NAIROBI, Kenya, May 15 – “Being calm and collected was the strongest aspect of my game, I don’t panic.”
Kenya’s legendary bowler Thomas Odoyo recounts with a nostalgic smile as he begins his exclusive interview with Capital Sport.
Odoyo, 42, is one of the greatest cricketers that Kenya has produced, being the only player to date to have taken 100 (One Day International) ODI wickets for Kenya and the first Associate player to complete the double of 1000 runs, a feat he achieved at the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup.
-How the love of cricket came-
“I grew up at Kenya Institute of Education which is next to Nairobi Gymkhana, so Jimmy Kamande, Josephat Ababu myself and others, we used to jump over the fence and be tennis ball boys. While we were there, we got interest to paly cricket.
“Those days cricket practice used to be every evening unlike today where they only do it on weekends, because of work and school commitment. Some of the players could not make it to training so they needed people to fill the slots. We got that opportunity to bowl for them and that’s how we loved the game and started bowling,” Odoyo, who went to City Primary before later joining City High School remembered.
“Those days clubs had their own ways of developing their own youngsters. By then we were in the club (Nairobi Gymkhana) and they absorbed us. After bowling, slowly we were taught how to score and bat. On Saturdays when they had games, they invited us as scorers and fill the squad whenever necessary.
“I was a 12th man for a number of years before I started playing for the Gymkhana ‘B’ side where I featured for one year, then transited to the ‘A’ side where I was the 12th man for half season thereafter I joined the national team at the age of 17. I learned cricket on my own by watching, then got the tips from coaches to better it,” Odoyo narrated.
-Why Cricket in Kenya is at its lowest-
With the current state of Kenyan Cricket being at its lowest, Odoyo, a former national team assistant coach and an ex-Kenya Under-19 team head coach explains what he thinks is the reason.
“We are in a terrible situation; the structures are all wrong. No contracted players, no cricket is being played, all that is there is just for fun, more of pass time. The league in Mombasa is not stronger than Nairobi would be, it’s just better organized. If we can manage to sort out the wrangles, I think Nairobi league is stronger.
“It’s bad for the sport. As much as there are board room fighting it means cricket is not going on and that is what is happening now. There is no consensus for anything and the sad part is that the people who are wrangling, most of them played cricket, they should know that cricket and politics don’t mix,” Odoyo, who played at the 1996,1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 World Cups, advised.
He continued; “There needs to be a consensus about everything they are doing. If not, then they are wasting time. It’s always a good feeling seeing former players managing the sport, I want to be part of the administration one day, but nobody wants to be an administrator where the game is not played.”
Odoyo advocated for the strengthening of clubs and involving them to make the league better as it used to be.
“There’s no way you will ignore the clubs and expect cricket to go on. You cannot run cricket from the office. You need the clubs to support you. As much as we want to spread the game to the Counties we have to involve clubs that started it all.”
-What made Kenyan Cricket tick those days-
“Those days we had club-based structures and the professional players who came to play for clubs were very good the likes of Martin Jacobs, Sandeep Patil, Lalchand Rajput who has coached Afghanistan, Chandrakant Pandit, who was the coach of Mumbai Cricket team among others. They ended up playing for the India national team,” Odoyo, the 2007 ICC Associate ODI Player of the Year, said.
“The professional players helped raise the quality of cricket in the country by making the league more competitive. This made us stronger when we played for the national team, we matched the quality of the cricket playing nation.
“Most of us grew up watching the West Indies and having the Indian players coming here, we had a different brand of cricket – it was more of a blend of West Indies and Indian which when we played the likes of Scotland and Ireland we used to beat them easily.”
“The reason we used to make it to World Cups is because we played associates. By that time, the top associate was Bangladesh. Kenya and Bangladesh were rivals because we used to compete with them a lot.
“Another thing that made it easy for us to perform is because we had a group of players who had gelled and understood our game. We did not need too much guidance of the coach to know what we were supposed to do. The coach was to motivate us and give us the plan. It was very easy for players to know their role and executed it and that’s how we managed to qualify for the World Cup most of the time,” Odoyo, who was an all-rounder revealed.
