Nairobi: Hosts Kenya take on Pakistan in the opening match of the tri-series here Thursday. The tournament, also involving Australia, was shifted to the East African nation following security threats in Pakistan.
For the Kenyans, who are gearing up for the ICC Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka next month, it’s a rare opportunity to test themselves against the best.
“It’s a godsend for Kenya; we do not get fixtures like this. We have been playing against ‘A’ sides and state sides and have shown considerable improvement,” Kenya’s coach Sandeep Patil said. “This gives us an opportunity to prove ourselves and see where we stand.”
The series was supposed to be staged in Pakistan as part of the golden jubilee celebrations of Pakistani cricket between Australia, New Zealand and the host nation. But both the New Zealanders and the Australians refused to tour Pakistan which has been at the front-line of the US war on terrorism. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) decided to move the series to Kenya, and the East African team replaced New Zealand, who withdrew.
The event is being organised by the PCB, but gate receipts will go to the Kenyan Cricket Association, said Anil Sarkar, a KCA official. Kenya go into the tournament on the back of an easy series victory against Bangladesh A.
Kenyan captain Steve Tikolo says his team is ready to take on Pakistan and Australia. “The two are favourites for this tournament, but having said that, you never know in one-day cricket,” Tikolo said.
“There have been some major improvements (in Kenya’s team), the batsmen are chalking up big runs and the bowling and fielding departments have improved,” the captain said.
The arrival of former South African Test player Andy Kirsten as assistant coach had made a big impact on the team. Kirsten was appointed by the International Cricket Council to help develop Kenyan cricket six months ago.
Meanwhile, the coach Sandeep Patil said Kenya should be playing the world’s best more often. “The improvement will only show when we start playing against the big boys regularly. There’s no point playing against ‘A’ sides,” he said.
“It’s (the triangular series) definitely not going to be easy, but we are not going to get bogged down by the big names and their records.”
Pakistan arrived in Kenya after a disappointing display in the Morocco Cup one-day series, which also included Sri Lanka and South Africa.
They could not make the finals, losing three of their four matches The team’s preparations for Kenya have already been disrupted as star batsman Yousuf Youhana was sent home for disciplinary reasons late Monday. Officials have refused to comment on the reasons for his dismissal.
Pakistan will, however, be boosted by the return of fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar. Akhtar, often called the “Rawalpindi Express,” skipped the Morocco Cup.
“Having Shoaib striking for us is positive,” Pakistan captain Waqar Younis said. “Australia are one of the best teams in world. Kenya are coming up, and we will have to be careful in this series.”
Australia arrived in Kenya Tuesday without coach John Buchanan who injured his back during training. Former skipper Allan Border takes over as coach for the series.
The teams will play each other twice in 50 overs matches, with the top two battling it out in the final on September 7. All the games will be played at the Nairobi Gymkhana ground which hosted the 2000 ICC Champions Trophy.