Australia made to fight all the way for victory over spirited Kenyans
There might not have been too much riding on the last Super Six match of the tournament, but there was no lack of incident or entertainment to enthral a large crowd in Durban as Australia were made to fight for their five-wicket victory by the courageous Kenyans.
Australian captain Ricky Ponting had promised that they would not let up in a supposedly meaningless contest, and opening bowler Brett Lee was in no mood to break that promise. With Lee letting go his thunderbolts at one end, it must have been an immense relief for the Kenyan batsmen to get to the other end to face the comparative calm of the metronomic Glenn McGrath. Not that they were able to change ends too often as the first two overs were maidens.
It was in the fourth over that Lee wreaked havoc in the Kenyan batting order. He was gaining considerable bounce from a true batting surface and Kennedy Otieno (or Obuya) judged correctly that a ball outside the off-stump would lift too high to be of concern to him. Unfortunately for the batsman, as he lifted his bat out of harm's way, the ball struck the point of his left elbow just above his armguard and deflected onto the stumps. Otieno crumpled into a heap with the pain before being helped off to hospital for an X-ray that, thankfully, revealed no fracture.
The next ball was a beauty, of full length and straight. Brijal Patel could do no more than deflect it to Ricky Ponting at second slip. David Obuya was next in - and next out. Lee produced a fast yorker to complete the second hat-trick of this World Cup and the fourth in all with an absolute ripper that might have found a way through the defences of any batsman in the world. After his exploits at the end of New Zealand's innings, Lee had figures of eight wickets for three runs in 27 balls over the two matches.
Captain Steve Tikolo joined Ravindu Shah at least managed to halt the procession to the pavilion, and even to take the attack on with a series of elegant strokes using the pace of the ball onto the bat. They were unable to impose themselves on the attack, even when Lee was rested, but the runs continued to accrue slowly as the Kenyan innings was steered towards some sort of respectability.
Brad Hogg was finding the surface very much to his liking, with some turn for his left-arm wrist spin and a healthy bounce. He had already had a moral victory when Adam Gilchrist uncharacteristically missed a stumping chance off a wrong `un, but it was Hogg who broke the burgeoning partnership between Tikolo and Shah.
Shah went down on one knee to sweep a ball from outside off-stump and top edged the ball high to backward square leg where substitute Nathan Hauritz made a lot of ground to hang onto the catch. Shah was just four runs short of a fifty and had put on 79 with his captain while looking at ease in this elevated company.
Hitesh Modi did not look quite as comfortable, especially when fending off balls he knew little about when Lee was brought back into the attack. However, he stayed with Tikolo as the captain felt the time had come to lift the scoring rate and contributed valuable runs of his own as he warmed to the task in hand.
Tikolo did get the board moving in the right direction but having brought up his fifty, he lofted Darren Lehmann to long-off where Andy Bichel took the catch. Tikolo has not been in prime form in this tournament, so the runs he scored in this innings, against this attack, will do him no harm going into the semi-final.
Bichel himself claimed the next wicket, finding the edge of Collins Obuya's bat for Gilchrist to do the rest, and then repeated the trick four balls later to dismiss Peter Ongondo. Tony Suji was caught at point by Ponting off Lehmann, leaving brother Martin to strike one six off Bichel over extra cover among some inventive shots as he and Modi played out the overs. To bat out their full allocation and to recover to 174 for eight after such a traumatic start displayed admirable determination and no little courage.
The Australian openers, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden, appeared determined to spend as little time in the middle as possible as the flayed the Kenyan attack to bring up the fifty in the sixth over. However, having got going at such a frenetic pace, they then started to lose wickets.
First to go was Hayden, who got a ball from Ongondo that was probably a little too full to pull resulting in a catch to mid-wicket. Gilchrist could have followed his partner in the seventh over, but Martin Suji put down a simple chance at mid-wicket off the bowling of his brother Tony. Gilchrist tends to punish such errors, and he did on this occasion.
Gilchrist brought up his fifty with a four off Collins Obuya (from 37 balls with nine fours and a six) and then hoisted two sweeps for six in the same over. One hit the very top of the stand but the next sailed high over the top and out of the ground.
At the other end, Ongondo was bowling with rather more control than his colleagues and found a good one that Gilchrist edged to David Obuya who was substituting behind the stumps in place of his brother Kennedy. Steve Tikolo was off the field as well suffering from a fever, but the Kenyans on the field suddenly raised the temperature with more wickets.
Veteran Asif Karim came into the attack and in his first over snared Ponting lbw. In his next over he found the edge of Lehmann's bat and the acting `keeper had another victim. Three balls later, Hogg was beaten through the air and off the pitch to give Karim a return catch and if 117 for five in the 18th over did not exactly represent a crisis, there was still work for Andrew Symonds and Ian Harvey to do.
Despite the quite magnificent left-arm spin bowling of Karim who finished with the remarkable figures of 8.2-6-7-3, including a four off the last ball of the match, this pair took Australia home.
The partnership was necessary as Karim began to weave his spell. At the age of 39 and coming out of retirement for this tournament, the tall spinner found enough turn and plenty of bounce to inconvenience the batsmen whatever their standing in world cricket.
Both Symonds and Harvey paid him the respect he deserved. Collins Obuya proved a little expensive but always posed a threat as acting captain Modi turned the screw. The batsmen had to be selective in the balls from which they tried to score but they held their nerve as the Kenyans simply had too few runs with which to play.
Umpire Steve Bucknor went as far as shaking Karim's hand when he finished his eighth over thinking it would be his last while the bowler accepted a standing ovation as he took up his fielding position at third man. However, Ongondo delivered another maiden and Karim came back into the action. A single and a four off the first two balls ended the entertainment but, unlike some of their seniors, Kenya simply refused to be overawed by the Australians and left the field with heads high and reputation intact.