An ambush in Nairobi

IT was a well laid ambush, and the Lankans walked right into it. In the land of the Lions, the Kenyans roared.

IT was a well laid ambush, and the Lankans walked right into it. In the land of the Lions, the Kenyans roared.

Collins Obuya... sending the Lankans into a tailspin. — Pic. AP-

The Sri Lankans were on a roll when they arrived in Nairobi. After all, they had taken the Kiwis in their stride and then, crushed minnows Bangladesh and Canada.

Chaminda Vaas had knocked over three Bangladeshis with the first three deliveries of the match at Pietermaritzburg and then the Lankan pacemen had bundled out Canada for an unbelievable 36 at Paarl.

Undisputed leaders of group `B' at the midway point, the Sri Lankans certainly were with a place in the Super Six seemingly assured.

"We have to keep the momentum going and want to win well. One can't play around with a World Cup game,'' averred skipper Sanath Jayasuriya on the eve of the game against Kenya.

However, he was taking nothing for granted — "Every team that competes at this level has something to offer. I believe it will be particularly difficult to defeat Kenya on its home turf this time."

The Kenyans had been steamrollered by South Africa in the first match, survived a scare from Canada in the second, but picked up four points following a `no show' by the Kiwis for the February 21st duel in Nairobi.

The situation also provided them with hope. If the Kenyans could pull off an upset at home, then a win against minnows Bangladesh might be enough to grant them a place in the Super Six.

And when off-spinner Maurice Odumbe bowled Dilhara Fernando, who attempted a desperate reverse sweep, the Kenyans had given themselves a huge chance of progressing to the next stage, even as the Lankans stood humiliated by 53 runs. This was the first major upset of the 2003 World Cup.

It was on a sunny day in Pune in `96, that the Kenyans had signalled their arrival on the big stage stunning Richie Richardson's West Indians and now, they had upstaged another former World Cup winner, Sri Lanka.

Scenes of jubilation at the Nairobi Gymkhana, where a sizable crowd had cheered the Kenyans every step of the way, revealed how much the victory meant to Kenyan cricket. The nation's cricketing fraternity had long waited for just a moment like this.

There had been considerable disappointment in Kenya when New Zealand refused to travel to Nairobi citing security concerns following the bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel on the coastal city of Mombasa last November.

The Kenyans had promised tight security for the matches, and there were indeed men from the elite anti-terrorist unit from South Africa, before the encounter against Lanka. The hosts were leaving nothing to chance.

A target of 211 on a grassless pitch appeared a walk in the park for the impressive Lankan line-up but they were in for a nasty surprise. The Kenyans were in a mood for Big Game hunting.

Leading the Kenyan pack as it preyed on the Lankans was an unsung leg-spinner Collins Obuya, one of the three Obuya brothers in the squad. His five for 24, in 10 steady overs of leg-spin, snuffed out the Lankans.

Earlier in the day, his brother Kennedy Otieno had top-scored with 60 (88b, eight fours, two sixes) and now, it was the younger Collins' turn.

Yet, before he was introduced, Martin Suji had struck a body blow, when key man Sanath Jayasuriya miscued a drive to Brijal Patel at mid-on, for just 3. And the classy Marvan Atapattu (23) was just getting into his stride when he was done in by an off-cutter from Thomos Odoyo, the ball sneaking in between the bat and the pad. Then Collins' dream run began.

The normally reliable No. 3. Hashan Tillekeratne perished in an uncharacteristic manner, picked up at the mid-wicket fence by Tony Suji. The Lankans had lost their third wicket for 71, and the Kenyans were looking at a real chance.

Mahela Jayawardene had been out of form, and did little better this time, when he pushed early at a leg-break to provide a delighted Collins with a return catch. He had made just five. And the score score was only 105 when Kumara Sangakkara, foxed by a quicker delivery of a shorter length, spooned a catch in front of him, that was splendidly taken by a diving Otieno, the television replays confirming the catch was clean.

Half the side was back, and the Lankans, looking at an unexpected defeat, were under considerable pressure. Even as the wickets fell, the experienced Aravinda de Silva, had shown glimpses of old form and on him rested the Lankan hopes.

