Shem Ngoche, vice-captain of Kenya is abandoned by all his team mates at the Wanderers Cricket Club after his misfield allowed Nepal snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat off the final ball of the WCL2 2018 game. That loss was a fatal blow for Kenya as they dropped down to Division 3, a place unknown to them. The glory days of 2003 when they made the semi finals of the World Cup now a distant memory.
Once the golden generation retired from the game Kenya has fallen behind the Asian emerging nations and their slip has not been helped, in fact, it has been exacerbated, by poor governance. The off field problems have greatly affected cricket especially the local leagues where many players have lost trust in the system.
The players have done their best to not allow the rumblings around the game to affect them. Shem Ngoche, now captain, has mentioned that the players have chosen not to think about the politics and focus on playing. While well-intentioned, in reality, the lack of good governance has affected their preparations with virtually no build up games for the team outside Kenya.
At the Africa B T20 qualifiers they battled with long time rivals Uganda for the winners spot, and the two games between both sides produced the highest scoring matches in the tournament. Uganda slipped up against Tanzania, and this gave Kenya the title even though they lost to Uganda in the final game.
Team Kenya arrived in Kampala for the Africa finals as East African champions and they got down to business in a place they are very familiar with. Wins against Nigeria and Ghana meant that they had taken care of the games they had to, but the game that delivered qualification was the marginal one run win over hosts Uganda. With their final two games against Namibia and Botswana washed out Kenya had achieved their primary objective.
T20 World Cup Qualifier preparations for team Kenya have not been ideal with precious few pre-tour warm ups ahead of the main event, but that is due to the friction at home. Head Coach Maurice Odumbe will have a big job trying to motivate the team but he will definitely rely on his senior players.
Sixteen years later, the only surviving player from that 2003 semi final run is Collins Obuya, and he is the “go-to” man for team Kenya. His experience has always made the difference especially when the team is down. He scores runs when the team is desperate and also picks up wickets when a partnership has become stubborn.
Alex Obanda and Dhiren Ghondaria are an explosive pair at the top of the order but Alex struggled in Kampala while Ghondaria has not as destructive as he should be. This temporary loss of form can’t erase their class and once they get going they are a dangerous pair. Irfan Karim, son of the cricket legend Asif Karim will also be important, he is one of the best Associate wicketkeepers and also a stylish left hand bat.
However, the bulk of run scoring will be on the shoulders of Rakeep Patel, he was the player of the tournament in Kampala bailing out Kenya will some late knocks when they struggled at the top. He ability to shift gears when needed will be important on the slow turners in the UAE.
The weak link in this Kenya side is their bowling, apart from Captain Shem Ngoche whose left arm spin has been tried and tested on the international stage, the other bowlers leak a lot of runs. In the short format where batsmen are not afraid of taking the game to the bowlers, Lucas Oluoch, Nelson Odhiambo, Elijah Othieno and Emma Bundi have their work cut if they are stop their side from chasing big totals.
Kenya is desperate for the good old days and this opportunity to get a crack at a major event allows them to show that cricket is still alive and kicking in Kenya. Most people might not rate them as favourites, but Kenyans have never lacked spirit; they love to win and on their day they will be very hard competition.
If Kenya is able to pull off the unthinkable and qualify for Australia in 2020, that success will go a long way to re-invigorating a game back home that so many have lost faith in.
Sachin Bhudia, Emmanuel Bundi, Aman Gandi, Dhiren Gondaria, Irfan Karim, Pushpak Kerai, Jasraj Kundi, Lucas Ndandason, Shem Obado, Alex Obanda, Collins Obuya, Nelson Odhiambo, Elijah Otieno, Rakep Patel, Rushab Patel.