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Home > Cricket > World Cup 2003 > Interview > Asif Yusuf Karim

'Kenya has nothing to lose'

March 06, 2003

Aasif KarimBack in 1994, Aasif Yusuf Karim had to decide between a tennis career, which had earned him a four-and-a-half-year scholarship to the United States, and later Davis Cup representation and cricket, a sport which, at that stage, had not quite captured the imagination of his country. But by the 1999 World Cup, he was captaining Kenya at cricket's premier event. He retired after the tournament only to answer the country's call as a player for the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. So far it's been one helluva journey for the African nation in this edition. The former Kenya captain spoke to Ashish Magotra in Cape Town. Excerpts:

When you look at Kenya's progress, what does it mean to you and your countrymen?

Well, obviously it does mean a lot. I think the turning point was the game against Sri Lanka. Obviously, New Zealand not showing up was a big advantage and gave us added confidence. The win against Bangladesh sealed the whole thing for us. As for the other teams in the group, South Africa really messed it up and the West Indies, unfortunately, had to share their points with Bangladesh. So a little bit of luck, weather and a good performance on our part has enabled us to become a potential semi-finalist.

What is the reaction back home?

Everyone is excited. I know for certain that the public that never followed cricket now all of a sudden is asking 'What is this cricket?' The following for cricket in Kenya is very, very limited, but now with all the publicity and all the security issues and the New Zealand saga, it is now the talk of the entire population. So people are now talking about cricket and we are hoping that the new government we have will give a lot of encouragement to sports, particularly to cricket.

The Kenyan team has a lot of very experienced players: Steve Tikolo, the Odumbe brothers, and you have come out of retirement. How do you see this experience helping the team?

It's good that the experience is there at the moment but it is also worrying because we don't have anything new coming. It is a very big worry for the players as well as the administration back home, because at this level you need a lot of numbers and you need a system that produces players. I don't know how that is going to happen and that is a major concern.

Approximately, how many first-class players does Kenya have?

We don't have any first-class players. We have club cricketers. We have around 30 teams in Nairobi and 10 in Mombasa and that's it. If we had to raise a second string squad right now, we would struggle. That's the reality.

Kenya vs India. How do you see that match going?

India has been playing exceptionally well. They have won five matches, they have only lost to Australia and after the victory against Pakistan, they are on a high. They have great depth in their batting and great bowling, and I expect  them to have the upper hand.

But don't forget, we have beaten India twice; in Gwalior when I was captain and in Port Elizabeth. So I would say India start as favourites, but we have nothing to lose at the moment.

The last time the two nations played, Kenya restricted the boundaries and the Indian team struggled to get into the groove. Do you have something similar planned out?

Restricting boundaries is one thing, but we need to play well and hope that India plays badly.

How has Sandeep Patil as coach helped Kenyan cricket?

Sandeep has been involved with Kenyan cricket for 16 years. He first came to play as a professional in club cricket in the late 1980s. He had his first coaching stint with us only in 1997 when we were trying to qualify for the ICC Champions Trophy. He came back after I had retired. So I don't know the details of how exactly he has helped us but the results speak for themselves.

Kenya and Bangladesh announced themselves on the world stage at almost the same time. Now, after getting Test status, Bangladesh seem to be going down while the Kenyans have staged a resurgence.

 here are plus and minus points to that story. I think the major problem with Bangladesh is that they have not retained their experienced players, and at this level experience is very important. If you look at the Bangladesh team, they are always changing the composition of their side. The moment they have a bad series the first thing they do is change the team. So there is no togetherness in the side. Because they have a lot of numbers, they feel that shuffling is going to do them a lot of good. But it has to be a good blend of experience and youth. Fortunately for us, we have a very limited number of players. So those are the players who are playing and gaining experience. In the short term, we are better off but I am worried about the long term. How long are the Tikolos and Odumbes going to be around?

Among the Kenyan players, who is the man to watch out for?

Thomas Odoyo. The young all-rounder has come up very well. He is the man who is going to hold fort for the next few years to come.

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