NAIROBI, September 29 – After years of upheaval and controversy, Kenya's cricketers, with Englishman Tom Sears at the helm, believe they are slowly turning the corner as they eye the 2011 World Cup.
The national team are currently preparing at the Nairobi Gymkhana grounds, ahead of their Intercontinental Cup and one-day series against Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates in October.
The likes of Peter Githuku and Joesph Onyango are among a group of youngsters hoping to scramble for places in the team which is also preparing for the 2011 World Cup in the Asian sub-continent.
Expectations are high within the local cricket circles that Kenya, shock semi-finalists in the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, have put their problems behind them.
Since being appointed Cricket Kenya (CK) chief executive three months ago, Sears has initiated big changes in the administrative and management structure of the sport in his bid to restore Kenya’s dented image.
His first major task was to bring cohesiveness among the players, who have been at loggerheads with the national administration over contractual issues and team selections.
The national team lost all their World Cricket League matches in the Netherlands in August, and a home series against two India domestic sides, and are already out of the running in the Intercontinental Cup.
"Kenyan cricket has all the ingredients. If you look at the passion here, in terms of the African and Asian population, if enhanced together, there is great potential," said Sears, a former Derbyshire chief executive and New Zealand cricket business development manager.
He believes lack of resources has held back the development of Kenyan cricket, which has long relied on external funding from the International Cricket Council (ICC) but he is quick to blame the local administration for centralising the game only in the two major towns of Nairobi and Mombasa.
"We need to empower the provinces to do more," he said, adding: "CK had been doing things wrongly by centralising the sport. The most effective way to take the game forward is putting the right structures in all the provinces. It is going to take a while."
But of immediate concern for Sears is to ensure the national team becomes competitive again before the World Cup in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
He has invited all the potential players to join the training camp at the Nairobi Gymkhana club, and he is looking to boost the team’s coaching staff by employing a foreign batting specialist to assist national coach, Eldine Baptiste.
He said they have opened doors to all the players to fight for places in the side before the final team for the World Cup is selected in January.
Former national team captain Steve Tikolo, who is now playing club cricket in Zimbabwe, has been recalled to the side, along with Sussex county club seamer Ragheb Aga and opener, Seren Waters, and several members of the U-19 team, which finished second in the African qualifiers for the 2011 World Cup in Namibia, earlier this month.
"From a previous pool of only 15 to 16 players, we now have 25 to 30 players whom we have put on contracts. How they will carry themselves will depend on their performances between now and end of January 2011."
Kenya is scheduled to host Afghanistan in three one-day series on October 7, 9 and 11, before being involved in an another four-match fixture with the UAE in Mombasa later in the month.
They will also play neighbours Uganda, before embarking on a tour of South Africa and India at the beginning of the year.