From slums to nets: the homecoming of Kenyan cricket

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Slum schoolchildren hitting the nets in Nairobi are at the heart of an effort to save Kenyan cricket from a seemingly endless slump, plagued by poor performance, governance issues and political feuds.

After the exploits in South Africa in 2003, when Kenya became the first untested nation to reach the World Cup semi-finals, the country’s cricket went into free fall, with little sign of recovery.

But three brothers – all former international cricketers – are mounting a retaliation by pumping their earnings into a training academy aimed at rebuilding the sport in Kenya from the ground up.

Founded by former Kenyan opener Kennedy Otieno and his brothers David and Collins Obuya in 2006, Obuya Cricket Academy (OCA) offers training to young people from working-class neighborhoods. He hopes to find the next Steve Tikolo, the former captain and star drummer of 2003, and revive the declining fortunes of their national team.

Youth development is at the heart of cricket, and our goal was to open the doors for disadvantaged children …

“The response has been overwhelming,” said Obuya, who is the head coach of Cricket Kenya, with dozens of students aged five to 19 training daily at the academy in the upscale suburb of Lavington. in Nairobi.

Many parents were happy to enroll their children in classes, especially when the academy offered to pay their school fees and provide free lunches.

Despite financial constraints, the OCA has grown slowly, fielding a team in the Nairobi Provincial Cricket Association (NPCA) Super League since 2019.

The academy has also served as a breeding ground for recruitment by other clubs.

“As a family we have found this very satisfying as we are able to inspire the next generation of Kenyan cricketers,” Obuya told AFP.

– ‘Breathe the cricket’ –

The league itself received help from an unexpected quarter, with NCPA teams recruiting players from India.

This decision dates back to the 1980s and 1990s, when Kenyan cricket benefited from the presence of Indian sportsmen who had signed with clubs in Nairobi to improve their chances of selection to the returning national teams.

Among them, Ashuman Gaekwad and Sandeep Patil, who played for India, Patil returned to Nairobi in 2003 to coach Kenya and take them to the semi-finals of the World Cup.

“These are people who revere and breathe cricket,” NPCA chief Kanti Rabadia told AFP.

“What they bring to the game is the discipline and professionalism that local players lack.”

Currently Indian left-hander Pushkar Sharma, the skipper of Ruaraka Sports Club is expected to finish as the season’s top scorer in the NCPA league.

The former Mumbai Under-16 cricket captain is eligible to play for Kenya after living in the country for six years.

“My goal (is) to play for Kenya and help revive the game of cricket,” Sharma told kenya-cricket.com last month.

– ‘Hidden talent’ –

Returning to the OCA, former wicket keeper Otieno said more needs to be done to encourage young Kenyans to take a bat.

“Kenya is a country of 50 million people. If you only get 5% to play cricket, you will have achieved what you set out to do and give the sport a national perspective,” he said. .

“Unless we broadcast the game to the counties (outside of Nairobi), you wouldn’t see this growth. The talent is hidden there.”

Meanwhile, Cricket Kenya is struggling to clean up its act, after falling sharply over the past two decades due to administrative misconduct and internal strife.

Otieno’s young charges are determined to make a miracle comeback.

“When I joined the team, I had no idea that I would still be here, and even play in the Super League,” said young all-rounder Ken Mwangi, who started training at the club. ‘OCA when he was only six and is now one of his rising stars.

“My dream is to play for Kenya in the future.”

aik / amu / pb / iwd


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