IF anyone had bet that Afghanistan, rather than Kenya, would have been handed Test status at the turn of the century, then they would now be celebrating a considerable windfall.
The kind of financial boost, in fact, that Kenyan Cricket would give anything for.
At the 2003 World Cup, Kenya didn’t just become the first non-Test playing nation to reach the knockout stages – they also became the first, and still only, to make it all the way to a semi-final.
Admittedly, their cause was helped by New Zealand refusing to travel to Nairobi in the group stages but wins over Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe were testimony to the talents of a side that included the likes of Steve Tikolo, Collins Obuya and Thomas Odoyo.
What should have been a springboard to bigger and better things, though, was merely the precursor to a dramatic fall from grace – a plunge in fortunes that reached its nadir last year, when Kenya were relegated the ICC’s World Cricket League Division Three. Defeats against the UAE, Nepal, Canada, Namibia and Oman last February, illustrated just how far Kenya’s star had fallen.
There was no shortage of blood spilling as a result. Cricket Kenya chairperson Jackie Janmohammed and Raja Sarkar, the country’s director of development, both left their posts. Odoyo, meanwhile, resigned as national team coach and Rakep Patel walked away from his position as captain.
The difference those resignations made, though, was negligible as wages went unpaid and the country’s once thriving youth development programme was ostensibly shutdown.
In November, Kenya were thrashed by the USA in a Division Three clash in Oman after being skittled for just 98 against a country that had only just returned to the ICC fold.
If there is any light on the horizon – and admittedly it’s a pretty dim shaft at present – it’s Kenya’s qualification for the World T20 Africa Regional Finals, which take place in Uganda in May.
Finish in the top two of a group including the hosts, Botswana, Ghana, Namibia and Nigeria, and Kenya will find themselves in the final T20 World Cup qualifier in a process that makes UEFA’s Europa League look streamlined.
After their demotion to Division Three, Odoyo said: “The one week we spent in Namibia was a week of mental anguish. It was stressful and I would not wish anyone to go through what I went through.”
The sadness is that the next disappointment for this once proud cricket nation is probably just around the corner.
RICHARD EDWARDS / Photo: Getty Images