Kenya's side at the ICC U-19 World Cup Qualifier last month was disappointingly similar to the senior team's journey at the World Cup: they finished second from the bottom. However, a silver lining to the campaign was the performance of batting allrounder Duncan Allan, who took 14 wickets with his medium-pace and was joint second on the run-scorers' list with 455 runs, including two centuries, to be named Player of the Tournament.
Beginning this week at the Intercontinental Cup in the Netherlands, Kenya's administration is banking on youngsters like Allan to be a big part of their future. The second of his hundreds in the U-19 tournament was a knock of 123 against the hosts, and Allan says he gained a good amount of confidence from that innings after going toe to toe with one of Ireland's rising stars.
"I absolutely loved batting for 10 overs against [George] Dockrell," Allan told ESPNcricinfo. "He's an absolute quality spinner, so that was a really good challenge to bat for 10 overs, get his spell out, face him and challenge yourself against players like that." Kenya's selectors now feel he's ready to move on from that challenge into senior-level cricket, just like Dockrell.
Officially Allan has already made his senior team debut for Kenya. In early July, Kenya's U-19 cricketers played as the men's team in the ICC Africa Twenty20 Division One tournament. With Kenya's presence in next year's World Twenty20 Qualifier guaranteed due to the country's ODI status, it was a chance for the U-19 players to get time in the middle ahead of the U-19 World Cup Qualifier that followed two weeks later, while also affording some insight into who could hack it against other teams at the next level.
Allan shone at that tournament in Uganda, finishing fourth overall in the run-makers' list behind three Namibian batsmen, another indication of his class. "I was very happy with that and managed to get a fifty against the Namibia national side, which I was very happy with because they're a quality side," Allan said.
The 19-year-old's journey to the senior team might not have been possible, though, if it wasn't for his older brother's desperation for a training buddy when he came back from a summer camp as a kid. "He needed someone to bowl at," remembers Allan. "So he pretty much taught me how to play when I was really young, gave me a bat and said, 'Right, you've gotta stand here and hit it while I bowl at you.'" Allan's mother is originally from Australia (and he was born there before arriving in Nairobi as an infant), and her side of the family did their best to mould his passion according to their heritage.
"Having a mom who is Australian, grandparents who are Australian, I've definitely been brought up to follow that Australian team that dominated everyone for 10 years or so," Allan said. "I think my grandmother was quite keen for me to support Australia, so every Christmas I was getting DVDs of Bradman, Warne, McGrath, all of those guys."
When he turned 14, Allan went to join his best friend, Seren Waters, at the Cranleigh School in Surrey, England. In his first year, Allan also played alongside England Lions fast bowler Stuart Meaker, while honing his skills under the tutelage of coach Stuart Welch, who said Allan stood out among the new pupils for his toughness.
"I think my grandmother was quite keen for me to support Australia, so every Christmas I was getting DVDs of Bradman, Warne, McGrath, all of those guys"Duncan Allan explains where he got his love of cricket from
"I remember hitting him several times [with] the bowling machine at 80+ mph and he did not flinch," Welch said. "His steely determination and how tough he was are the things that stood out in his early days at Cranleigh."
Kenya U-19 head coach Joseph Angara echoed Welch's sentiments. After watching Allan carry the junior team almost single-handedly in Ireland with a string of impressive performances, Angara thinks he is ready to contribute positively to the senior side.
"He's a hard worker, he's disciplined, he's so composed, and I think he's a fighter," Angara said. "He loves his game, he loves to bat, he loves to bowl. He's a person who wants to win every game. Looking at Allan the way he's batted, he deserves a call-up, and why not."
The selection to play for Kenya in the Netherlands means time off from studies at the University of Queensland, where Allan hopes to break into the first-grade side as fast as possible. That could be a stiff task, considering the UQCC roster is already chock full of talent and has claimed the one-day title in the Queensland premier grade competition four times in the last five years. Last season, several Queensland Bulls players including Craig Philipson, Nathan Reardon and Chris Hartley guided the club to a one-day and Twenty20 Cup double.
Allan's father is a safari guide, and while the teenager was raised on expeditions that got him up close to elephants, lions and other wildlife, playing first-class cricket in the ICC's four-day competition for Associates is a different but welcome adventure. "I've only played a couple of two- and three-day matches, but that's what I enjoy the most," Allan said. He hopes that he'll be able to help erase some of the disappointment the country suffered when they failed to win a single match in Group A at the World Cup earlier this year. "You saw against Australia in that one match that they can actually play, and they've got a lot of ability, but it just didn't come to the fore throughout the tournament, which is a real shame."
As one of several players who have signed new contracts with Cricket Kenya, Allan has the support of the administration. He wants to repay that investment not only with a good showing in the Intercontinental Cup, but by helping Kenya get back to the next World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. "Qualifying for the next World Cup in 2015, that would be the main aim," Allan said. "In a year or two when the qualifying process starts, I want to try and be a main part of the team by then. That would be fantastic."
Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey