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Kenya confound easy assumptions
March 17, 2003 11:13 IST
Unexpected World Cup semi-finalists Kenya have made a habit of confounding easy assumptions.
The east Africans flourished while co-hosts South Africa and the troubled Zimbabwe side floundered, progressing to a semi-final against India in Durban on Thursday. Defending champions Australia play 1996 champions Sri Lanka in the other semi in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday.
New Zealand left for home after the conclusion of the second round on Saturday convinced they would have clinched a semi-final place if they had gone ahead with their first round game in Nairobi. The New Zealanders forfeited four points when their governing board decided it was unsafe to play in Kenya.
In retrospect, though, a New Zealand win was by no means certain. Kenya defeated 1996 champions Sri Lanka with home advantage and the Kiwis' batting and support bowling in the Super Sixes proved frail.
Kenya also defeated three Test nations in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, a task beyond South Africa, West Indies, England and Pakistan who all failed to advance past the first round.
On Saturday, Kenya batted throughout their 50 overs against the mighty Australians. Left-arm spinner Aasif Karim then gave the defending champions a real fright with three for seven from 8.2 overs before Australia recovered to win by five wickets.
In an age of professional overkill featuring far too many one-day matches, which has been reflected in some weary performances, Kenya have brought a refreshing exuberance and an uncomplicated approach to the World Cup.
They still have yet to convince that they are essentially any better than a team representing the best club cricketers in Hong Kong or Singapore and their power base is limited.
Yet, preying on Indian minds will be the effect of playing under the lights in Durban. India, arguing that the toss had a disproportionate effect on the result of the match, had an appeal to switch the game to an earlier start rejected by the International Cricket Council.
India struggled against Kenya after batting second in their day-night Super Six match in Cape Town, with even Sachin Tendulkar failing, before captain Saurav Ganguly came to his side's rescue.
After discovering Australia were not infallible, Kenya do not fear India.
"If we get about 230 or 240 then it will be all right," said opening bowler Martin Suji."
Hitesh Modi, acting captain on Saturday when Steve Tikolo left the field, paid tribute to the Kenyans' team spirit.
"It's the first time we've played in the semis," he said. ""We've got nothing to lose, we believe in ourselves now.
"We can go out there and do it, we have done it in the past. They'd better watch out, Aasif's bowled well, our batsmen are getting runs and we are coming into form. Let's win the toss and see what happens."
Despite Kenyan optimism, India have pedigree and current form and must be favourites on Thursday. Tendulkar is clearly determined to seize the moment, knowing this is the time to demonstrate he can not only perform great individual deeds but also consistently win matches for his team.
Uniquely, India have relied on pace to make their mark in the 2003 Cup, with Harbhajan Singh, the latest in their line of bewitching spinners, used as a backup rather than potential match-winner.
Sri Lanka, the other team from the sub-continent to make it to the final four, defeated Australia on merit in the 1996 final.
Australia were a good side in 1996. They have taken a quantum leap since and only the West Indies' teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s could challenge them as the best one-day team in history.
Sri Lanka have the players to take advantage of a slow pitch in Port Elizabeth, but they are essentially the same side who transformed the one-day game seven years ago with their dynamic hitting in the first 15 overs.
In the meantime, Australia have evolved and changed, dropping the Waugh twins, brushing off the departure of Shane Warne and revelling in the speed, verve and youthful vitality of Brett Lee.
Lee took a hat-trick against Kenya and is currently bowling at a frightening pace, using the classic fast bowler's weapons of terrifying bouncers, now allowed in one-day cricket, and devastating yorkers.
Although Kenya and Sri Lanka will not agree, Tendulkar at the height of his powers against Lee with the new ball is the final the tournament needs.
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