Cricket Kenya has been forced to cancel a short tour to England after a contractual dispute arose between the board and the players on the eve of the trip. The players are refusing to travel unless the board agree to their contract demands, and Kenya's preparations for the World Cricket League Division One tournament in Netherlands have been thrown into turmoil.
The trip to Rochdale, Lancashire was meant to have been a warm-up for the competition in Netherlands, and the players' decision was only relayed to the board hours before they were due to leave. It is believed that the boycott will leave CK around $50,000 out of pocket.
The contracts for the 16-man national squad expired at the end of May and had been expected to be renewed without difficulty, CK offering a 10% pay rise despite continuing poor on-field performances from the team.
However, last week a four-man deputation claiming to represent the squad met with CK officials and set out new terms which were deemed unacceptable. They included reverting to a number of old terms and conditions which had been set aside a few years ago after the ICC, African Cricket Association and CK decided they stifled new players.
Surprisingly, the deputation did not contain any of the current squad but did include Maurice Odumbe, Steve Tikolo and Kennedy Otieno as well as Isaiah Odhiambo. Various demands were made by these "representatives" involving radical changes to the structure of the contract - including huge increases to players' remuneration. Various other complaints unrelated to the contract - including a complaint against the behaviour of the chairman of selectors - were deferred. They also refused to allow any board member to approach the team directly.
On Wednesday, the quartet appeared on television and launched a vicious attack on the board, demanding among other things that several key officials stand down. CK attempted to broker a solution, offering interim contracts with assurances that the issues would be addressed on the team's return but this was declined.
"It's the same old story," an insider said. "They are trying to use a tour as blackmail." The role of the seemingly self-appointed gang of four was also heavily criticised. "We will not be put against a wall to deal with people like this."
An official statement said: "Cricket Kenya regards this conduct by these 'players' representatives' as outrageous and disgraceful. Having regard to the gratuitously offensive nature of the allegations made and the questionable agenda of the former players involved, the Cricket Kenya Board unanimously resolved not to engage with these 'player representatives' any further.
"The player representatives concerned had no authority whatsoever to go public in this way. They are neither accredited formally by the players nor are they part of a properly registered players association. Their sole function was to negotiate terms with Cricket Kenya on behalf of the players. The players' contracts specifically forbid any player from engaging with the press and to criticize the national board. It is plain that their real motive was intended solely to undermine and embarrass Cricket Kenya."
Kenya's cricketers are already highly paid, with senior players earning around $1500 a month, almost ten times the national average, and juniors around $800.
Aside from the considerable loss of goodwill among those in England who have bent over backwards to accommodate the Kenyan tour, there is also concern over preparations for the World Cricket League Division One tournament which starts early next month. The squad has already been submitted to the ICC, although CK is believed to be prepared to send a weakened side if the stand-off continues.
"Cricket Kenya stands by its decision and is determined not to be held to ransom by the national team - or by its so-called 'representatives'- in this way," the statement concluded.
The position of Maurice Ouma as captain also appears untenable. He accompanied the four delegates to the original meeting and by refusing to even allow the board to talk to the team it seems likely he will be replaced.