This underdog is going places

THE Goodyear Park was drenched in rain even as the Kenyan players celebrated their grand victory over Zimbabwe. It was certainly a moment to cherish for the unsung Kenya team and even the rain gods joined the party.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

THE Goodyear Park was drenched in rain even as the Kenyan players celebrated their grand victory over Zimbabwe. It was certainly a moment to cherish for the unsung Kenya team and even the rain gods joined the party.

The Kenyan players and coach Sandeep Patil are overjoyed at their entry into the semi-finals. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

It was a shattering experience for Zimbabwe which was handed its first ever defeat by Kenya in 15 one-day internationals. The moist eyes of the Kenyans reflected the value of the result. The team had been slammed for making it to the Super Six stage because it was gifted four points by New Zealand. But this was a moment which redefined the essence of motivation, which can transform dreams into reality and Kenya proved it with a pleasant win over fellow-Africans. In becoming the first non-Test nation to ever make the semifinal grade of the World Cup, the Kenyan team only justified its insistent demand to be granted Test status.

Who gave the Kenyans a chance to beat Zimbabwe? Very few. But the players gave a stirring account of their skills and did coach Sandeep Patil proud with a very professional show. Zimbabwe needed a win and played for one, but it was hopelessly outclassed by an opposition which was far more disciplined and committed.

Zimbabwe was hit by controversy even before a ball had been bowled when selector Andy Pycroft, also doing commentary for television, resigned following differences with the team management. As skipper Heath Streak admitted later the political and external factors did have an impact on the team's morale but he was gracious enough to add that Kenya played "great cricket'' and was a worthy winner. "We can't hide behind excuses and I can't talk of selection policies in public. But it did make a difference as far as the morale of the team was concerned,'' said Streak. The defeat was the lowest point in his captaincy.

The Kenya skipper Steve Tikolo was strikingly very composed in his reaction to the victory. "I think it means a lot to Kenyan cricket. It means a lot to every Kenyan. It is certainly the biggest day of my life. I think it must be the greatest day in every Kenyan's life,'' Tikolo put things in perspective.

The Zimbabwean approach was meek. A target of just 134 was never going to put any pressure on Kenya. Barring Andy Flower, none of the Zimbabwe batsmen had the character to offer resistance and it was a credit to Kenya that it never eased the pressure on the opposition. As Patil said, "it was a splendid collective performance. In the team meeting we had decided to bowl 10 wicket-taking balls and I'm glad Steve and his men did just that. The bowlers were backed by sharp fielding and I think our team proved a point to some critics who thought we did not deserve to be in the Super Six stage. I only hope the team learns from this experience and keeps its feet on the ground.''

The Kenyans were electric in the field. The base was laid by `Man of the Match' Martin Suji. He bowled a splendid spell to snare three crucial victims. He was able to generate pace and also moved the ball appreciably to fox established veterans like Alistair Campbell and Grant Flower and the hard-hitting Craig Wishart. It was his early strikes that gave Kenya the confidence and young leg-spinner Collins Obuya joined the act with a penetrative spell that fetched him the wickets of Tatenda Taibu, Dion Ebrahim and Streak. When Andy Blignaut was run out after a terrible mix-up with Andy Flower there was little hope for Zimbabwe to post a competitive total. Maurice Odumbe ensured there was no flowering of the Zimbabwe tail.

Zimbabwe's only hope lay in the fact that the Kenyans lacked experience and could lose their way in pursuit of a modest target. The instructions from Patil were simple. Not to lose wickets even though the target was small and at least one batsman should play the anchor role. Thomas Odoyo did that after Zimbabwe made two early dents. "There was no panic in our ranks and that was the most important reason, I thought. We could bat down the order and that's what we reminded ourselves,'' said Tikolo.

The players remembered what Patil had told them. "No team can live in the glory of the past.'' Kenya had never beaten Zimbabwe, but the players backed themselves to reverse the trend this time. "The confidence was high and see what difference it made to the team's strength. The boys played like champions and frankly at no stage of the match did I think of a result not in our favour. It's true we never thought of reaching the Super Six stage but having made the grade we were keen to make the most of our presence. Our hopes rose after the performance against India when we made them struggle. It was just the matter of putting the ball in the right spot and batting sensibly,'' said Patil.

It was an emotional moment for seniors Tikolo, Odumbe, Kennedy Obuya and Aasif Karim, not to forget the trio of Ravindu Shah, Hitesh Modi and Alpesh Vadher. "It was the icing on the cake for us. We've been playing long for Kenya and had always dreamt of reaching a stage which would justify our hard work. It was an extraordinary day's cricket by all of us,'' remarked Tikolo.

The Kenyans reached the target in great style when Odoyo and Odumbe belted the Zimbabweans, who had given up the fight much earlier. A flurry of robust strokes hastened the end as Odumbe and Odoyo scripted a thumping victory and shut Zimbabwe out of the tournament. The Zimbabweans were made to look so mediocre by the Kenyans who had decided that it was their day and they had to grab the opportunities.

The slow surface suited the Kenyan batsmen, who have the experience of playing on such pitches back home. "I told the batsmen to remain patient. If the ball had to be hit, then hit it hard, but never show any haste,'' said Patil.

At the end of the day, Tikolo was making an appeal for Patil to stay on with the team for some more time. But Patil had made up his mind to return to his family in Mumbai after being contracted by Kenya for four years. "I have to return to India,'' said Patil, who has approached the Board of Control for Cricket in India for a possible association with the game at any level. "Please find me a job in India,'' smiled Patil.

On the basis of his work with Kenyan cricket, it would not be tough for Patil to be in the limelight back home, too. The win over Zimbabwe was as much his hard work with the players as was their own effort in the middle. And it was acknowledged by Tikolo in glowing terms.

The scores:

Zimbabwe: C. Wishart c K. Obuya b M. Suji 5; A. Campbell lbw b M. Suji 7; A. Flower b Odoyo 63; G. Flower c K. Obuya b M. Suji 7; T. Taibu c K. Obuya b C. Obuya 3; D. Ebrahim st. K. Obuya b C. Obuya 13; A. Blignaut (run out) 4; H. Streak c Shah b C. Obuya 0; D. Marillier b Tikolo 21; H. Olonga c Odumbe b Tikolo 3; D. Hondo (not out) 0; Extras (lb-1, w-4, nb-2) 7; Total (in 44.1 overs) 133.

Fall of wickets: 1-8, 2-26, 3-45, 4-66, 5-85, 6-95, 7-97, 8-114, 9-129.

Kenya bowling: M. Suji 8-2-19-3, Odoyo 10-0-43-1, Ongondo 5-2-16-0, C. Obuya 10-0-32-3, Karim 9-0-20-0, Tikolo 2.1-0-2-2.

Kenya: K. Obuya lbw b Olonga 19; R. Shah (run out) 14; S. Tikolo c Streak b Blignaut 2; T. Odoyo (not out) 43; M. Odumbe (not out) 38; Extras (lb-4, w-6, nb-9) 19; Total (for three wickets, in 26 overs) 135.

Fall of wickets: 1-24, 2-33, 3-62.

Zimbabwe bowling: Streak 6-0-24-0, Blignaut 9-1-36-1, Olonga 4-0-21-1, Hondo 3-1-14-0, G. Flower 3-0-27-0, Marillier 1-0-9-0.