Tikolo determined to see Kenya back on the rise

BACK ON THE RISE: Steve Tikolo wants to keep Kenya's cricket World Cup appearance streak alive.
BACK ON THE RISE: Steve Tikolo wants to keep Kenya's cricket World Cup appearance streak alive.

Eleven years on from the greatest triumph in Kenyan cricket, Steve Tikolo is still seething.

Kenya stunned the cricketing world at the 2003 World Cup, qualifying for the semifinals after beating Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Canada. They also gained a crucial walkover win against New Zealand, who forfeited their game in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, due to safety concerns.

After the World Cup, there were calls for Kenya to gain test playing status, but instead of building on their success, the game deteriorated badly.

Tikolo, who is now player-coach of Kenya, is in New Zealand for the 10-team World Cup qualifying tournament, which begins on Monday. He believed Kenya's cricket administrators at the time squandered a golden opportunity to grow the sport in the east African nation.

It's something they have never really recovered from.

"After the 2003 World Cup, I think our cricket took a nosedive, which is really hurting for me and the guys who took part in that event," Tikolo says.

"I'm sorry to say after that, the vibe just died. You'd have thought that's when Kenya cricket should have risen."

Tikolo said money started rolling in and the International Cricket Council promised to help fund Kenya to become the next test nation, but the Kenya Cricket Association (KCA) acted negligently. Matters were compounded when former skipper Maurice Odumbe was slapped with a five-year ban in 2004 after being found guilty of receiving money from bookmakers.

The KCA was eventually dissolved by the government in 2005 and replaced with a new body, Cricket Kenya.

"Our management let us down big time and that is what has caused the downfall of Kenyan cricket," Tikolo explained.

"That particular board in place couldn't account for that money and I think that's where things started to go wrong - court cases, mismanagement. It culminated in those officials being thrown out of office.

"It's tough to take. My heart bleeds for Kenyan cricket."

Tikolo, who is Kenya's all-time leading one-day international run-scorer and most capped player, retired after the 2011 World Cup - his fifth tournament.

The 42-year-old wasn't done, however, answering an SOS call late last year to provide some much needed experience and guidance. Tikolo is acting as interim coach after Robin Brown stood down late last year after failing to guide Kenya to a spot at this year's Twenty20 World Cup.

He admits this is likely to be his last stint in the national side and is determined to help them through to the final of the World Cup qualifier over the next few weeks, which would secure their passage to the 2015 tournament in New Zealand and Australia.

Tikolo and Kenya have been to every ODI World Cup since their inaugural showing in 1996, where they produced a shock result, beating a star-studded West Indies team, including Brian Lara, Richie Richardson, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose.

Tikolo still regards as one of the most memorable matches of his 20-year international career.

"For me, that World Cup was an eye-opener. It showed, we could play at the highest level.

"They were our role models. Just to be on the same ground as them was an achievement. Let alone beating them."

Tikolo impressed at the 1996 World Cup, finishing as Kenya's top run-scorer with 196 at 39 from five innings, which included 96 against Sri Lanka. His best individual return at a World Cup came at the 2007 version in the West Indies, where he averaged 77.50 with the bat, notching 70s against England and Canada.

If Kenya fail to qualify for next year's World Cup, Tikolo said it would be a bitter pill to swallow.

"It would be a big blow for Kenyan cricket. A lot of things might change in terms of the structures and funding from the ICC. We basically depend on funding from the ICC, we don't have any sponsors."

Despite the heartache of the last decade, Tikolo remains upbeat about where the sport is headed in his homeland. He was complimentary of the new board and said they had several talented young players in their ODI squad, who had the ability to make an impact.

Tikolo thinks Kenya is capable of contending for a top two berth at the World Cup qualifying tournament.
They possessed some promising top order batsmen and he believed the squad was improving with each training session together.

"I feel the team is well prepared and we have a fair chance of getting to the final."

Fairfax Media