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The Electronic Telegraph Kenya v Zimbabwe, Group A
Rob Steen - 15 May 1999

Kenyans quick to seize the initiative

The calypso chimes of the steel band before the start may have seemed out of place - presumably somebody's idea of post-modern irony - but when Kennedy Otieno hammered Heath Streak's opening ball to the cover boundary it all made sense. Eighteen runs came from the first two overs and a packed house grinned as one.

Kenya's remarkable victory over West Indies three years ago was the first bona fide giant-slaying in World Cup history. The gleeful acclaim that accompanied their every success here yesterday, however minor, suggested that, for all the Africans' subsequent struggles, the friends they made then are destined to be lifelong ones.

Put in by Alistair Campbell, Kenya were in no mood for meekness. Though wont to admire their handiwork before deigning to run - a common malaise - Otieno and Ravindu Shah added 62 in 13 impertinent overs before paying for their temerity.

Otieno cracked Neil Johnson to point, Shah went to hoist Andy Whittall over the top only to locate mid-on and though Steve Tikolo launched one imperious drive, Johnson soon cut him down with the aid of a dubious caught-behind verdict. If looks could kill, umpire Cowie would have been six feet under by the time Kenya's batsman reached the pavilion.

Hitesh Modi, a languid left-hander, hinted briefly at prosperity but a penchant for on-side plunder saw Johnson bowl him behind his legs as Kenya slipped to 87 for four. Not that this daunted Alpesh Vadher, who soon belied a record of 93 runs in seven one-day internationals.

While Vadher ran through his repertoire of impudent drives and pulls, Maurice Odumbe proved the perfect foil with an innings of patience and resolve. Given his recent plummet from grace, it was the least he could do.

Tikolo's only rival as Kenya's most celebrated cricketer, Odumbe, had no shortage of amends to make. Since winning the man-of-the-match award when leading his country to that victory at Pune, the road has not so much been littered with bumps as self-dug holes.

It began in the 1997 ICC Trophy final in Kuala Lumpur. Mistakenly believing that Bangladesh required two for victory from the final ball instead of one, he set his field accordingly; the batsmen pilfered a leg-bye as the fielders relaxed and the pot slipped away.

Criticism bred frustration as his reign as captain drew to a close. Last year he was succeeded by Asif Karim and left few in any doubt what he felt about it; dropped from the tour to India after airing his grievances, he was only reinstated after apologising. Nor did he endear himself to his superiors on the eve of this tournament, telling listeners to the BBC's Swahili service that he had little time for the coaching methods of Alvin Kallicharran and insisting that Roger Binny, who helped India win the 1983 World Cup, would have been a wiser choice.

Charged by the Kenyan Cricket Association with breaching his contract and the ICC code of conduct, he was fined 75,000 shillings (700) and warned that any further misbehaviour would see his KCA contract terminated.

To see him scratch out 20 in 29 overs here was to wonder how he averaged 98.60 during the ICC Trophy, let alone at a rate of 87 runs per 100 balls. But this, of course, was cricket on a different plane, against more rugged opponents. Stability was imperative, enterprise left to others. By the time Paul Strang, in the middle of a typically curmudgeonly spell of pancake-flat leggies, trapped him leg-before, he and Vadher had put on 84 in 22 overs, turning impending calamity into respectability and more.

Now the fun resumed. Vadher fell for 54 two overs later, driving Strang to long-on, whereupon Tom Odoyo picked up the baton, stroking then pulling successive sixes off Andy Whittall, the first of which landed in a hospitality box at the top of the Ian Botham stand.

Seventeen runs flowed from the 47th over, 18 from the 48th as the minnows closed on 229 for seven. Impregnable? Hardly. Defendable? Even with their limited bowling resources, why not? In three warm-up matches not one Zimbabwean batsman averaged 20.

To widespread dismay, however, Johnson was soon putting such fanciful notions into perspective. Lean and powerful, the former Leicestershire all-rounder propelled the ball to all parts, one six landing in the gents' as he strode to 50 off 54 balls.

Karim's left-arm spin, seemingly modelled on that of Ravi Shastri, achieved the breakthrough in the 14th over, having Grant Flower held superbly over his head by Shah at deep mid-off, but by then Zimbabwe had already swept to 81.

The promoted Strang biffed merrily until Odoyo drew a sliced drive to third man, where Tony Suji, one half of the first fraternal pairing to open a World Cup attack, swooped for a magnificent catch.

The Tannoy announcer then identified him as his brother, Martin. He was soon put right by a chant of ``Tony, Tony'' from the crowd in the stand behind the catcher.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
Editorial comments can be sent to The Electronic Telegraph at et@telegraph.co.uk