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Broken Promise: Collapse of the Kenyan Cricket dream and the struggle to revive it

How Cricket in Kenya was once promising, and the struggle to revive it.


Kennedy Obuya of Kenya lies on the ground after being hit and bowled by Brett Lee of Australia
Kennedy Obuya of Kenya lies on the ground after being hit and bowled by Brett Lee of Australia in a past match
The Kenyan game is struggling to get back up, and requires the world's help

On 20th March 2003, David Hopps wrote, 'Whatever happens in today's World Cup semi-final against India, three Kenyan brothers will step onto the field in Durban convinced that cricket in their homeland can never be the same again.'

The Guardian's cricket writer at the 2003 World Cup in Durban, South Africa was talking about three brothers - Kennedy, David and Collins Obuya - who had played a major role in putting the East African country on the cricket world map against all odds. To the world, Kenya's qualification for the World Cup and the new-found interest for the game in the country could only be a sign of great things to come.

But it was never to be.

The semi-final match ended in favour of India's 270/4 (50 overs) against Kenya's 179 (46.2 overs) and marked a beginning of the end of cricket's glory in Kenya. Steve Tikolo (56 from 83 balls, 5 fours, 2 sixes) was the most outstanding player in what remains Kenya's best competition to date.

The subsequent World Cup participation in 2007 and 2011 was only a shadow of 2003, both in performance and fans' excitement. Within that period, there was a great rollback of widely hailed steps to Africanise cricket in Kenya, and today it has reverted to an Asian favoured sport almost in its entirety.

Frequent abrasions between the players and the management board led to the downfall of the game. Sponsors got scared and fled, operations became virtually impossible with dwindling cash reserves. Tikolo, Kenya's greatest cricketer, was at some point adversely mentioned in a cash scandal at the Kenya Cricket Association.


Steve Tikolo of Kenya hits out
Better days: Steve Tikolo of Kenya hits out when the country had so much cricket promise

The country lost its ODI status in 2014.

If you read or watch sports news in Kenya today, chances are you will flip through all outlets and not come across a single cricket story.

Despite the great challenges, some of the passionate stars from that 2003 moment of glory have stuck around and continue the drive to restore the game to its rightful place.

Collins Obuya has remained on as one of the legendary faithful, with decent performances even at 36. The right-handed batsman was involved with a half-century (56) as Kenya held off stiff competition to beat The Netherlands by two wickets at the Buffalo Park, South Africa, a week ago. The win bore great significance as it lifted Kenya to fourth in the ICC World Cricket League Championship, further raising hopes that they can go back to the levels they reached a decade and a half ago.

While Kenyan cricket appears to be on the right track on the pitch, the game's administrators have an elephant task of popularising it among fans within the country. With most Kenyans obsessed with local and foreign football competitions, it will take a lot of mobilizing to establish cricket as a sport of choice.

It will require bringing on board more stakeholders and resources, including learning institutions and media outlets. Schools will introduce cricket to learners at a young age while putting it on the media agenda will help people to re-absorb the game.

The international cricket community also has a large role to play in awakening this sleeping cricket giant. International sides need to make more trips to play in Kenya. It is up to countries like India, Sri Lanka, and New Zealand that have woven cricket into the fabric of their societies to help Obuya and co. recover a diamond that has returned to the rubble.


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