Kenya, who had been languishing in the twilight zone of the game when Zimbabwe first played a Test, gradually worked their way through the system, so much so that by the turn of the century they were widely being touted as the next most likely country to follow Bangladesh.
That that never happened owes much to several years of internal bickering and mismanagement. But Kenya’s stagnation and ultimate downgrading in 2005 (when they lost their unique ODI member status) was not helped by the rapid decline in Zimbabwe’s fortunes from the early part of the decade.
The two met 11 times in the 1990s, with Zimbabwe winning every time. That was only to be expected as Zimbabwe were at their zenith while Kenya were slowly building the side that was to reach the 2003 World Cup semi-finals. Their first official meeting (they had previously crossed paths in tournaments such as the ICC Trophy) came in the 1996 World Cup when Zimbabwe won by five wickets (Kenya’s moment of glory came two days later when they beat West Indies), and they again met in the 1999 tournament when the outcome was the same. In between Kenya took part in two triangular series involving Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, losing all seven games against the latter.
In 2002-03 Zimbabwe hosted Kenya for the first time in a three-match series ahead of the World Cup, which Zimbabwe won 2-0 (the third match was washed out). The two sides met again in the 2003 World Cup after both had, remarkably – and aided by points awarded after countries refused to visit Nairobi or Harare on safety grounds – progressed to the Super Six stage. It was Kenya, at the 12th time of asking, who won the game by seven wickets with more than 23 overs to spare. But Zimbabwe were a side in crisis, with serious divisions following the Andy Flower/Henry Olonga black-armband protest earlier in the tournament.
Zimbabwe won the most recent meeting between the two, a rather hastily-arranged tournament in Sharjah days after the World Cup finished. That time it was the Kenyans who were in disarray, only participating at the last minute after a dispute over money owed from the World Cup. That row was to eventually lead to an all-out strike in 2004.
With Zimbabwe in Test isolation, Kenya were invited for a five-ODI tour in early 2006 and with little time to acclimitise, they were well beaten in the first ODI. Kenya bounced back to win the next two matches, Zimbabwe crashing to 69 all out chasing 134 in the third game, but the series was levelled thanks to a much-improved display from the hosts, setting up a decider which was rained off. The standard was not high, the media coverage almost non existent, and all that the series confirmed was that the two teams would struggle at the following year’s World Cup.
Kenya continued to try to set up matches with Zimbabwe but, amid rumours that Zimbabwe Cricket were not prepared to risk losing to an Associate, their approaches were consistently stalled. The teams did not meet again until October 2008, two-and-a-half years later, when, in a rain-blighted triangular series, Kenya confirmed Zimbabwe’s fears by beating them in the only game which avoided the deluges.
Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo