Kenyan cricket drives into dead end

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TIKOLONAIROBI, June 21- It was described as the greatest upset in cricket world history. The year was 1996 at the Cricket World Cup when Kenya defeated then two-time World Cup winners, West Indies.

By that feat, Kenya in its first World Cup ever became the third non-Test playing nation to have beaten a Test side in the World Cup after Sri Lanka did it in 1979 against India and Zimbabwe in 1983 versus Australia.

Back at home, the country was ecstatic and Kenya’s cricket was on cloud nine. The consensus was that the country had the talent and the ability and with a good development program would be up there with the rest of cricket’s best.

One Day International (ODI) status beckoned. One year later in 1997, Kenya alongside Bangladesh was awarded ODI status and the following year defeated India in a one day international match – strong show casing for Test status.

The ICC-Knockout tournament held in Kenya in 2000 was, apart from generating revenue for the International Cricket Council (ICC), also to accelerate the growth of cricket in the country similar to what the same tournament had done to Bangladesh in 1998.

Bangladesh was duly awarded full Test status in 2000. The question was always when Kenya was going to be awarded Test status.

The voyage was going on smoothly until the storm struck in February 2001 when the Kenya Cricket Association (KCA) – the precursor of the current national body Cricket Kenya (CK) – announced that it had sacked 11 national team players.

“Kenyan cricket was thrown into turmoil and the rosy illusion was hanging out to be prodded and peered at by all,” Francis Otieno who is one of those who were sacked said.

Before talking on the specifics concerning the termination of the players’ contracts by KCA, a broader look at Kenyan cricket and its Test aspirations needs to be gazed.

Kenya has about 30 clubs with a total of roughly 700 active players and wanted to be granted Test status, with everybody insisting that since Bangladesh was awarded test status. Kenya was, arguably a stronger cricket side than Bangladesh, the country should also have been awarded Test status.

But cricket is a national sport in Bangladesh. There are national championships and senior, youth and school level cricket with all the 64 or so districts in the country eligible to participate.

As early as 1977, some cricket matches could command crowds in excess of 40,000 and the game is very popular in the Asian country.

Mini Series

During the mini-world in Nairobi in 2001, the cricket stars played to near-empty terraces even as the organizers ferried in screaming school children from selected city schools to give the sun-baked empty stands some human presence.

“The association was accused of not doing enough to promote the game in the country despite receiving development funds from ICC, only concentrating on international assignments,” said Brinjal Patel, another former Kenyan international.

When the 11 players threatened to strike in February 2001, they were among other things demanded an increase in their allowances, claiming that their contracts had not been renewed since first being signed in 1998.

They wondered where the money that KCA received from ICC went to. KCA countered by saying that the players had brought the game into disrepute and were holding the association at ransom.

The association said that it was wrong for the players to wait for an international fixture to begin before making their demands.

Then the can of worms opened with players making accusations that the KCA had mistreated them for a long time and cared little about their welfare.

In 1998 during Kenya’s tour of India, the players had threatened to strike after they learnt that they would be paid less than they had been promised.

OBANDA-UGANDAEarlier in 1996 during the Kenyan cricket centenary celebrations, KCA failed to reveal the sponsorship package from Sameer Group of Companies and other sponsors and the revenue from gate collection.

Same thing with the 2000 mini-world cup, KCA did not reveal how much profit or loss they made from hosting the games or how much they made from gate collection and sell of hospitality stands.

The charge by the players that KCA received funds from ICC which it could not account for was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The association sacked them with the rider that “the players were getting too big for their feet.”

The situation was clearly getting out of hand forcing the government to step in February 2000 when Sports Minister Noah Katana Ngala appointed a six-man committee to try and solve the problem.

The committee was mandated to look into the problems of KCA and the national players, probe its finances and investigate the problems between KCA and some of its provincial affiliates.

Advent of Cricket Kenya

KCA vowed to ignore the committee claiming that it was not consulted and that some members of the committee would not be fair in their judgment.

Barely two weeks into their job, the probe committee was served with a court injunction by KCA lawyers barring the government and the Kenya National Sports Council from further investigating the association.

“The crisis did a lot of damage to Kenya’s cricket locally and internationally. Any person in the know about cricket in Kenya is aware of how difficult it has been for Kenya to get fixtures against the Test nations,” Isaac Kalua who was in charge of a care-taker committee tasked to oversee fresh elections told Xinhua.

In 2005, Cricket Kenya was installed as the body in charge of Cricket in Kenya at the end of a long drawn out dispute with the previous management, the KCA and its provincial boards among other stakeholders in the game.

Ultimately, with the intervention of a high powered ICC delegation led by Percy Sonn and Peter Chingoka, an agreement on new elections and a new constitution was reached.

The subsequent elections formally wound up the Kenya Cricket Association, paving the way for its official replacement by Cricket Kenya.

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