Favourites tag puts pressure on Kenya

Thomas Odoyo, the Kenya allrounder, is wary of the favourites tag that his team carry into the World Twenty20 qualifiers, in Belfast next week, with the main prize of a place in the 2009 ICC World Twenty20. Kenya, who are grouped with Netherlands and Canada, have been playing warm-up games in England which Odoyo said are providing "the real platform from where we can deliver our best performance."
All the same, the side were thrashed by a club team in Surrey during the week, although they bounced back to beat Guernsey the following day. But Odoyo said the pre-tournament matches are helping with acclimatisation: "Let's not forget that we are coming from Africa where the weather is hot.

"It is good to be considered as favourites but I have always preferred an underdog's tag because I don't want to carry avoidable pressure on my shoulders," he added. "But it is good to know that people consider us a team to be reckoned with and I hope we come out with flying colours."

Kenya are seeded second behind hosts Ireland, but are expected to win owing to their additional international experience. They have nearly three times as many ODIs under their belts than the other competitors vying for the two, or most likely three, places up for grabs at next year's World Twenty20 in England.

The two finalists will automatically qualify, while the third place, to be decided by a play-off, is dependent on Zimbabwe Cricket ratifying a decision taken by its officials during ICC Annual Conference week, to step back from the tournament.

Nevertheless, for all of Kenya's superior number of ODIs, their experience of Twenty20s has been limited to four matches, two in the lead-up to the last World Twenty20, in South Africa last September, and two in the tournament itself. Since then they have been relying on getting hints and tips from watching other international sides on television.

"Although we didn't perform well [in South Africa], we learnt plenty of things," Odoyo said. "It was a new format for all of us and since then we have followed and tried to learn from watching most of the Twenty20 matches that have been played across the globe."

They also learned the importance of mental toughness. "Since Twenty20 cricket is played at a fast pace, the mindset has to be sharp to cope with the proceedings and that's where it can sometimes become mentally tiring."

Odoyo also highlighted the importance of this tournament for the development of the game in Kenya. "Every international tournament or match we play only helps Kenya cricket. While the team gets stronger and tougher, more youth get attracted to the sport that helps to increase the pool of players."

Steve Tikolo will lead a side which includes 11 players who participated in the World Twenty20 in South Africa.