Just over a year ago, Kenya chased down 266 to beat the Netherlands in an ODI at the Bert Sutcliffe Oval in New Zealand. Dutch keeper-batsman Wesley Barresi’s unbeaten 137 (150 balls) set a tricky target that was chased down primarily as a result of Irfan Karim thrashing 108 from just 84 balls, helped by Rageb Aga (released by Sussex in 2010) hitting 86. Whilst interesting enough in it’s own right, what really caught my eye was the name of the man who knocked off the winnings runs: Steve Tikolo.
Steve Tikolo: I mean, how lucky/unlucky would you have to be, to not only be Kenyan, and a cricketer, but to also share a name with one of the greatest Associate players of all time, Kenyan cricket captain Steve Tikolo?
Steve Tikolo top-scored when Kenya shocked a strong West Indies side featuring Walsh, Ambrose, Lara, Bishop, Chanderpaul and Adams in the 1996 World Cup, as well as scoring 65 against India and 96 against Sri Lanka in that same tournament. Tikolo notched a further two half centuries against India and England in the 1999 tournament, and then went on to captain the side to the semi finals in 2003.
Basically, Steve Tikolo was the underdog of my childhood, across the first three Cricket World Cups I actually remember with any clarity, there he was; standing up to some of the world’s best bowlers with a nonchalant, Caribbean-esque flick of the wrists in the air through mid-wicket or backward square.
Imagine, just imagine, my joy and happiness to have ‘clicked through’, then, and seen that Steve Tikolo, well, IS Steve Tikolo. Then imagine that joy and happiness turn to sadness. Sadness because, at some point in the last 15 years, the odds on a Kenyan/insert Associate nation team getting to the semi-finals of a major tournament has been completely obliterated. The ‘International’ Cricket Council and it’s elite members have, between them, raised the proverbial drawbridge on cricket, to the point that a 42 year old man was still turning out for his country having supposedly retired 3 years previously.
It isn’t that I don’t doubt that Tikolo was probably within the best 11 Kenyans playing in January 2014. He not only scored the winnings runs, but also bowled 10 tidy overs too. It is more the disappointment that there was not another Steve Tikolo on the horizon in his 42 year old place. Will another Kenyan ever produce a bowling performance against a ‘big nation’ of 10 overs, 3 maidens, 3 wickets for 15 runs like Maurice Odumbe did to help dish the Windies? What about Collins Obuya’s 5-24 spell to beat Sri Lanka in 2003?
Irfan Karim, mentioned above as a scorer of Kenya’s ton, looks a decent talent: he now already has 2 tons in 9 ODIs, and he is only 22 years old. I wonder whether Karim, as an example, will ever even play in a World Cup, let alone three in a row? Remember that although Kenya produced the occasional shock in the 1996 and 1999 tournaments, it wasn’t until 2003 that they reached the semi-final. By this time players like Tikolo had big tournament experience, and had adapted themselves to being able to regularly compete with the best sides.
Now, I like Afghanistan and Ireland, hell, maybe I can even tolerate Scotland (in fact, I distinctly remember the opening ball of a match that Curtly Ambrose delivered to A.Scott being driven through the covers for four, then about no runs scored for another 10 overs. Lovely). I have no doubt that I will even find myself rooting for the UAE at some point. Yet I hold zero hope for any of them, really. Not a chance. Welcome to cricket 2015. Quite sad really, innit.