-What to do to restore the game-
Apart from ending the wrangles, Odoyo underscored that the national governing body should come up with structures and with the help of the government embrace exchange programmes with top notch cricket playing nations like India.
Odoyo revealed that sometime back India Prime Minister, Narendra Modi offered to bring coaches from his country to share their expertise on the game while in return Kenya were to send athletics coaches.
“I believe the offer is still valid, its only for us to take it up. It’s a challenge for the national organization to follow it up with the government to make it happen. It’s a good initiative because our coaches need to learn from the best as well.
“We have cricket grounds and that is the advantage so it’s just making use of them. We can work with counties to devolve cricket, I’m working with the Siaya County Government to come up with something,” Odoyo, a father of two daughters added.
-World Cup journey-
“I played my first World Cup when I was almost 17 years in1996, I was a kid and my teammates were older than me. I would count my agemates to be the likes of Steve Tikolo, Kennedy Obuya, Martin Suji and to an extent Maurice Odumbe, but they were still older than me. Later, those are the people that I played with for some years.
“The World Cup was co-hosted by India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Our biggest achievement is when we beat West Indies in Pune, India. The feeling was awesome because we grew up idolizing them,” Odoyo recalled of his World Cup debut where Kenya was drawn against Sri Lanka, Australia, India, West Indies and Zimbabwe.
Kenya lost their three games and were eliminated after the Group Stages.
During the 1999 World Cup, Kenya was placed in the same first round group as hosts England, and India, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. They lost all five of their games in the tournament.
The 2003 World Cup was a historic one that is remembered to date after Kenya managed to make it to the semi-finals for the first time ever. The tournament was to be held in South Africa, with Kenya hosting their two matches against Sri Lanka and New Zealand.
New Zealand opted out, handing walkovers.
Kenya lost to India in the semis, who won by 91 runs.
“In 2003, the team was properly gelled. The eight core players had been together for a while, the likes of Kennedy Obuya, Martin Suji, Collins Obuya, Aasif Karim, Brijal Patel, Steve Tikolo, David Obuya, Ravindu Shah and Hitesh Modi.
“The only ‘home advantage’ that we had was the conditions at that time, because the wickets during that World Cup were slow because of the dry nature of the course so it made us dominate, same in Sri Lanka it suited our style of play.
“We won against Zimbabwe, we took it home, played Sri Lanka at home we took advantage and won. We took all our chances and what made it for us is how we bowled. It was our best performance bearing in mind all the turmoil we had in cricket.”
Kenya hosted Division One of the World Cricket League at three grounds in Nairobi, playing against Bermuda, Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands and Scotland. Kenya also won this event, beating Scotland in the final. This was followed by the 2007 World Cup, Kenya’s fourth World Cup.
Kenya beat Canada in the first round, but lost to England and New Zealand, thus missing out on the Super Eight stage.
“I have respect for coach Roger Harper. He came in when Kenya cricket was in disarray and he assembled a team consisting of youngsters. The only senior players were Peter Ongondo, Steve Tikolo, and myself. That enabled us to qualify for the 2007 World Cup.”
Kenya qualified for the 2011 Cricket World Cup, but failed to win a single match, being eliminated in the Group Stages. Kenya lost to New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Canada, Australia and Zimbabwe.
“I will treasure the 2003 appearance to the semis of World Cup that’s special. Many big cricket nations would wish to play at that level in the World Cup.
“In 2007 when I got associate player of the year award in ICC in South Africa, that achievement was special because my performance is what made Kenya qualify for 2007 World Cup,” Odoyo, who played two seasons in Bangladesh, said as he cherished the moments.
“When I was a coach for the national team during the 2018 World Cup qualifiers in Namibia, I felt helpless because everything was going wrong despite all the efforts I had put in place. After that tournament where we performed poorly, I resigned,” lamented Odoyo.
-Can you come back to coaching?-
“Cricket will always be in my blood and when it comes to cricket I will stop what I’m doing to go and help, so if the opportunity comes, I will create time to go and help cricket because I owe my life to cricket. I will always be a cricketer.”
“Cricket can be used as a source of livelihood for many youths in this country. The administration (Cricket Kenya) needs to work with the government to try and help develop the game and take it to the highest level. Kenya has a lot of talent, its only getting our structures right.”