March 7, 2003

Ganguly, Yuvraj see India to six-wicket win

Over the last few days, Kenya's cricketers could only have felt that they were included in this World Cup purely to make up the numbers, and that their relative success somehow baffled the organisers. Comments about skewed points systems were bandied about, so much so that captain Steve Tikolo was actually needled enough to defend his side's presence in the Super Six - which, one may add, came about primarily on the back of one upset win, one no-show and spades of enthusiasm.

Against India in their first Super Six match, therefore, Steve Tikolo's men must have aimed first and foremost at rebutting the criticisms, at justifying their presence there - and it showed. After Tikolo opted to bat first - not, under the circumstances, the hardest decision he would have had to make that morning - Kenya's openers, like the cat in the adage, let "I dare not" wait upon "I would." Wide balls were watched rather than flirted with, full deliveries were worked rather than smacked, and the single was de rigeur.

But India's bowlers too did not seem to have the fire to winkle out obdurate batsmen, and Dinesh Mongia, Harbhajan Singh and Mohammad Kaif dropped catches on the rare occasions they were offered, so 75 first-wicket runs were added with the painstaking care of old women before Ravindu Shah (34, 52b, 3x4) got himself out. Rushing down the wicket even as Otieno declined a single, Shah tried unsuccessfully to beat Zaheer Khan's direct hit back to his end and blew his top at an Otieno frankly undeserving of it before exiting stage left.

Steve Tikolo perished in a rush of blood, heaving Harbhajan Singh down square leg's throat, but Thomas Odoyo (32, 55b, 2x4) joined Otieno in a 76-run stand, the spine of the Kenyan innings. It was slow work but important nevertheless, and when first Otieno, making a steady 79 off 134 balls (6x4, 2x6), and then Obuya fell in quick succession, Kenya's middle-order were ideally placed to have a bit of a slog and inflate the total.

As it turned out, only Maurice Odumbe (34 n.o., 24b, 2x4) could make any use of the remaining deliveries, because Javagal Srinath returned to bowl with experience and wile to pick two wickets and stunt the Kenyan slog, keeping them down to 225 for six in their allotted 50.

That looked about 150 too many when India were 24 for three and Kenya's cricketers were jigging for all they were worth. First Virender Sehwag experimented with a neither-forward-nor-back stroke and was caught well by Tikolo at second slip. Not three overs later, Tendulkar flicked Martin Suji uppishly and was caught by his brother Tony at leg-gully, sending his teammates into a celebratory huddle that fairly shook with paroxysms of glee.

Mohammad Kaif was soon leg-before, and when Collins Obuya was flighting and turning the ball like a dream, it looked like Sri Lanka all over again. But Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid (32, 73b, 3x4) resurrected the innings to some extent before Yuvraj Singh replaced the Indian vice-captain at the crease.

Yuvraj's see-ball-will-thump policy worked particularly well against part-time off-spinners Odumbe and Tikolo, and soon enough against Obuya as well. Suddenly the boundary seemed much closer, the outfield much faster, and the bowlers much less menacing. His unbeaten innings of 58 off 64 balls, moreover, allowed Ganguly (107 n.o., 120b, 11x4, 2x6) to play pressure-free at the other end, and the Indian captain obligingly chalked up his 21st one-day century, a knock of exemplary comfort and composure.

If both teams had to set a realistic target for themselves before the game, chances are that both those targets would have been achieved by the end of India's 47.5 overs. India would have looked to win, to avoid an upset at any rate, and they were not to be denied in that. Kenya, for their part, would have loved a triumph, but in its absence, they would have just wanted to play determined, bloody-minded cricket, and that they did - about as win-win as a limited-overs contest, without actually becoming a tied match, can possibly get.

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