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Martin Williamson

Back to the dark days

Martin Williamson argues the latest crisis to undermine Kenyan cricket is one about out-and-out self interest and could do irreparable harm to the game

Maurice Odumbe and his lawyer in court, June 19, 2004

Maurice Odumbe: that he is involved in this will set alarm bells ringing within the ICC  •  SIMON MAINA/AFP

Kenyan cricket has experienced more than its fair share of setbacks in the past decade, but ever since Sharad Ghai and his ilk were removed from office in 2005, things have been slowly improving. Until today.
News that the side had refused at the 11th hour to travel to England for a short tour arranged by supporters in Lancashire was not only incredibly rude to the volunteers who had organised it, but also showed a complete lack of understanding for the realities of the wider world. Financially, it is estimated to have left Cricket Kenya $50,000 out of pocket; the damage to Kenya cricket is considerably higher.
Five years ago Kenya's reputation internationally was mud. It has slowly recovered and the players are better rewarded than they have ever been. Their salaries, low by international standards, nonetheless dwarf the average of their countrymen. They also get perks such as medical insurance.
If the decision to boycott the tour was surprising, when you look at who was involved the motives become clearer.
Not one of the four people 'representing' the players is close to the national side. Kennedy Otieno, who once retired in a fit of pique after being dropped, has not played for a year and was unlikely to ever again; Steve Tikolo, still a good player but well past his best, walked out on the national side earlier this year and then tried to dictate unacceptable terms for a return; and then Maurice Odumbe, a convicted match-fixer who while once a genuinely good cricketer brought shame on his country. The fourth - Isaiah Odhiambo - he has no playing pedigree at all at it is unclear why he is involved
Their motives appear utterly selfish and they are willing to use the national side to achieve their aims. In short, they appear to want to gain control of the game in the country even though they have no experience of doing so. Otieno and Tikolo have been at loggerheads with a board who unlike the old days refuse to play by their rules; Tikolo's brother was also replaced as CEO at the end of 2009 after money went missing.
And then there is Odumbe. The problem is inside Kenya he still has a reputation based on his on-pitch record. But to get a more accurate picture, read Justice Ahmed Ebrahim's conclusion after his match-fixing hearing in 2004. That he was involved in this will set alarm bells ringing within the ICC.
To finally banish the ghosts of the past, CK has to be firm. The time for conciliation is over
Kenya have underperformed for several years and the players are in no position to make unreasonable demands. In a world where Associates have to scrap for recognition and credibility, their indefensible actions will have caused considerable harm to the game inside the country.
Cricket Kenya must stand firm. The first thing it needs to do is fire Maurice Ouma as captain. By not backing the selectors - indeed, the 'representatives' have called for the head of the chief selector amid other scattergun attacks on the board - he has undermined his own position.
And then there are Tikolo, Odumbe and Otieno,. It is a shame that three superb careers have reached this point, but they ought to be sent packing. CK should refuse to deal with them as it is almost implausible they have got involved simply because they worry about a squad to which they do not belong.
Then the remainder of the players should be approached and invited to negotiate. Before anyone shouts foul, that is not manipulation. An employer has a right to speak to its employees, especially when it believes those employees are being misled.
If the individuals refuse then they should be sent on their way. It's not as if there are people queuing at the door to offer them lucrative overseas contracts. Nor have their collective on-field performances been so good as to render them irreplaceable.
To finally banish the ghosts of the past, CK has to be firm. The time for conciliation is over.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa