Martin Williamson

Kenyan board right to dump old guard

The players may complain, but the board has taken a forward-looking step

Jimmy Kamande had an off day, Kenya v New Zealand, Group A, World Cup 2011, Chennai, February 20, 2011

Jimmy Kamande has spoken out against the axing of the veterans, but in the World Cup he led a dismal side, and not from the front either  •  Associated Press

Finally, Cricket Kenya has taken a hard decision - albeit one that should have been taken a year or two back - and called time on the careers of several of its older players by not offering them contracts. Most of these were an integral part of the heady days of the 2003 World Cup, but equally are closely associated with the decline of the last four or five years. Behind the scenes, much of the unrest within the squad, which came to a head in Sri Lanka during the World Cup, is also blamed on the seniors in the set-up.
Of the 13 named earlier this week - with seven to follow - Collins Obuya is the only survivor of the 2003 campaign, and he is also the oldest, at 29. Only three of the squad are over 25. It's a bold investment in the future, and one that, given time and support, is their best chance of turning around their fortunes.
Some of those not chosen have not taken the news lying down, but based on recent performances, none have much to moan about. The Daily Nation, which has often been happy to be used as a mouthpiece for several of the old guard, inevitably ran an article talking of unrest within the new squad. The new contracts were, the paper claimed, a sign the board had been forced to back down and offer one-year deals when it wanted shorter ones. In fact, the review clauses in the new deals mean they can be terminated for underperformance or other cricket-related factors, so the board has got exactly what it wanted and has made players accountable.
"I think CK Board is targeting players who always speak out," Jimmy Kamande, the captain at the World Cup, who is one of those ditched, told the newspaper. "It wants to retain players it can talk down to and will just grin and bear it."
His comments are fairly typical of many of the older players, who fail to see themselves as the problem, eagerly dumping responsibility on the board or coaches. The reality is, Kamande was axed because he led a side who lost every match, were a mess off the field, and also because in five matches he scored 27 runs at 6.75 and took three wickets at 56.66.
"This is malicious and was not done in good faith," moaned Thomas Odoyo, a veteran of five World Cups. "In as much as we may be deemed as inciters, the move by CK is only fast tracking the death of Kenyan cricket."
A counter argument might be that by culling those who have failed time and time again to deliver, the board is giving Kenya a real chance to move forward again and to ditch the old culture of refusing to take responsibility.
"Being awarded a contract to represent Kenya is an honour and with it comes expectations and responsibilities on and off the field," CK's chief executive Tom Sears said. And that is at the heart of the matter. In the recent past, too many players have seen a contract as an opportunity to coast. Within days of Sears taking up his role last summer, the players went on strike despite being well paid, and against the backdrop of a string of wretched displays.
The next year or two will be difficult and the critics - led by a number of those cast aside - will savour every setback. But by looking to the future the board has given itself its best chance of succeeding.

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