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Injured Taylor propels Kiwis
Prem Panicker | March 20, 2007 23:17 IST
Last Updated: March 21, 2007 03:18 IST
For the second day in succession, the World Cup took a break from upsets and assorted dramatics, and let the big boys shock and awe.
It is almost as if the teams at the top table in international cricket are competing in setting records -- at St Lucia, New Zealand looked good for a few, but eventually had to settle for just one: the 331/7 it rattled up, after being inserted by Kenya skipper Steve Tikolo, is its highest score in World Cups, overtaking a previous high of 309 set all the way back in 1975, against East Africa.
For a while -- a very brief while -- the game could have gone either way. Lou Vincent's poor run in the Cup continued, Odoyo getting him in the first over with a full length delivery that seamed late to find the outer edge through to Tikolo at second slip.
Stephen Fleming seemed a touch rusty at the start; at the other end, Tanmay Mishra shelled a stiff chance off Ross Taylor at midwicket � the first of four chances the Kenyans grassed on a day of woeful fielding.
Once the nerves settled, the Kiwis opened out in a display of unbridled power hitting. Fleming, Taylor, Craig McMillan and Scott Styris rattled up fifties, with McMillan being particularly brutal in a knock of 71 off 48 balls that contributed five of the 12 towering sixes the Kiwis added to the galloping World Cup tally.
The play didn't reveal anything that was not known before: the Kiwis have an array of powerful batsmen, and they bat deep (Vettori and Franklin, at 8 and 9, are no mugs with the bat). Kenya's attack, comprised of medium pacers and an array of spinners, looked up for the job against the Canadians the other day, but against teams prepared to attack with the long handle, had too few teeth to pose any problems.
For the sake of argument, you could say that the four catches that went down played a critical role; had they been held, the Kiwi progress might not have been as smooth. But against that, the batsmen were lashing out at everything irrespective, and when you do that, you are apt to hit a few in the direction and within reach of fielders.
A clear plus for the Kiwis was skipper Stephen Fleming getting a decent 61-ball hit in the middle. Once he got over his initial edginess, and connected with a few wallops on the back foot to the short ball, he found his touch, timing and range and by the time he was dismissed going for an impossible run, was batting at very close to his fluent best.
Against that, Taylor pulled up with some kind of injury in the latter part of his innings � at this point, it is unclear whether it was cramp, or a hamstring niggle.
Kenya, replying under overcast skies, was never going to mount a serious assault on the total against an attack led by Bond, Mason and Franklin, on a pitch that afforded seam and bounce. Yet, with a game against England at this venue coming up, you expected the Kenyans to try for some valuable batting practice against a quality attack.
That hope came to grief thanks to shoddy running between wickets and electric fielding by the Kiwis inside the circle, with Lou Vincent being particularly outstanding.
With the ball, Bond was all pace and fire but, in the final analysis, too quick, too good, to get the batsman touching. The metronomic Mason cashed in on the pressure applied by Bond with two early strikes, keeping the ball very full and on a wicket to wicket line.
A couple of rain squalls punctuated the Kenyan innings; the interruptions caused Fleming to revise his plans, stop attacking with his pacers and toss the ball at McMillan and Vettori in a bid to rush through a few quick overs and ensure that the mandatory minimum of 20 were quickly completed. Clearly, Fleming didn't relish the prospect of leading his men out again tomorrow to complete the match, in case a third rain interruption brought play to a premature end. The bowlers did their bit; it was quite amusing to watch McMillan running back to his bowling mark faster than he runs in to bowl.
Ravindu Shah prospered during this period, ignoring the steady drizzle, cracking McMillan back over his head for a lovely straight six and, an over later, waiting on his hind legs as the bowler banged one down, letting it bounce over his head, and with his bat facing the heavens, running it over the wicket-keeper's head to the straight boundary behind his back for four.
The best of Vettori was not on display, in large part because the two rain breaks had made the outfield wet and the ball greasy; clearly, the bowler was struggling to get a good grip. In any case, it didn't look like he was even trying, the intent seemed to be to try and rush through his overs.
As rain began pelting down for the third time this afternoon, the Kiwi fielders kept counting down Vettori's over � 'Two balls� one ball� come on one ball�'. It was the 20th of the Kenyan innings; once it was done (74/4 Kenya) and Fleming knew he had the mandatory quota out of the way, he took McMillan and Vettori off and tossed the ball to Jacob Oram and James Franklin.
Kenya -- an increasingly assured Shah in particular -- practised its batting, the Kiwis honed their run ups and release, Fleming went wool-gathering and failed to pick up a straightforward Shah edge off Franklin at slip� cricket, in slow motion, ensued.
With rain coming down, Fleming gave Vettori another go in the 30th over. Umpire Billy Doctrove, probably not seeing too well in the drizzle, ruled for the batsman to a strong shout for LBW; Shah celebrated by getting under one and hoisting it over the wide long on ropes; to the next ball the batsman drove hard and straight and Vettori went low, fast, and to his right to pluck a superb return catch.
Shah's knock of 71/88 was the only bright spot of the Kenyan innings; for Vettori, the wicket was his first in World Cups since March 15, 2003 � the premier spinner has spent the next six games, five in the last World Cup and one in this, looking for the third World Cup wicket of his career (8 matches, 75 overs, 312 runs and two wickets in World Cups before today).
Having gotten one, he shrugged off the ignominy of a mowed six by Jimmy Kamande over long on, and went through his wild slog with a skidder, doubling his World Cup haul.
Kenya accomplished a mini triumph by resisting a fast, furious spell by Bond late in the day (Fleming, for some reason, waited till the 43rd over before taking his third power play), but gave up the final wicket with just four deliveries to go in the match (183 all out), giving the Kiwis the win by a margin of 148 runs.
Overall, the Kiwis did England a favor by slamming the Kenyans around St Lucia. The Kiwis, with a second successive win, are through to the Super Eights; the game that decides which team joins them will be played on March 24 when England take on Kenya at the same venue.
If England wins, it is through; ditto Kenya. The fun though is if the game is rained out -- and it always rains in St Lucia. Kenya went into this game edging England on the run rate; thanks to the Kiwi onslaught, that situation is now reversed and if the March 24 game is rained out, England will sneak into the Super Eights on the basis of superior net run rate.
Not that England was hoping for the Kiwis to help them out, but it likely must have settled England's nerves to know it won't rain on their parade.
The Cup: The Complete Coverage
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