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The Kenyans were magnificent

By Peter Roebuck
March 12, 2003 21:48 IST
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Kenya has romped into the last four of this astonishing World Cup. A few superbly executed strokes from Thomas Odoyo and the old warhorse Maurice Odumbe were all it took to start the drums beating across the Serengeti. 

More likely the emails are running hot in Mombasa. Odumbe kept stepping a foot outside his stumps and lifting the ball over cover. Innocents cannot play this shot. A special talent is needed, and the nerve to try it in the heat of battle. 

Before the match the 34-year-old said he might consider retiring in 2011 but till then will be at the service of his country. Afterward he chided the doubting Thomases, a number that did not include his partner.

The Kenyans were magnificent as they secured their first victory in 15 attempts against their fellow Africans. All though Odumbe and chums finished the match in style this was a thorough and professional performance that left a woebegone opponent in disarray. 

Now Steve Tikolo and his boys prepare to meet India in Durban. Between times there is the small matter of playing the Australians on the same arena. The Kenyans do not look overawed. They do not even seem surprised.

Kenya deserves its success. The rules were made, the points were counted and gradually weak or unlucky teams were eliminated. After the tallying has been completed, Kenya was still standing. It's as simple as that. Accordingly it is time to stop patronising them and to start patting them on the back.  

This was  not a fluke. Cricket teams can spring occasional surprises as Kenya did in Pune years ago by trouncing a complacent West Indian side. But these sons of Africa have achieved something more substantial.

Three Test playing countries have been beaten and, as a proud captain pointed out, New Zealand's boycott denied them a chance of claiming a fourth scalp. India was in terrible trouble in Cape Town before Sourav Ganguly saved the day with a responsible innings. Kenya has played sound cricket, giving nothing away and taking its chances.  It is an old formula and it works. Every time the team has faltered it has fought back. There is resolution in this team from Africa, and considerable ability.

Naturally, Tikolo was pleased by his team's performance in the old Afrikaner town of Bloemfontein. He speaks in the quiet, slow voice of a tribal chief and has presided with dignity over an intelligently conceived campaign.

Kenya took charge of the match from the first ball and did not let go. Martin Suji kept landing the ball on a length and the batsmen could not escape him. He has a high arm, hits the seam and moves the ball around.  Alistair Campbell used his feet, Suji saw him and dropped shorter. He did not waste a ball or send down any loose deliveries. By setting the tone for the innings he earned his recognition as man of the match.

More than any team in the competition these Kenyans respect the basics of the game.

When a wide was bowled, the keeper (Kennedy Otieno), who is related to several colleagues, called out  "No extras boys". 

These fellows do the simple things well. Thomas Odoyo hustled and bustled in his barrel-chested way and Peter Ongondo came on as first change and promptly bowled four overs for tuppence-halfpenny. Every man in the team understands his role.

But the moment of the match came with Zimbabwe on 4/85 and trying to rebuild. Young Collins Obuya was landing his leg-spinners on the spot. Dion Ebrahim was drawn down the pitch by a tempting delivery and left stranded as the ball dropped quickly. In a flash Otieno whipped off the bails to give his younger brother another wicket. The siblings clapped and laughed. From Melbourne to Georgetown there is nothing better than watching a wrist-spinner lure an opponent to his doom.

Odumbe threw himself around in the field, Tikolo sent down some calm off-breaks and Asif Karim put his left-armers on the proverbial sixpence. Tikolo marshalled his troops skillfully but played a loose stroke. Kenya needs runs from him. Zimbabwe has a couple of aging cricketers and not much else. Heath Streak's team was outplayed and must start again.

Perhaps their semi-final with India will be one-sided but Ganguly's team suffered from collywobbles against these opponents in their last meeting and will take nothing for granted.

Anyhow it's a small price to pay for the survival of a team whose efforts will capture the imagination of the emancipated. For a month the future of the game on this continent has been a talking point. Critics said only soccer and athletics appealed to the locals. Tell that to the thousands cheering for their team in Nairobi, or the boys working hard at the cricket academy.

Far from spoiling the competition as had been feared, Kenya's unexpected rise has given cricket a wonderful opportunity to convince Africa that it is not a relic of colonial days but a game worth playing.

Tikolo and friends might have started with a stick and a cob of maize but now they are in the semi-finals of the World Cup, richer in every way and still in with a chance.


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Peter Roebuck