Unheralded have a say

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

AT the opening ceremony in Cape Town, they were happy to be part of the fraternity, happily clicking away pictures of their idols. A fortnight into the tournament, they had found a stage for themselves to steal the limelight, plotting upsets that make the sport such an exciting spectacle.

Collins Omondi Obuya, John Davison, Jan-Berry Burger, Tim de Leede. These names did not mean much until they performed, to showcase their ability to compete with the best. Hailing from lesser-known cricket-playing nations, they had the advantage of being in a position where they had nothing to lose. So, when the opportunity arose, they grabbed it, shook the cricket world and gave a new twist to the competition.

Every World Cup in the past, gave rise to new heroes. A few upsets at each Cup indicated the progress made by the weaker nations, the non-Test playing teams. Of course with the exception of Bangladesh which has remained an embarrassment after being granted the Test status.

But teams like Kenya, Canada, Namibia and Holland, despite the absence of a proper infrastructure, have backed themselves to aim for a spot in the big league. And they did justify their inclusion in the ICC Cricket World Cup by making the opposition squirm.

Kenya, in fact, made a grand stride forward by beating Sri Lanka on home turf. These little known players and teams contribute towards the progress of the game travelling to far distances. When someone like Davison from Canada smashes the fastest century in World Cup history the others are bound to sit up and take notice. It was a sensational deed by Davison, who struggled to make an impact as an off-spinner in Australian domestic cricket.

At 32, Davison has the experience to understand the situation and explode with an innings that swept the West Indies off its feet. "Once I hit the middle of the bat a few times I worked out it was a pretty good wicket. So I chanced my arm a bit," he said on his spectacular knock, which came just four days after his team had been routed for 36 by Sri Lanka. Davison�s century, off 67 balls, was the fastest in World Cup history. It was the fifth fastest in one-day internationals.

"I had no idea until I looked at the scoreboard." Born in British Columbia, Canada, Davison bats for South Australia at number nine and was picked to represent Canada in 2001 even as the country qualified to play the World Cup. An offer to help Canada qualify was the biggest thing to have happened in Davison�s cricketing career. He learnt the finer points at the Australian Cricket Academy and turned out for Victoria to commence his first-class career in 1995-96, before shifting to South Australia. He could not find a place in South Australia�s one-day team. ``Maybe this will help," he hopes to find a regular place in his State team.

For Obuya, the leg-spinner from Kenya, it was a great day at the Nairobi Gymkhana as he scalped five victims, prompting Sri Lanka skipper Sanath Jayasuriya to say it was his and his team�s worst day in cricket. Worst for Sri Lanka but unforgettable for Obuya. He embarrassed some of the best batsmen. Does it matter that Obuya can�t recall some of the best leg-spinners who adored the game. His task was to bowl tight and in the process he left the Sri Lankans in a daze as he ripped through the batting order, which prided itself of being very good against the turning ball.

The 23-year-old Obuya took to cricket because it offered a better life. There was money to be made and fame to be earned if he followed in the footsteps of Steve Tikolo, an icon among the Kenyan masses. Some valuable support from coach Sandeep Patil came as a big boost to the leg-spinner who was excited at the prospect of playing in the premier cricket tournament in the world. Obuya's victims included Hashan Tillekaratne, Aravinda de Silva, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Chaminda Vaas.

The Sri Lankan middle order lay exposed by a rookie spinner, who took to cricket mainly because it offered him an opportunity to travel and in the process make some money. Tikolo had faith in young men like Obuya. "We�ve been working hard on our bowling. You should keep an eye on Collins Obuya, who is a leg-spinner. Although he has been around for a while now he's still very young and has a very bright future," said Tikolo much before the first ball was bowled in this World Cup.

Tim de Leede, in picking four wickets against India, only justified the tag of being the most useful player for Holland. The veteran, at 35, has more than 185 international matches to his credit in the ICC Trophy and the World Cup. He was overjoyed when he snared Sachin Tendulkar.

"It was a dream for me. I must say it was one of my greatest cricketing moments," he said of Tendulkar�s dismissal. The master was foxed by the extra bounce that de Leede gained. For this affable all-rounder, the match against India at Paarl was one memorable experience and the team too did not fare badly, making the Indians earn every wicket and every ball.

For someone like Jab-Berry Burger, the attention was not a new experience. He is known to hit hard and in South Africa he was acknowledged as a youngster to watch out for when he learnt the basics at the Free State Academy. A strongly-built youngster, at 21, Burger first made his intentions known when he clouted the Zimbabwean attack. He could not alter the course of the match but left his mark on the opposition, playing some stunning strokes, especially the inside-out drives off someone like Heath Streak. And then he turned his attention on England and his half century was one of the best knocks in the preliminary league.

A daring assault on the English highlighted Burger's potential to destroy the attack. The Indians too had a glimpse of his abilities but for a brief while. Time is on Burger's side. This unheralded bunch of cricketers gave a new fillip to Ali Bacher�s dream of taking the game across the globe.

Teams like Namibia, Holland and Canada may not have enjoyed any success but the experience of competing with the elite would carry their ambitions forward. For Davison, Obuya, de Leede, Jan Burger, the new role models for the lesser known teams, the ICC World Cup in South Africa shall remain a benchmark in times to come. How much they derive from the rich experience will give the right signals for more and more youngsters to take to the game in their countries.