What you need to know:
- In what he termed a dream come true, the batsman became eligible to play for Kenya in November last year. He made his debut for Kenya in the 2024 ICC Men’s T20 Cricket World Cup Sub-Regional Africa “A” qualifiers held in Kigali.
- Kenya won the competition and qualified to play in the present stage of the qualifiers.
For Indian-born Kenyan cricketer Pushkar Sharma, the conclusion of 2023 International Cricket Council (ICC) Men’s Cricket World Cup came with mixed feelings.
While he is among billions of cricket-mad fans still agonising over India’s six-wicket loss to Australia in a tough final last Sunday at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, 23-year-old Sharma is however happy that the tournament came with key lessons which he believes can help Kenya regain its lost glory in the sport.
And what better place to implement some of the fresh insights in cricket than in the final round of a Cricket World Cup qualifier? The batsman is among key players Kenya's coach, Lameck Onyango is relying on for good results in the ongoing 2024 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Africa Regional qualifiers that bowled off yesterday in Windhoek, Namibia.
Kenya started her campaign for a place in the global tournament with a 17-run victory over neighbours Rwanda at the United Cricket Club Ground, Sharma playing as bowler.
Seven teams, including hosts Namibia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Nigeria and Tanzania are featuring in the tournament.
The top two teams will qualify for the upcoming ICC Men’s T20 World Cup to be co-hosted by the United States of America and West Indies from June 4 to 30.
“The valuable lesson I've learned from the entire tournament is the significance of well-executed plans,” Sharma told Nation Sport on Sunday, just moments after Australia beat India in the final of the longer version of the game for a record-extending sixth World Cup title.
“Every team has skilled players, but victory hinges on strategic plans. I believe this insight will be beneficial for us in the world cup qualifiers. Our strategy is crystal-clear – to go out there, focus on every match, and give out our absolute best. We are aiming at giving a 100 percent effort in each game we we’ll play.”
The left-handed batsman cannot imagine that he is only one step away from playing in the prestigious Cricket World Cup, and has vowed to make his inclusion in the Kenyan squad count for something in Windhoek.
The Africa regional qualifier is the biggest cricket stage he has ever graced since he took up the sport as a child, thus the excitement.
In what he termed a dream come true, the batsman became eligible to play for Kenya in November last year. He made his debut for Kenya in the 2024 ICC Men’s T20 Cricket World Cup Sub-Regional Africa “A” qualifiers held in Kigali.
Kenya won the competition and qualified to play in the present stage of the qualifiers.
Sharma recalls that when he left India for Kenya sometime in 2019, he only had two goals in mind – to help his new team Ruaraka Cricket Club shine in the Nairobi Provincial Cricket Association League (NPCA), and to excel in his new role as Marketing Manager at Hirani Telecommunications Ltd.
With no well-paying job, and having lost his father to cancer in 2017, life got tough for Sharma in India and he relocated to Kenya after securing a job at Hirani Telecommunications Ltd in Nairobi.
“When I came to Kenya, I never imagined that one day I would be representing the country at the World Cup qualifiers. It is a good opportunity to show my talent here,” he said. Sharma is full of praise for former coach of Ruaraka Cricket Club, Digambar Padekar, for granting him a chance to play for the club.
It was at Ruaraka that Sharma met Mansukh Hirani, who was impressed with the player’s capabilities and offered him a job at Hirani Telecommunications Ltd, so that the 23-year-old could continue playing for the team.
Since his arrival, Sharma has been a revelation for Ruaraka, leading to his selection for the national team.
In the 2021 Nairobi Province Cricket Association (NPCA) 50 overs Super League, the batsman top-scored with 841 runs in just 14 innings, getting four centuries and a half to his name.
In this year’s edition won by Ruaraka Club on 48 points, Sharma was the league’s second-best batsman with a massive 730 runs in 14 innings, which included three centuries and three half centuries.
With 966 runs in 14 innings, Shubham Jadhav of Stray Lions Cricket Club “A” team was the only player who scored more runs than Sharma.
“I’m here because of Mansukh Hirani, so whenever I’m playing for Ruaraka, I always see his face so I play from my heart for the club,” Sharma said with regard to his top performance in the NCPA.
The player who comes from Greater Noida in Uttar Pradesh State in northern India began his cricket career at Al Barkaat School in India, and rose fast to become the captain of the Under-16 Mumbai Cricket team. He said his burning desire to play for Kenya stems from the big cricket names that the country is known for.
“When I was young, I remember the Kenyan cricket team that was really good. We had the likes of Thomas Odoyo, Tom Tikolo, Kennedy Otieno and Lameck Onyango. It is every player’s dream to represent a country and for me to be associated with those big names,” the Ruaraka Club player said.
He has vowed to replicate his top form at the club when he plays for Kenya in Windhoek.
“My confidence is high, so I believe I can now do something for Kenya,” said Sharma, adding that his personal target is to score the most runs for Kenya in the competition.
“We have analysed how our opponents play and we have plans on how to win matches so I believe we will do better. We have six matches and in every match, we are going to give 100 percent effort, we don’t care which team we will be facing.”
According to the latest ICC rankings, Zimbabwe is the top team in the 2024 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Africa Regional qualifiers at position 11. Namibia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and Rwanda follow in that order at position 12, 23, 30, 32, 38 and 62 respectively.
Coach Onyango is confident Kenya can qualify for the World Cup “if we do the right things, stay positive, bowl at the right areas and bat all our 20 overs.”