Aasif Karim reflects on the lost glory of cricket in Kenya
By Vijay Lokapally
Former Kenya Cricket nationl team captain believes that Kenya failed to plan for a strong cricket development structure and is therefore her own enemy noting that “we let ourselves down”.
Karim, who was back in India went to “support and promote a sports movie in Malayalam called Madappally United. “It is about how children are deprived of playgrounds due to land grabbing by businessmen and politicians. It is a global problem,” says Karim, who is currently chairman of the Kenya International Sports Film Festival.
The 58-year-old Karim reflects on the lost glory of cricket in Kenya. “People loved playing in Kenya, against Kenya. They loved the style of Kenyan cricket. There was none against us. We were our own enemies. We let ourselves down. That’s the harsh reality. I won’t look for outsiders as scapegoats. I am very candid about it. I was 17 when I played for the country in 1980 and I have played for 23 years. I have seen the journey to where we are now. The blame squarely lies on us. Sorry to say that but that's the reality.”
Karim, who played 34 ODIs, was part of the Kenyan team at three ICC World Cups in 1996, 1999 and 2003. He led the team in 1999. Those were the glory years of Kenya. “We won the ODI status and we had an automatic entry to the World Cup. We played the World Cup semifinals (in 2003). From that stage we slipped. Today, Kenya is playing Division 3 in the ICC and is heading for Division 4. I said it a few years ago that I won’t be surprised if we become an affiliate team. It’s painful. We are going back to play Uganda and Tanzania,” Karim told Sportstar in New Delhi on Friday.
He vividly remembers the 1996 win against the West Indies. “It was our first World Cup and we had a lot of support from the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) and players like Sandeep Patill, Karsan Ghavri, Chandu Pandit. We were well prepared for the 1996 World Cup and played the next two. After a couple of matches we realised we were not very far off. You see these (big) players on television, in magazines, on billboards, and you get overwhelmed, intimidated. We had a very talented team. Blended in nicely We had a sense of self belief. We were competitive. It actually took us a day to come to terms with the fact that we had beaten the West Indies (at Pune). The administrators deserved a lot of credit. It was a process that went quite well. We grew and grew.”
In 2003, Karim, a left-arm spinner of repute, came out of retirement for the World Cup in South Africa. “The team needed a mature person. We were a young nation in cricket and learning. But then India and the West Indies too took time to become competitive until the turnaround in 1971 and then the 1983 World Cup. Same with Sri Lanka. I think we belonged to the big league,” said Karim, who won the Man of the Match award in the contest at Durban against Australia with a sensational spell of 8.2-6-7-3. His victims included Ricky Ponting and Darren Lehmann.
He laments Kenya’s decline. “We did not plan a strong development structure. Where are the cricketers going to come from? Not from the streets. When success comes in it is like where there is honey there will be bees. People who need not be around started capitalising on the glory of Kenyan cricket. We sensed it around the time we were still playing the World Cup. There were people coming in who had no business. Our domestic cricket became weak. The three pillars - players, administration and infrastructure - collapsed.”
For Karim, the best years were when Kenya attracted players from india. “The league in Nairobi was very popular with the Indians. The weather in Nairobi is great in June-July when it is terribly hot in India. It was a perfect pre-season for the cricketers before September. Indians had a huge role. But the Indian community is not that interested in cricket now but the locals are keen. Sadly, there is no structure. People who are running the game in Kenya are incompetent. We have to accept that we have to begin from scratch now. We have to identify a group of people who can run the game and take it to a certain level. We had elections recently but they were a joke. There has to be a paradigm shift. First, set things in order and then expect money.”
Karim, who also led Kenya in Davis Cup, is also a respected Arbitrator and Mediator in Nairobi. “I would love to see a Kenyan playing in the Indian Premier League (IPL) some day. The IPL has changed the dynamics of the game with some tactical bowling and innovative strokes. Passion for cricket in India is phenomenal. If any professional cricketer has not toured India his career is incomplete."