will take care of itself."
It was a common theme through the conference. "Self-expression, enjoy, be our selves, and play our brand of cricket" were some of the words Kamande used frequently. Asked to define their brand of cricket, Kamande tilted his head, stared at the questioner and said with a smile, "Please watch us over the next few games. We are well organized and prepared. We will just go there and express ourselves whether New Zealand or any other teams come our way. We will enjoy ourselves and not to copy any team. Best thing is to watch us tomorrow."