Kenya has discovered cricket in a big way, as its national team has reached the semifinals of the World Cup tournament in South Africa.
At the Nairobi Sports House, business is brisk. A whole section of the shop floor has been set aside for official Cricket World Cup merchandise. The Kenyan team shirts, shorts, caps, and miniature cricket bats are selling fast.
Marketing manager Baadal Shah said many Kenyans have discovered cricket since their team started doing so well. "It has been very successful. We have had a very good response especially after Kenya has performed very well in their matches in the Super 6 and prior to Super 6. It has created history and definitely there is a lot of awareness of cricket right now in Kenya. People used to watch football, athletics, a couple of other games here and there, but now cricket has brought in a lot of enthusiasm," Mr. Shah said.
Kenyan cricket fans are confident of their team's chances in Thursday's semifinal match against India. The Kenyan team has already surprised the world, performing much better than expected in the World Cup tournament.
Cricket fan John Nyambuga believes still more surprises are in store for those who doubt Kenya's abilities. "They did not expect that we can reach that point. Once we are in that point we are, you know, we are out to give them that morale to win. And we are going to the final after this semi-final of Thursday," he said.
Mr. Nyambuga is a bartender in central Nairobi. Every time Kenya has played, his bar has been packed to capacity with noisy fans, enjoying a beer while they cheer on their home team.
Mr. Nyambuga is preparing for another busy night on Thursday. "On Thursday, yeah. I think, not I think, I know they are going to come. Most of the people to watch the cricket. And I am ready for them because I know they give me business also because of the cricket. So, on Thursday I am going to be very busy," he said.
Another person who will be watching Thursday's match closely is Kenya Television Network sports reporter Robert Soi. He is coolly confident of a Kenyan victory. "No problem. If we stuck to our own, play our own game. I believe Kenya would really surprise. It would upset India in the semi finals. We could get to the finals. No big deal about it," Mr. Soi said.
Mr. Soi believes the success the world is now witnessing is not a fluke, as some people say, but the pay off for a lot of hard work by the Kenyan cricket team. "What guys did not notice is that Kenya has improved in the recent past. They have trained. They have gone through tour matches. They have gotten the necessary exposure and I believe through all those other matches they have played, that is where they have acquired good experience to actually take the World Cup. Why not?" he explained.
One Kenyan has had a particularly close look at the team's success at the World Cup. The secretary of the Kenya Cricket Umpires and Scorers Association, Rocky D'Mello, is just back from umpiring at the tournament in South Africa.
He said Kenya's prospects for reaching the finals rest on who wins the flip of the coin that starts Thursday's semifinal match. "Kenya's chances are very bright. It all depends upon the toss. If Kenya wins the toss and bats first and posts about 225 to 260 runs, then the Kenyan bowlers, who are in really great form, can really turn the match for us. Because the other half of the game will be played under floodlight and experience shows that Indian batsmen are not that good playing under floodlight," Mr. D'Mello said.
That reasoned analysis will be comforting to some Kenyan cricket fans like Baadal Shah at the Nairobi Sports House, who is hoping the Kenya team will write a bit of history on Thursday.
"We are going to give India a tough time definitely. That is needless to say. We do hope Kenya is going to win. I want Kenya to win and create a different kind of a history all together in ICC records," Mr. Shah said.
The Kenyan team has already re-written some statistics of the International Cricket Council, defeating higher ranked teams from Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka. Now, the Indian team awaits, and it only gets harder after that. Whoever wins Thursday will have to face defending champions Australia in Sunday's World Cup final.