Battling for pittance
Kenyans prove what playing for the love of cricket is about
MEET Steve Tikolo. At 39, he is playing his fifth World Cup. He is Kenya’s greatest cricketer. Tomorrow, he will lead Kenya into battle against Aust r a l i a a s h i s c o u n t r y ’ s highest-paid player, earning a meagre $ 250 a week.
As the minnows prepare for a daunting showdown with the defending champions at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, Tikolo revealed a number of Kenyan World Cup players are so poor they cannot pay bills and are struggling to feed their families.
While Australian skipper Ricky Ponting and many of his teammates are bona fide millionaires, Tikolo supports his wife and three daughters on a full-time Kenyan cricket contract worth $ 1000 a month.
Some of Kenya’s rookie players are paid as little as $ 100 a week. The poorer members of the squad are so f i n a n c i a l l y i mpove r i s h e d they walk to international fixtures in Kenya, unable to afford a car or public transport. This is the team that gives perspective to the World Cup. While raging favourites India and Sri Lanka sweat on every result, Tikolo and his Kenyan cohorts wage a far more important battle.
‘‘ We’re expected to compete against Australia but half the time our guys are thinking where their next meal is coming from," says Tikolo, who is Kenya’s version of Ponting, having amassed a record 3411 runs in 133 matches.
‘‘ Some guys worry where they will get money to pay rent. With what we’re getting paid, you would be worried how you would get by, and we’re supposed to be on the field worrying about cricket.
‘‘ It’s a month-to-month scena r i o . T h e e c o n o m y a n d lifestyle is tough in Kenya. You can’t survive on a $ 1000 a month, it’s peanuts really, especially if you’re a family man."
Tikolo says Kenya’s training demands make it difficult for players to get second jobs to supplement their cricket income. They train from 9am to 3pm, Monday to Friday.
‘‘ So basically our day is gone," he says. ‘‘ Some of the younger guys are innovative, they ask a relative, say a brother, to run a business for them, they will buy old sports shoes and then sell them.
‘‘ It is very hard and it’s sad. Back home, you will find national team players walking to o u r i n t e r n a t i o n a l ma t c h venue, it’s difficult to afford public transport because of the wage we earn. It’s been really tough to say the least."
Under t he c a p t a i ncy o f T i k o l o , K e n y a we r e t h e Cinderella story of the 2003 World Cup, falling one win short of the decider after losing to India in the semi-finals.
T h e I C C s u b s e q u e n t l y flagged the Africans as the next Test playing country. It pumped six-figure sums into Kenyan cricket. But Tikolo claims former administrators misappropriated the funds and bitter in-fighting ensued, crippling Kenyan cricket and sending it back to square one.
Kenya last faced Australia at the 2003 World Cup, losing by five wickets after Brett Lee claimed a hat-trick. Tikolo, who will retire after the World Cup, top scored for Kenya in that match with 51 and says he has nothing to fear tomorrow.
‘‘ I have faced Brett Lee, so I’m not too bad," he said.
‘‘ For the younger guys it is a bit intimidating. The bulk of this team is young, so most of the guys have not played a team like Australia.
‘‘ This is definitely my last tournament . . . but I want to get back into the system as a batting coach. Whatever position is there for me I’d love to help the young boys coming through.
‘‘ Representing my country is something big. As a young boy growing up in Kenya, my hero was Viv Richards ( West Indies great) but I could never dream of playing at the World Cup for my country. It is something I’ll always cherish." FAST bowler Elijah Otieno in
action for Kenya