BY INNOCENT NDAWULA
Former star all-rounder Maurice Odumbe was appointed Kenya head coach on April 11 – taking over from Thomas Odoyo, who resigned in February after the country was demoted to the ICC World Cricket League Division Three following a disastrous outing at the World Cricket League Division Two in Namibia. Odumbe, too, enjoyed a sterling cricket career, that included appearing in three successive ICC World Cups in 1996, 1999 and 2003. Unfortunately he was banned from all cricket activities for five years in 2004 after he was found guilty of associating with a known Indian bookmaker. While in Kigali, Rwanda recently Cricket Uganda’s Innocent Ndawula shared an evening with the legend and got him talking everything cricket. Boy Oh Boy! Odumbe proved that he is quite a character. Enjoy the interview excerpts;
Congratulations on getting the job. You take over at a time when Cricket Kenya is at its lowest ebb. What are your plans for Cricket Kenya going forward?
The immediate future for me is to bring in the feel good factor. The boys need to start having that winning feeling. The other priority is to qualify for International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cricket League (WCL) Division II then take it from there.
I don't see why we cannot win the WCL Division III.
The region in general isn’t doing well. The talent is no longer coming through the ranks like it used to. What do you think is the problem across the region?
The problem could be there are not enough kids playing cricket at the school level. What we see are private schools that are investing in cricket but the talent does not lie there. The kind of coaching I see being done in Members Only (MO) clubs over the weekends will not help our cricket in this region.
Cricket needs to go to the masses. That is where you will be able to pick up true talent.
India is where it is in simply because the masses play the game and they have made it attractive. So every kind aspires to be a Sachin Tendulkar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and Rohit Sharma etc etc.
What do we have to offer our youngsters? Football which is the biggest sport across the world but you find regions like ours are constantly embroiled in controversy!
If you look at our cricket in Kenya at the moment. The government had to step in and put in place an interim committee to run matters and yet some people are not happy? We need to pull in the same direction if our cricket is to see the glory years gone by. That is my prayer.
The Division III tournament will be held in November. How is Kenya preparing for that competition?
When we got relegated, we just had a one-week’s break. Deservedly so as we didn’t deserve any rest. And now it’s back to business. I am sure the board is scheduling matches for us both locally and abroad. We will not leave anything to chance. We have to be fully prepared.
No a personal level, can you share what happened with your ICC ban to set the record straight. There has been a lot of stories said about the whole story?
The record is there for all to see. There is this misconception that I was ‘banned for match-fixing’ (probably that is how they wanted it to sound. That way it carries more water for them) when it was “inappropriate contact with a bookmaker which would have brought the game into disrepute"? Question is, which game did I bring into disrepute?
It was a miscarriage of justice.
The comeback is on for the legend in you. How hard has been the journey and which people have helped you come through?
There have been people who have stood by me. In as much as the journey was not plain sailing. They stood by me even in my darkest hour. They still believed in me and I can only repay them by giving my best.
How fulfilling is it for you now that you are back in cricket full time and sharing your knowledge?
It's a kind of like a mixed feeling. At times I feel I should be playing. The body feels good and the mind is operating well. I still play league cricket now and again in Kenya.
I must say though giving the little knowledge I have garnered over the years gives me unparalleled joy. I am also learning from them. To me it is a family. We have to work together to achieve the desired goals.
To them I am just Maurice. No titles or try and act all mighty. That is why it surprises me when people get positions of influence and they start to throw around their weight! Barking orders and showing power.
Which to me is totally unnecessary. I believe in soft diplomacy. That way your message goes through nicely.
Back to Cricket Kenya, there is a generation that is about to fade off. Which players do you have coming through to take Kenyan cricket to the next level?
There are a number of players coming through. It is just a matter of giving them match practice. Toughen them up a bit.
Also we are in a very precarious situation, if you try the youngsters and you lose, you will be dammed. But then again how will they get exposure?
Even recently when we were in Rwanda, there is a section of the press in Kenya (you know which ones) who were not happy with our performance going as far as saying we were playing ‘weaker’ teams!
Had we lost I shudder to think what the headlines would have been!
As a region, what lessons do we need to pick up for us to progress and compete with the emerging Asian teams?
We need to have a competitive league. I would suggest we have an East Africa Premier League and also introduce four-day cricket.
I will not buy this argument that there is no money. Imagine a team from Kenya playing a four-day match at Lugogo Cricket Oval. Wouldn't that be something?
We do the auction style. A player from Kenya can be bought by a team in Uganda and vice versa. We must go professional.
What advise would you give youngsters who want to scale the levels that you were able to reach?
First and foremost, discipline. There is no success without hard work and sacrifice. Be ready to learn and listen. Last but not least, you must have RESPECT.
Share with us a match that you will never forget. One that defined your career?
There have been several. Every match offers its own challenges. I will admit though the 1996 World Cup in India when I was captain of the team and then going on to beat the then mighty West Indies who had the likes of Brian Lara, Curtly Ambrose, Carl Hooper, Shivnarine Chanderpaul etc and going on to win the Man of the Match trophy. I can say without battling an eyelid that that is the game that I will surely take to my grave.
Share with us some the best players you have played with?
Oh my, where do I begin? The Waugh twins (Steve and Mark), Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Tendulkar, Shoaib Akhtar, Wasim Akram, the late Hansie Cronje, Sir Viv Richards, Shaun Pollock and Curtly Ambrose among others. The list is endless.
Tell us about those World Cup moments. Reaching the semifinals, beating West Indies and the famous sledge that you gave Brian Lara?
My favourite sledge is when I hit Australian legendary leg spinner Shane Warne for a boundary (four) and then I told him to go fetch.
Then I told West Indian fast bowler Tino Best that he was slower than my grandmother.
But for Brian Lara it was special. After meeting him in London a year earlier (1995) and I had asked him for his autograph and he declined (Lara didn't know then that our paths would cross again and at that time I was just another overseas professional playing in the English County League).
Then after our World Cup match when we beat them in India (Pune 1996), I went up to their changing room and to him; “Brian, last year in United Kingdom, I came up to you for your autograph and you refused? Now you take mine.”
He just smiled and gave me his playing shirt and we have remained friends ever since.
Share with us your All-Time Best XI with you in it
Hahaha (endless laughter). I leave it to you. Just make sure I am captain.
ODUMBE AT A GLANCE
Full name: Maurice Omondi Odumbe
Born: June 15, 1969, Nairobi
Age: 49 years
Batting style: Right-hand bat
Bowling style: Right-arm off break
National career: 1996-2003
Debut: February 18 vs. India
Last Cap: April 8 vs. Pakistan