By RON FANFAIR
Based on his incredible performance in the four-day Intercontinental Cup match against Canada last week, it’s hard to see how veteran Kenyan cricketer Steve Tikolo could justify quitting the sport next year.
In his final appearance here, the 38-year-old right-handed batsman again demonstrated that he may be the best cricketer never to have played in the Test arena, recording mammoth centuries in both innings – 158 and 169 – in the sport’s longer version at King City.
Tikolo stepped down as Kenya’s captain last April and said he would not be making a fifth appearance in the World Cup finals in 2011.
“I think I made the right decision in giving up the captaincy because I don’t see myself playing in the next World Cup,” Tikolo told Share. He who was appointed captain in 2002 replacing Maurice Odumbe, who was banned for five years after being found guilty of match-fixing. “I think it’s only fair for the team that somebody else takes over now and grow with the side.”
He said he intends to step away from the sport sometime next year.
“I am not sure when, but 2010 will definitely be my last year playing for Kenya,” he added. “The appetite for the sport is still there and I have told my teammates that if I could get replacements for my knees, I would probably play until I am 50. My knees are in bad shape and giving in right now.”
Tikolo established himself as a solid professional player in his first season of international cricket in 1996, registering 65 in Kenya’s first World Cup game against India at Cuttack, a game-high 29 in an upset win over the West Indies and 96 against Sri Lanka at Kandy.
He compiled quality half-centuries against England and India in the 1999 World Cup and was at the helm of the team that reached the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. The 1000-1 outsiders at the start of the tournament disposed of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe before losing to India by 91 runs in Durban.
“That was definitely the high point of my career and leading that team was quite an honour,” he said.
Kenya thrived under former West Indies coach Roger Harper who took the side to the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies. Harper, whose record was 16-12, did not renew his two-year contract because of family commitments and former Canadian coach Andy Kirsten replaced him in March 2008.
The East African side performed poorly under the South-African born Kirsten, winning just three of 21 completed limited-overs matches and losing all five One-Day Internationals at home to Zimbabwe earlier this year.
“Andy’s arrival coincided with the transition of new players coming into the side and trying to find their feet,” said Tikolo who endorsed Kirsten’s appointment. “With a few mistakes here and there, you lose games and that happened to us. I supported Andy because he was our assistant and fielding coach in 2003 and he did a good job back then. There are a few nitty gritty things that happened under him as coach that I don’t want to get into.
“Roger, on the other hand, is a brilliant coach and that came out in the way he handled the team, his work ethic and the discipline he instilled in us. Players were happy to perform for him and it was sad to see him go. The working relationship between the captain (Tikolo) and the coach back then was great which was something we did not have with Andy.
“I would rate Roger and Sandeep Patel (he was the coach of the team that reached the 2003 World Cup semi-finals) as the best coaches I have played for.”
When he retires, Tikolo said he would consider collaborating with a few former Kenyan players to set up academies and perhaps become a cricket administrator.
“When you look at the game in my country and in the other Associate territories, not much young qualified players are coming through,” he said. “I envisage that these academies could become the feeder system for the senior teams.
“The other thing is that I don’t think the officials in the various countries are doing a good job of running the game in a very professional way. We need people who played the game and know what it takes to be out there on the field. To play this game at the highest level, players need to be professionals. Most of the players in our senior team are semi-professionals on contract, but the money they get is not enough.
“We need to accept that this is our job and the guys need good money because you play the sport for a limited period of time. There is a need for things to change and for players to be looked after in the right way.”
Tikolo, who two years ago became the first cricketer from a non-Test country to appear in 100 ODIs, said he would have loved to play Test cricket.
“For me, it’s the ultimate level of the sport,” he said. ‘It’s however not my fault that I was born in Kenya which is not a Test-playing nation.”
As a player whose approach to the game has a Caribbean flavour, Tikolo said former West Indies captain Sir Viv Richards was his idol.
“When I was growing up, I used to watch matches with the great West Indies teams on TV and also read a lot of sports magazines,” said the father of three girls whose ages range from three to 11 years. “My favourite player was Viv because of his aura and the way he carried himself with authority. I have met him on a number of occasions and he’s a great man and a legend.”
The dependable batsman and useful medium-pacer turned off-spinner, who has epitomized Kenyan cricket for the past 13 years, is set to gracefully leave the stage with impressive credentials that include 3230 runs (av. 3018) and 88 wickets (av. 32.30) in 122 ODIs and 3859 runs (av. 53.39) and 65 wickets (av. 36.98) in 47 first-class contests.