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Kenyan cricket continues to regress

After their World Cup misadventure, Kenya remains an object lesson for other Associates of just how easily things can go wrong

World Cup performance
Kenya travelled to the World Cup with the lowest expectations of the five Associates after a fairly dismal build-up in which they had shown only glimpses of the form which led them to the 2003 semi-finals and made them, for a time, the leading Associate country. Realistically, their aims were to try to beat Canada, the other Associate in their group, and possibly give Zimbabwe a good contest. They failed in both, losing to Canada by five wickets (two late wickets gave the result a more even slant than the reality) and Zimbabwe by a whopping 161 runs. The four games against Full Members were all woefully one-sided. By the end, all too familiar stories had started to circulate about rows between various player factions and the coach. The only professional - financial at least - Associate side was again behaving in a thoroughly unprofessional way and sadly the whole edifice could fall apart on their return home.
There were no real highs to speak of, although at least against Australia the Kenyan batting offered a little fight even if they were never close to pulling off an upset. For a brief period Collins Obuya (98*) and Tanmay Mishra (72) allowed them to dream, but you felt the Australians had quite a bit in reserve in case the Kenyans began to threaten. And that was about as good as it got.
Plenty of them to choose from, but their opening match against New Zealand, a side with painful memories of the subcontinent following recent dismal tours, set the tone for the rest of Kenya's World Cup. Jimmy Kamande won the toss, batted, and Kenya were blown away for 69 - their worst total in a World Cup - in 23.5 overs. New Zealand's openers knocked off the runs in eight overs and it was downhill from there. What was supposed to be a grand farewell for the veteran Steve Tikolo turned out - as predicted in the team preview - to be the dampest of squibs - 44 runs in five innings. Off the field he was, not for the first time, cited as being involved in the disagreements with the coach. He deserved a more dignified farewell after all he had achieved but this was one - some might say two - World Cups too far.
The glimmers of hope that there are come from the youngsters in the squad, even if Mishra was the only one to convert promise into achievement. A year ago Kenya's selectors toyed with dumping the old guard and throwing the kids in at the deep end. In the event, they decided against that, but on the showing in these six games, they could hardly have done any worse.
Where to start. The batsmen lacked application and technique, the bowlers provided far too many loose deliveries to ever be able to peg back even more moderate opponents. The old guard failed to deliver, and the youngsters simply lacked the experience to cope, and as a unit they never appeared to realise or accept what is needed to play cricket at this level. If Eldine Baptiste stands aside as coach then he will not be the first to have tried and failed to turn around a Kenyan side that too often gives the impression it believes it is the finished article.
"What was supposed to be a grand farewell for the veteran Steve Tikolo turned out to be the dampest of squibs - 44 runs in five innings"
It is hard to see where Kenyan cricket goes from here and the decline which set in seven years ago risks becoming terminal. Since beating Canada in the opening match of the 2007 World Cup, Kenya have lost 14 successive 50-over matches in major tournaments (World Cups and the ICC World Cricket League Division One).
What the World Cup underlined is that keeping a group of players on full-time contracts with a decent coach is a waste of time if they are not given good opposition to play on a regular basis. Cricket Kenya finds it impossible to attract anything other than other Associates and a few Indian state sides, as well as the occasional series against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. It's simply not enough for the younger players to learn and improve. In that regard Kenya is no different from other Associates, but they feel the effects far more.
The board is trying. There are attempts to establish a domestic structure which will at least give a decent standard of cricket for the leading players, and the school structure is slowly beginning to bear fruit, but what is happening now is largely a result of a decade of neglect.
Kenya have slipped from the No. 1 Associate in 2003 to probably not even being in the top five now. Aside from Netherlands, Ireland and Canada, they are also trailing in the wake of Scotland and Afghanistan, and there is nothing to suggest they are likely to arrest the decline any time soon.
What is needed is a complete clear-out. It is also time for Cricket Kenya to look at whether it can maintain a professional side which has achieved so little.
Kenya remains an object lesson for other Associates of just how easily things can go wrong. However much money the ICC pumps in, success is not guaranteed, especially without the right level of exposure to good opposition, a strong grass-roots structure and players all pulling in the same direction.

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