New Delhi: Stephen Ogonji Tikolo and Kenya made their debut in the Cricket World Cup in 1996 in the sub-continent. He has been through thick and thin all these years and it is little wonder he has been forced to come out of retirement to shoulder the side in the fifth edition, starting Saturday.
The battle-hardened veteran has been part of Kenya’s memorable cricket moments and at 39, is still enthusiastic about their chances. He says the side’s primary aim is to make the second stage and that would be a big achievement after what all they had gone through in recent years.
He wants the team to remember their sensational semi-final entry in 2003, upsetting Sri Lanka on the way, and before that, their stunning victory over the West Indies in Pune in 1996 to motivate them. He will have the company of Thomas Odoyo, 32, who was a member of the 1996 squad.
Tikolo says the players want to leave their bad times behind and are looking ahead. He feels the appointment of South African fielding great Jonty Rhodes as assistant coach is the best that could have happened to them. He has infused unbelievable energy and that can be seen on the field.
“His influence has been tremendous, There is so much of energy around. He is there with the boys doing fielding drills, catching and working on various aspects. The boys are throwing themselves on the field like never before,” Tikolo told reporters from Colombo where the team is based.
For all their past deeds, Kenya’s recent performance has been on the downslide in the last couple of seasons. To make matters worse, the players were on a collision course with the Kenyan cricket authorities over money matters and that took a heavy toll as they finished at the bottom of the International Cricket Council’s World Cricket League in the Netherlands.
Tikolo insists that the players have got over the unhappy events and after a couple of warm-up games they are ready for the bigger battles ahead.
“The squad had a conditioning camp at the International Cricket Council (ICC) High Performance Centre in Dubai. We beat Ireland and Afghanistan. Before that we had a series of matches in India against the Gujarat and Baroda sides.
“Yes, we have not fared well of late, but the preparation for the World Cup has been good. Our bowlers are in good nip. In Dubai we had good practice games. The guys had a great time. I think we are peaking in time for the World Cup.”
“The goal for the team is to reach the second round. For that we have to beat three teams, possibly Canada and Zimbabwe and upset New Zealand. And then we can take it from there. But first we have to take one game at a time in the league stage.”
An exciting all-rounder, Tikolo has 3,377 runs in 129 in One-Day Internationals (ODI) and is seven shy of 100 wickets. He has pouched 66 catches to boot.
As for his own performance, Tikolo says he just wants to enjoy the game with the boys, not bothering too much about himself.
“I want to take it as another tournament and another game of cricket. I do not want to put myself under undue pressure. I am knocking the ball well and I just want to enjoy the game and perform for the team,” Tikolo said, who cracked an unbeaten century against Afghanistan in Dubai.
“My goal is to become the highest run scorer for my team.”
“There are some good players in the side. For many of them, it will be their first World Cup and playing in such a big a tournament is motivation in itself.”
Tikolo picked batsmen Alex Obanda and Tanmay Mishra as the players to watch out from his team.
He rated India and Sri Lanka as the favourties.
“I think India are favourites and Sri Lanka have shaped up very well. Australia are also there, but I feel a team from the subcontinent will win the Cup.”
Tikolo says teams like Kenya can improve their level only if they get to meet Test-playing nations more often.
“The top associate nations constantly keep on playing each other, but we need to play the Test-playing nations. ICC should see to it that lesser teams get opportunities to play the Test nations and then only we can gauge our standard.”