Desperate to end a lean period since its surprising run to the 2003 semifinals, Kenya has hired Jonty Rhodes to add some zing to the fielding in an aging lineup striving at least to reach the second round of the Cricket World Cup.
In 2003, the Steve Tikolo-led Kenyans became the first — and still only — second-tier cricket nation to qualify for the semifinals at cricket's marquee limited-overs tournament.
Back then, the east African nation beat Canada, 1996 World Cup champion Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in its historic run to the semifinals in South Africa.
It has all been downhill since then.
- Jimmy Kamande (captain)
- Tamnay Mishra
- Shem Ngoche
- James Ngoche
- Alex Obanda
- David Obuya
- Collins Obuya
- Nehemiah Odhiambo
- Thomas Odoyo
- Peter Ongondo
- Elijah Otieno
- Morris Ouma
- Rakep Patel
- Steve Tikolo
- Seren Waters
Last month, Kenya lost five out of five matches against provincial teams on a tour of India, which was meant to prepare it for the World Cup on the subcontinent, underlining the size of the task ahead and how far the country has fallen behind in cricket terms.
Tikolo, 39, will play his fifth World Cup before retiring and is still the foundation of the batting lineup. Allrounder Thomas Odoyo also has vast experience and four previous World Cup appearances.
Brothers Collins and David Obuya have both played more than 60 limited-overs internationals and Peter Ongondo has held the bowling attack together, along with Odoyo, for more than 10 years.
It's the lack of new talent that has held up Kenya's cricket development.
"Sad to say, there has been very minimal increase in the popularity of the sport since I started playing 26 years ago," Tikolo said.
Only 20-year-old batsman Seren Waters has shown promise, making the sole century on Kenya's forgettable trip to India before he was called back to classes at his university in England.
Kenya, under new skipper Jimmy Kamande, has been grouped with defending champion Australia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Canada and Zimbabwe. But the squad is without the self-confidence and adventurous attitude that inspired its charge to the brink of a World Cup final eight years ago.
Coach Eldine Baptiste, a West Indian, said he expected the squad to reach the second round.
"I know recent performances haven't been that good," he said. "But for us, it's all about preparation until we get to the World Cup … where we have to make sure we perform."
Kenya's slide was more complicated than merely a lack of promising youngsters.
Former captain Maurice Odumbe was banned for five years in 2004, amid a match-fixing scandal, for his association with a known bookmaker. And corruption allegations and leadership wrangles in the Kenya cricket federation in 2005 stunted the team's growth.
"We lost a lot of momentum after 2003," said Tom Sears, chief executive of Cricket Kenya, which took over the management of the sport from the troubled Kenya Cricket Association.
Sponsors withdrew or didn't renew deals and the team struggled to finance tours and missed out on much-needed game time against strong opposition.
Kenya last tested itself against a major nation in an ODI series in 2008, when it lost in South Africa. Apart from a close victory over Afghanistan in October, Kenya last won a one-day series in 2007.
The new year started with those five deflating losses in India, but there are positive signs.
Sears said the arrival of former South Africa international Rhodes as assistant coach for the World Cup, and a new sponsorship deal giving the team $125,000 to prepare for the tournament, would provide a significant boost.
It's hoped the energy and innovation of Rhodes, the fielding genius, can lift the Kenyans out of their slump.
"He brings a bit of life to the whole set up — a different approach," Sears said.
Kenya effectively ended Rhodes' international career when he fractured a finger in the group stage match between the teams at the 2003 World Cup. It turned out to be Rhodes' last game for his country.
"I don't hold a grudge and if a team like Kenya is competitive enough to break my hand they must be worth working for," Rhodes said. "So I'm looking forward to working with them."
With Rhodes taking care of the fielding and building team cohesion, former West Indies international Baptiste can concentrate on improving Kenya's struggling team across the board — starting with the batting.
"We have got to be honest and realistic," said Baptiste, setting his team a minimum target of 250 runs per innings even to remotely competitive on the subcontinental pitches. He said the team needed to be more consistent with its batting, bowling and fielding.
"If we perform in all those three areas, then we will be able to compete and make sure we are the team to do the upsetting in the World Cup," he said.
But, after the memorable high of 2003 was followed by a mediocre performance in 2007, Kenya is bracing itself for a real struggle this time.
It could be remembered in 2011 for little more than fielding two sets of brothers and a pair of five-tournament veterans.[GALLERY id=4431 cat=sports]