There followed a period in the backwaters of international cricket, until a shock victory over the West Indies in the 1996 World Cup thrust the Kenyans into the spotlight. They won completely on merit, and Steve Tikolo looked, by far, to be the best batsman in the game until his dismissal sweeping, although it must be noted that Brian Lara wasn't present at the crease for long enough to make an impression. The bowlers performed excellently to defend a paltry total, and despite a less excellent performance against Sri Lanka in their last game, the ICC saw fit to invest in ODI status for the Kenyans.
Victories continued to be few and far between, and mostly against Bangladesh. There were some great moments, though, such as the mammoth stand between Dipak Chudasama and Kennedy Otieno against Bangladesh. Both scored centuries before Aasif Karim sealed things with a five-for. Their next big win, though, came in the Coca-Cola Cup against India, as an accomplished all-round effort saw off Tendulkar, Azharuddin, Dravid and Kumble by 69 runs. Ravi Shah and Odumbe both showed that they belonged.
Maurice Odumbe, along with Tikolo, Shah, Rajab and Suji, made Kenya competitive.
The new millennium rolled in, and with it, a distinct reduction in the number of ODIs on the Kenyan fixture list. A loss to India was all they had to show for 2000, before the Standard Bank Triangular Tournament saw the Indians deposed again the following year. However, winless again in 2002, and a just three major victories in over half a decade was beginning to look like a poor return on the ICC's investment.
Certainly, nobody can have expected the golden run that was about to hit Kenyan cricket. It was the 2003 World Cup. There were victories over Canada, New Zealand (by walkover), Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe managed to carry them all the way to the semi-final. Arguably the best individual performance was from recalled veteran Aasif Karim, whose stellar spell against the Australians cheered the entire cricketing world, despite the eventual result not falling in his favour.
Aasif Karim produced an incredible spell that will forever be synonymous with Kenyan cricket.
After a hiatus, they returned to ODIs in 2006 against Zimbabwe. This was not the same Zimbabwe side of 1999, but one that was a mere shadow of its former self, populated with schoolboys and sloggers. The 2-2 series result reflected the fact that neither team was good enough to have earned a win. There were, however, many wins to come, as the ICC had granted ODI status to the top six Associates. Canada, Bermuda, Scotland, Ireland and the Netherlands were all routinely thumped, despite very occasionally exacting revenge.
Bangladesh, though, once Kenya's rivals thanks to remarkably similar levels of ability, won seven out of seven ODIs in a few months, no longer challenged by the top Associate. They went into the 2007 World Cup as the top fancied Associate, the most likely side to spring a surprise. They left it with some dignity, but an uncomfortable position in Ireland's shadow. After that, a strange thing started happening: they forgot how to win. In 2008, the Netherlands (once) and Ireland (twice) firmly put an end to the era of Kenya being the best of the rest. Regular clashes with Zimbabwe brought only occasional victories as their local rivals began to rebuild. Bermuda were the only other ODI team weaker than Kenya.
Under the leadership of 2003 hero Jimmy Kamande, post-yips and now a specialist batsman, the Kenyans geared up for the 2011 World Cup by bursting the Afghan bubble in a three-ODI series. This didn't change the fact that they were out of their depth on the world stage, and the faintest of shadows of their former selves. Kamande's manner in press conferences suggested that he couldn't have cared less about his team's misfortunes, and however far from the truth this may have been, his time was up. So was that of the old guard.
One of the hardest-working players in the world, Collins Obuya was the logical man to lead the future of Kenyan cricket.
This isn't the darkest moment in Kenya's history, with the legendary Odumbe's match-fixing conviction, the 2011 World Cup, and 2012 World T20 Qualifiers all striking a much sadder note, but it is very telling. The young generation of Kenyans, with names like Rakep Patel, Irfan Karim (son of Aasif), Alex Obanda and Duncan Allan, are not bringing about the results that many would have hoped for thus far. I am not writing them off based on one poor showing, but I still think that there's a long way to go for Collins Obuya's men.
I wish them luck.
To conclude, I'm going to try to select my all-time Kenyan eleven:
- Kennedy Otieno - A Kenyan legend, 2000 runs, two tons and competent glovework.
- Dipak Chudasama - An able opening batsman, but part of the greatest stand ever for Kenya,
- Ravi Shah - A very classy batsman, Ravi Shah's talent belied modest ODI figures.
- Steve Tikolo - The greatest Kenyan batsman. Also bowled a bit. And skippered a bit.
- Maurice Odumbe - The all-rounder who carried Kenya through the early years.
- Collins Obuya - A spinner turned batsman turned leader, the man for a crisis.
- Tanmay Mishra - One of few current players, but richly talented with IPL experience and good stats.
- Thomas Odoyo - Tikolo's partner in crime, and owner of most of the records Tikolo doesn't have.
- Aasif Karim - A giant of Kenyan cricket whose dynasty carries on through Irfan.
- Peter Ongondo - A tidy, workmanlike medium pacer, whose numbers support his inclusion over Martin Suji.
- Rajab Ali - Pacier than almost anyone else Kenya has produced, with a happy knack of taking wicket