Thomas OdoyoKenya all-rounder Thomas Odoyo prefers an underdog's tag as the African nation gives final touches to its preparations in England ahead of the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier to be held in Belfast, Ireland from 2 to 5 August.

Kenya, seeded second in the competition behind the host nation, is being tipped as the team to come on top because of its vast international experience, including the exposure it got in the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa where it was placed along with New Zealand and Sri Lanka.

In the ODI arena, it has played the most matches amongst the participating teams 99 as compared to Ireland's 27, Scotland's 29, Bermuda's 30, Canada's 38 and the Netherlands's 35.

But despite the evidence that suggests Kenya must be highly fancied, Odoyo said he prefers to slip under the radar. '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.

'We want to play as hard as we can without unnecessary pressures. 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,' said Odoyo, who won the Associate ODI player of the Year at the ICC Awards in Johannesburg in 2007.

The teams featuring in the tournament, besides Kenya and host Ireland, are Bermuda, Canada, Netherlands and Scotland and at stake will be two or possibly three places in the ICC World Twenty20 2009 being staged in England.

Both finalists will qualify for the tournament which will take place at Lord's, The Oval and Trent Bridge next June.

The third place to be decided by a third and fourth-place play-off is dependent on Zimbabwe Cricket's Board ratifying a decision taken by its officials during ICC Annual Conference week, to step back from the tournament.

Kenya is grouped with The Netherlands and Canada and plays the Dutch in the opening match of the tournament.

'We are working extremely hard and our warm-up trip to England is providing us the real platform from where we can deliver our best performance,' said Odoyo, who last year became the first Associate player to complete a double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in ODIs.

'The pre-event tour is helping us to acclimatise as the weather in Belfast will be close to what we are presently experiencing here. Let's not forget that we are coming from Africa where the weather is hot.

'This leg of the tour is extremely important to our chances in the tournament because everything in Stormont will happen so fast that there will be very little time to recover. We have to enter the tournament fully prepared and equipped,' said Odoyo who has played in all the four ICC Cricket World Cups that Kenya has participated in.

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.

'We played in the ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa and although we didn't performance well, we learnt plenty of things. 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.

'The team would love to translate the experience it gained in South Africa into the Belfast tournament so that we can come to England in 11 months time as an even better team.

'We are not short in motivation but I agree that the dream of playing in England is quite fascinating. I played in the ICC Cricket World Cup in 1999 and it is one of the highlights of my career.'

Odoyo said the players needed to be mentally tougher to excel in this brand of cricket. '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.'

The 36-year-old Steve Tikolo will lead Kenya which includes 11 players who participated in the ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa in 2007.

Captain since 2002, Tikolo was instrumental in not only securing an ODI status for Kenya but also a place in the ICC Cricket World Cup in England in 1999 when he scored 147 against Bangladesh in the ICC World Cup Qualifier (formerly the ICC Trophy) in 1997.

There are some other exciting players in this multi-talented Kenya side and one of them is Collins Obuya who shot to fame for his 13 wickets, including 5-24 against Sri Lanka, in the ICC Cricket World Cup where Kenya played in the semi-final.

Obuya, the all-rounder-turned-batsman, also represented Warwickshire in the twenty20 competition in the UK in 2003 but missed the ICC Champions Trophy in England in 2004 due to appendicitis. Obuya's brother, David, is also part of the Kenya squad.

Peter Ongondo is another player who brings value to the side. The fast bowler was the leading wicket-taker in the ICC World Cricket League Division One in 2007 with 15 wickets, and is one of the three Kenya bowlers to take 50 or more ODI wickets. He is in the top 20 of the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for ODI bowlers and was also tried as pinch-hitter in the semi-final of the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2003, against India.

KENYA - Steve Tikolo (captain), Thomas Odoyo, Kennedy Otieno, Collins Obuya, Peter Ongondo, Ondik Suji, Hiren Varaiya, Rakep Patel, Morris Ouma, James Kamande, Nehemiah Odhiambo, Elijah Otieno, Alex Obanda, Ragheb Aga, David Obuya