Cricket legend Odumbe not ready to recede to the sunset
At 47, Maurice Odumbe the most decorated Kenyan cricketer in history is not willing to retreat to the sunset after a turbulent career that has driven him to the extremes of fame and infamy.
Odumbe the right-hand batsman and glamour boy of the golden age of Kenyan cricket saw his celebrated career fall from grace to grass when he was banned for five-years for match-fixing in 2004- charges he insists to date were false.
He was 35 and at the peak of his powers having played in 61 One Day Internationals having shot to global fame when he guided Kenya to that famous victory over Caribbean power houses West Indies at the 1996 ICC World Cup in Pune, India.
Odumbe collected Man-of-the-Match awards in three consecutive World Cups, including against Bangladesh in Johannesburg in 2003 when his unbeaten 52 and a four-wicket haul carried Kenya towards the semi-finals.
In a past interview with an Indian newspaper, the fallen star offered he would not quit playing cricket following the ban.
True to his words and 12 years down the line, Odumbe’s star once again shone bright when the legend led Stray Lions to their first ever Nairobi Provincial Cricket Association (NPCA) title over multiple winners Swamibapa when he grabbed four wickets.
Having haemorrhaged 28 runs in his first over, Odumbe tore through the opening order to leave the Swamis reeling.
Citizen Digital caught up with the icon and he promised to return to his swashbuckling best despite advancing in years offering his services to ensure that Kenya that has since fallen from the lofty heights he and his golden generation inspired before his ban returns to the top of the pile.
“If you recall immediately after my ban, I came back and was the highest wicket taker in the country. At the moment I’m taking it easy trying to get my footing, life has not been kind to me so seeing myself pick-up and it feels good.
“I have been training normally three-four times a week in silence, going for a run, practicing with my team and then going out there and doing my best as I have always done,” Odumbe revealed his secret to a resurgence that saw him command space once more in the back pages of his country’s newspapers.
At the Jaffery Grounds in Nairobi, fans got a glimpse of what the Odumbe legend was all about when he helped his side to victory with four balls to spare to end a ten-year wait for silverware.
Odumbe acknowledges it has not been easy to overcome the impact of the ban that turned his world upside down.
“It was very tough. I slipped into drugs and poverty struck hard. I had to go to a rehabilitation centre. It was a struggle but I came out and happy that I’m living a clean life today.
“Whoever does not know it was serious. It’s a position I would not wish even on my worst enemy,” an emotional Odumbe told.
He hailed his club chairman Chidambaram Subramaniam for the critical role he has played in getting him back into the game, noting he has a sporting spirit many Kenyans lack.
“Honestly we have a problem in Kenya; we harbour an attitude that is not right. That is why we are not doing well, not only in cricket but all spheres of life. We have something inherent that is wrong.
“Even with my experience having played in three world cups, cricket officials treat me so coldly, as if I have nothing to contribute,” regretted Odumbe, citing the fiasco at the Rio 2016 Olympics as an example of the impunity hampering sports development in Kenya.
He is not amused that there are no players who can match his standard despite his advanced age, attributing it to poor nurturing of talent and lack of goodwill.
He maintains his down fall was set up by his former girlfriend who ratted him to investigators whose report was taken into account without considering his side of the story.
“I have forgiven people and moved on. I can’t hang on to the past, and that’s why I think I have peace of mind. It happened; they did what they wanted to do, I got banned, if they celebrated well and good.
“I know there are people who are happy I have not recovered fully to the glory of the past, but I thank God my health is good and the wounds have healed.”
Odumbe is optimistic he will contribute to the revival of cricket in Kenya as he continues playing until the time he cannot play anymore.
“I can’t tell when I will stop playing. My desire is to see us back to our heyday in the early 2000s when we competed favourably with the mighty teams in the world. We cannot be celebrating beating Uganda, that’s a very low deal.
“I want to sit in Kasarani and watch Harambee Stars plays Brazil before I die, I know we can because I have an idea of how sports should be managed to reach such heights,” he capped.
Odumbe was found guilty on 12 counts by Justice Ahmed Ibrahim in a sitting at a Nairobi hotel, including accepting USD5000 to fix a match in Zimbabwe and the ruling was adopted by the international cricket governing body ICC.
According to Cricinfo, Odumbe was one of Kenya’s genuinely international-class players, an allrounder who could hold his own in the side as either an aggressive middle-order batsman or naggingly accurate offspinner.
Ever since he made his debut for Kenya in 1990 he was an automatic choice – he won the Man of the Match award in their sensational victory over West Indies during the 1996 World Cup for his 3 for 14 in his first senior tournament – but his career hit a brick wall when he was slapped with a five-year ban after being found guilty of associating with a known bookmaker.
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