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India must stick to its winning combo

By Vivian Richards
March 13, 2003 19:02 IST
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The Kenyan team, with their ready smiles and easy mannerisms, is certainly the sunshine team of World Cup 2003. It is great for the future of cricket that a team has broken into the higher echelons of cricket only on the basis of their talent and determination. Sure, they benefited from a forfeiture, but then, they have also beaten three Test sides, which is more than what teams like England and Pakistan can claim to have done in this tournament. Some might carp about them lowering the standards of the semi-finals, but I think they deserve their luck and have earned their place.

I have interacted with Steve Tikolo and his men on a couple of occasions, and I must say they are a lovable bunch. There are no huge egos, and their warmth and camaraderie immediately struck me. The Kenyans play sensible cricket and seem to thrive on teamwork and doing the basics right. Even against Zimbabwe, they stuck to the right line, fielded like panthers and batted with a cool head to overhaul the modest total set for them.

India must be pretty happy at the thought of having to play Kenya in their Durban semi-final. I hope they are not too happy though, because that would suggest that they are becoming complacent. They must eradicate all thoughts of breezing into the final. The Kenyans have beaten a former world champion team, Sri Lanka, and gave India a stiff fight. Sourav Ganguly's main task on Thursday next must be to ensure that all 11 players achieve the intensity that one expects from a team going into a semi-final.

Before that, India take on New Zealand at Centurion on Friday. While India have nothing to gain from this game, a win for the Kiwis will cement a place for them in the semis. Here, too, India must ensure that they play with intensity, because winning is a habit, and you would not want to lose that habit just before the knock-out stages of the tournament. I would also think that the management would like to stick to their winning combination rather than experiment or rest players at such a late stage in the tournament.

The other reason why I would advise India against changing anything is the fact that they are peaking at the right time. They had a slow start to the tournament, and now that all their players have worked up a momentum, they must ensure that they maintain it.

Coming back to Kenya, I'm sure that there will now be debates on whether they should be made a Test country. It's a call that the ICC must take pretty soon. Whatever decision they take, experience would have taught them that just granting a team the right to play Test cricket is not enough. Fledgling sides need care, facilities have to be built up, a talent pool has to be built, stadia in all big towns and cities must be identified at possible venues, and a support base for the game among the public and among the corporates have to be carefully built.

The authorities did it the right way in the case of Sri Lanka. Sure, the Lankans had to wait for a little longer than teams who got Test status after them, but during that wait the infrastructure, the players and the grounds were all being systematically developed. Kenya must be helped in harnessing their immense talent; long-term plans must be put in place and experienced nations must throw their support behind the babes of the cricket world. These steps would be the best gift that the cricket world can give Kenya for their marvelous performance in this World Cup.

(Gameplan)

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Vivian Richards