However, when Obuya took a fine return catch to send back the veteran for 41, the sounds of Kenyan celebration grew louder in the stands. The Lankan innings was in a mess really at 112 for six.

Chaminda Vaas can strike the ball long and hard, but on this occasion, he only managed to knock it back for Obuya to claim his fifth wicket, and at 119 for seven, it was only a matter of time now for Sri Lanka. Jayasuriya's decision to chase had backfired.

When Odumbe hammered the final nail in the Lankan coffin, southpaw Russell Arnold, running out of partners, was left undefeated on 25. The Kenyans converged in a heap, lapped the ground to acknowledge the support from the fans, and it was indeed a very special occasion in the country's cricketing history.

Things had looked so different for Sri Lanka in the morning when Chaminda Vaas, who has made striking early a habit, trapped opener Ravindu Shah for no score. The left-arm paceman soon snared Brijal Patel outside the off-stump for 12, and then ace offie Muttiah Muralitharan consumed Kenya's most accomplished batsman Steve Tikolo, trapped leg-before for 10.

However, Otieno played some spanking shots in his 60, and there were useful contributions from Hitesh Modi, Maurice Odumbe and Peter Ongondo, that pushed the score beyond 200.

Muralitharan, relishing the dry wicket, was outstanding in the Lankan attack, finishing with four for 28 in his 10 overs, while Vaas managed to scalp three again. It threatened to be an inadequate total for the Kenyans, in the end, it was the Lankans who were caught short.

The match also marked sweet revenge for the Kenyans over the islanders. In the `96 World Cup, the Lankans had piled up a mammoth 398 for five in Kandy, and though the Kenyans themselves replied with 254 for seven, the home team still ran out easy winners.

Then, in the `99 edition of the competition, where the Lankans had a nightmarish time defending their crown, they still managed to outdo the Kenyans by 47 runs at Southampton. The script was very much different this time.

It was a much-needed shot in the arm for this African nation's cricket, and coach Sandip Patil spoke of how the Kenyans deserved Test status now. Captain Tikolo oozed confidence too, and his words at the beginning of the Kenyan campaign when he said his team was aiming for a Cup triumph were no longer laughable.

Winning a title as big as this one might still be highly unlikely. However, the Kenyans would have done remarkably well if they made the Super Sixes, even if they had received a helping hand from the Kiwis.

The scores:

Kenya: K. Otieno c Muralitharan b De Silva 60; R. Shah lbw b Vaas 0; B. Patel c Sangakkara b Vaas 12; S. Tikolo lbw b Muralitharan 10; H. Modi b Muralitharan 26; M. Odumbe c & b Muralitharan 26; T. Odoyo c Sangakkara b Vaas 6; C. Obuya (not out) 13; T. Suji b Muralitharan 6; P. Ongondo b Jayasuriya 20; M. Suji (not out) 3; Extras (b-5, lb-11, w-10, nb-2) 28; Total (for nine wickets in 50 overs) 210.

Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-46, 3-75, 4-112, 5-152, 6-163, 7-163, 8-173, 9-205.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 10-1-41-3, Nissanka 7-2-29-0, Fernando 7-0-33-0, Muralitharan 10-1-28-4, Jayasuriya 9-1-30-1, De Silva 5-1-23-1, Arnold 2-0-10-0.

Sri Lanka: M. Atapattu b Odoyo 23; S. Jayasuriya c Patel b M. Suji 3; H. Tillekeratne c T. Suji b Obuya 23; A. De Silva c Otieno b Obuya 41; M. Jayawardene c & b Obuya 5; K. Sangakkara c Otieno b Obuya 5; R. Arnold (not out) 25; C. Vaas c & b Obuya 4; P. Nissanka c Odoyo b Tikolo 2; M. Muralitharan c T. Suji b Tikolo 10; D. Fernando b Odumbe 7; Extras (w-6, nb-1, b-2) 9; Total (in 45 overs) 157.

Fall of wickets: 1-13, 2-39, 3-71, 4-87, 5-105, 6-112, 7-119, 8-131, 9-149.

Kenya bowling: M. Suji 8-1-24-1, Odoyo 7-0-33-1, Obuya 10-0-24-5, Ongondo 5-0-22-0, Odumbe 10-0-39-1, Tikolo 5-1-13-2.