Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Finally a new coach

Cricket Kenya today finally announced the appointment of Eldine Baptiste as coach of the national side bringing to an end months of speculation and frustration on the part of fans and players alike. The Atiguan is the second West Indian to coach Kenya in recent years following in the footsteps of Roger Harper who was in charge prior to Andy Kirsten. All concerned with Kenyan cricket must hope that he will be able to turn around the slump under Kirsten and create the same consistent improvement that Kenya managed under Harper. At one stage under Harper, Kenya went for a string of at least 10 matches in which at least one player produced a personal best each game. If that form can be replicated again, things would indeed be looking up.

Baptiste has experience at both ODI and Test level where he is one of only a handful of players to be on the winning side in his first 10 Tests. Again, we hope he will be able to replicate this success with the Kenya side. If he is to do so, he will have to act quickly as Kenya are due to take on Zimbabwe away in the Intercontinental Cup sometime before the end of the month. For some reason the ICC have continued to keep the further scheduling of this tournement shrouded in secrecy - hardly something that will endear them to various administrators such as the NPCA who are trying to plan their domestic leagues. How can they organise the games around International matches when only the ICC actually know when they will be?

Back to Baptiste however. His first challenge will be to get the players on-side and he would be advised to ensure impartiality in this - something his predecessor is rumoured to have had difficulty in doing. That he has worked with Harper in the past may well bear him in good stead. Team fitness should not be a problem with several players in the team reported to be able to do level 13+ in the beep test and all are playing regularly at domestic level so should be in good form. His challenge will be to take this and turn them into a unit that can not only compete with the better teams out there but win against them - something that has certainly lacked of late.

Kenya now has a new coach as well as a new captain and it should now be all systems go to first win the Intercontinental Cup and then qualify for the 20-20 and 50 over World Cups. All will be significant achievements, especially as the first 2 have been elusive, but all are certainly within the bounds of Kenya's talent. Beyond the current squad however, Baptiste must also look to the fringe players and ensure they are given opportunities to prove themselves and can fight for a place in the full side. There are enough good players in Kenya that national selection should be a hard-fought affair and if Baptiste can instill a sense of competition in the side to compliment the new found motivation under Ouma, this could be a very positive time.

While this is a positive and hopeful time, it will not be an easy job for Baptiste who must also bring his influence to bear on the administrators to give his new charges the type of competetive cricket they need to improve, both domestically and against international opposition. Added to this, he must try and put a stamp on the development of the game in the country so he leaves a legacy not only at national level but all the way down through the grass roots as well. When Cricket Kenya said they had short-listed 5 coaches, they mentioned one had a lot of ideas on developing the game as a whole in Kenya. Let's hope Baptiste was that one and his ideas are given a fertile ground on which to grow.

All the best and a very warm welcome to Kenya's new coach!

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