There was something symbolic as well as historic about Afghanistan’s crushing victory over Kenya in the ICC World Cricket League Championship game played at Sharjah on Friday. While the triumph ensured Afghanistan’s qualification for the 2015 World Cup to be held in Australia and New Zealand – they have been placed in Pool A which will feature Australia, New Zealand, England and Sri Lanka – it was another indication of how far behind the Kenyan team has fallen over the last few years. The contrasting fortunes of Afghanistan and Kenya mark a significant shift in power among the minnows.
Afghanistan’s rise has been nothing short of phenomenal. It was only 12 years back that the Afghan Cricket Federation was established by expats living in Pakistan. It was a tough road ahead, but just six years later they had won their first major tournament. They were victors in the ACC T20 Cup in November 2007, and have since retained the title in 2009, 2011 and 2013. Since, they have moved from the lower division to the higher division among the minnow nations, and have only kept improving. Following their impressive efforts, they were granted ODI status in 2009.
Afghanistan’s metamorphic rise can be judged from the fact that they have now played in two World T20 tournaments – in West Indies in 2010 and in Sri Lanka in 2012. Even though they expectedly failed to make it beyond the initial round, they did impress with their competitive spirit in the 2012 edition. They actually put India under severe pressure during the match between the two sides. Afghanistan do have a few highly talented players in their midst. Their skipper Mohammad Nabi is a high-quality all-rounder, who has been instrumental in the country’s rise in recent years. Further Shapoor Zadran is a sharp paceman, and Karim Sadiq a handy off-spinner. We will surely hear a lot about them and a few others in the times of come.
While Afghanistan’s graph has rose steadily, Kenya’s downfall has been equally stunning. It is difficult to believe that this was the same team that defeated West Indies in the 1996 World Cup and even shocked everyone to progress into the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup. They have beaten India on more than one occasion, and have been better than other minnow sides like Bangladesh, Scotland, Netherlands and UAE over the years. But the present side is definitely nowhere close to the one that achieved the abovementioned feats.
The major problem with Kenyan cricket is that they have not been able to find suitable replacements to their class players of the 90s. Back then, they had the likes of Steve Tikolo, Thomas Odoyo, Ravindu Shah and Martin Suji, all of whom performed consistently against top teams. Maurice Odumbe was also a quality all- rounder. Sadly, Kenyan cricket lost him to fixing and related corrupt activities. Even since these men have walked away from the scene, Kenyan cricket has entered a dark phase. The path ahead seems tougher for the African side with no encouraging signs in the offing.
--By A Cricket Analyst