East African cricket's demise is a hard diet to swallow
Kenya's defeat by Namibia in the World Cup qualifiers in New Zealand on Friday has left East African cricket in a parlous state.
Already both Kenya and Uganda have been defeated by Papua New Guinea (PNG), until recently ranked well below them, and Uganda have bowed to Netherlands. Sunday's match between the two EA sides at Mt Maunganui may now present little more than a contest for the group 'B' wooden spoon.
It is only 20 years ago next month that Kenya, hosting the ICC Trophy which was itself a qualifier for the 1996 World Cup in India, were pencilled in as co-favourites; indeed they finished runners-up to United Arab Emirates, with Netherlands third and Bermuda fourth. Bangladesh, Ireland, Canada, PNG and the like were nowhere in sight, while Namibia won the plate final for also-rans.
Scotland were not an ICC member; nor were Uganda, though they took part in closely fought warm-up games, while East and Central Africa and West Africa provided teams in a field of 20 which also included Argentina, Israel, Gibraltar, Malaysia and Singapore!
It was a festive event and the final, Kenya v UAE, was a 'humdinger' in front of a 3,000-plus crowd at Ruaraka, though the composition of the UAE squad – few players were genuinely from UAE – caused some ructions. However, the runners-up spot earned Kenya a pitch at the '96 World Cup – where they famously beat West Indies in Pune – along with UAE and Netherlands.
These were probably the heydays of Kenya cricket (in 1993 they had beaten Zimbabwe at Nairobi Gymkhana), with the likes of captain Tom Tikolo, Kennedy Otieno, Dipak Chudasama, Maurice Odumbe in his pomp, a young Steve Tikolo, Alfred 'Boy' Njuguna, Edward 'Tito' Odumbe, Martin Suji, Martin Orewa, David Tikolo, Joseph Angara, Aasif Karim, Rajab Ali, Daniel Macdonald and SM Kassamali all performing at their best.
The 2003 World Cup semi-final appearance in South Africa is rightly regarded as a 'high water mark', but the side had not come up to expectations in England in 1999; nor have the post-2003 teams been anything to sing about. And now this!
I aver that if Kenya is to get back to anything like its former standing it should focus on its 1990s record, not that of 2003, and try to revive the vibrant NPCA league structure that featured in those days.
The banner headline on a Monday back page of the East African Standard in November 1993 "Swamibapa win!" - with a picture of a dashing David Tikolo raising the NPCA challenge cup to the heavens (and a Topspinner/Richard Mwangi byline!) - said it all!
Uganda, despite their poor showing at the WCQs, have a well structured league system – and perhaps Kenya could learn something from that too.