Voice of Sport

Kenya arrive in Lahore for landmark cricket tour of Pakistan

The visitors, who will play five one-day matches against a Pakistan ‘A’ side, are only the second team to play international cricket in the country since tours were suspended after militants’ attack on a Sri Lankan team


KENYA’S national cricket team arrived in Lahore amid tight security on Wednesday for the most high-profile series in Pakistan since a March 2009 attack on the Sri Lanka team.

From the airport, the Kenyan players and officials were whisked away under police escort to the National Cricket Academy adjacent the Pakistan board headquarters at the Gaddafi Stadium.

Suspended

Kenya, who will play five one-day matches against a Pakistan ‘A’ side, are only the second team to play international cricket in the country since tours were suspended after militants attacked the Sri Lankans in Lahore.

Six Pakistani policemen and a van driver were killed in that attack while some Sri Lanka players and a Pakistani umpire, Ahsan Raza, sustained injuries.

Low profile

Although Afghanistan have played a couple of low profile series in Pakistan since 2009, a senior PCB official told Reuters the Kenyan visit was much more significant. “We are doing everything to ensure we don’t have a repeat of the 2009 incident.
“We are co-coordinating closely with the police and government to provide top security to the visitors,” PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan said.

Closed

The PCB has housed the Kenya team at the NCA residential quarters. With a bustling commercial food street operating outside the stadium, the board has even asked those businesses to close for two weeks.

Pakistan have had to play all their “home” games in the United Arab Emirates because of security concerns, losing out on significant revenues, but Khan hoped that would change. “Once this tour goes smoothly then we will be in a position to start more concerted efforts to invite other teams to play in Pakistan,” he said.

Not worried

Kenya captain Shem Ngoche and coach Steve Tikolo told a news conference they were not worried about security.

“We have no apprehensions about playing in Pakistan. We know we will be taken good care of. This tour for us is all about cricket and gives us a great opportunity to give exposure to our new players,” said Ngoche.

Regulars

Kenya, once regulars at the ICC World Cup, have struggled in recent years and failed to qualify for the 2015 tournament. They play their opening game in Lahore on December 13.

“For us we were looking to play and get match practice,” Kenya coach Tikolo said. “When Pakistan offered to host us, we never had hesitation in saying yes because we wanted to come to Pakistan and play cricket. I have come here twice in the past, to Karachi and Lahore, and for me it’s about playing the game of cricket.

Coming up

“Forget all the side issues, politics and whatever is being said. If you are a cricketer you just play cricket and we are here to play it and nothing else. We landed here this morning and until now they have looked after us very well, to say the least. So I think other countries should also come and play cricket. If you want to move world cricket forward this is what should be happening.”

“It’s an honour and privilege for us to be in Pakistan,” Tikolo said. “I feel Pakistan has done a great favour by hosting us. We have a tournament coming up in January, a world qualifier league in Namibia and this series is a part our preparation.”

Good blend

Tikolo recalled that his players had asked the Kenya cricket board to arrange the tour without giving it a second thought. “No security team from Kenya came here to assess the situation and give us a green signal. When the players were told that PCB wanted to host us, we told our board to go ahead and arrange the tour since our players gave a positive response to the idea.”

The 43-year-old added that they have some exciting players in Alex Obanda and Morris Ouma and further said they had a good blend of seniors and youngsters in the team.

Accepted offer

“I believe the games we are going to play in the next 10 days are going to give my boys much practice and experience going into the tournament. So on behalf of Kenya Cricket, we are grateful to Pakistan and I hope this relationship goes further and becomes stronger.”

The PCB had, through this year, used diplomatic channels in a bid to win back lost confidence and there were frequent visits by the European Union delegation at the PCB headquarters. Kenya is the first country from outside the region to accept an offer to tour Pakistan.

Tweets from cricket followers of Kenya visit:

#Thank you very much Kenya. I think it’s a very sensible thing to make them stay at NCA rather than five star hotels. We should organise high standards, if not five star, accommodation within our stadiums, most of which are big enough for that anyway. It will surely minimise all the risks. Now it’s the crowd which needs to turn up and show the world our love and passion for cricket. Best wishes

#Our hope is that this may picture a safe international image of Pakistan. This maybe a low profile tour but a very important one for Pakistan. All the best!

#A very very warm welcome to Kenya in Pakistan and congrats to all Pakistan cricket fans. Plse Lahori brothers, go and show the ICC [International Cricket Council] how much we love cricket in our country and we are ready to host Australia, South Africa, India, New Zealand, West Indies, England, and all teams

Under-19s

Meanwhile in Nairobi on Tuesday, Pakistan Under-19 thrashed Kenya Under-19 by 265 runs to take a 3-0 lead in their five-match series.

Pakistan skipper Saud Shakeel’s 121 runs were the highlight in the match played at Jafferys Sports Club in Lavington.

The visitors coasted to 338 for six in 50 overs and Kenya replied with a measly 73 all out in 36.5 overs.

The fourth game is at Sir Ali Muslim Club, Park Road on Thursday.

– Additional reporting by tribune.com.pk