Kenya down the lacklustre legends
Few sides have arrived at a major tournament in such a state of disarray as West Indies did at the 1996 World Cup. Richie Richardson, the captain, was under massive pressure to quit, and consensus was he looked isolated, adrift from a side who no longer believed in him. To add to the team's problems, the headline act, Brian Lara, at times seemed to want to be anywhere other than with the team.
West Indies won their opening match against Zimbabwe, then lost against India and forfeited their game against Sri Lanka in Colombo on security grounds. The bloated structure of the tournament meant that one win in their final two matches would still be enough to see them through to the quarter-finals.
Kenya, meanwhile, in their first World Cup, only had one professional cricketer, Steve Tikolo, with the remainder all amateurs. They had lost all three games before meeting West Indies and Ladbrokes quoted odds of 50-1 on for a West Indies win and 16-1 for Kenya, although the bookmakers admitted they had not taken a single bet on the Kenyans.
Richardson won the toss and stuck Kenya in, and while Kenya slid to 81 for 6, West Indies were awful in the field. The usually ultra-reliable Roger Harper dropped two catches, and the bowlers conceded 27 wides and no-balls in all, but it looked as if their experience would win through. Although Hitesh Modi and Thomas Odoyo, at 17 the youngest player in the tournament, added 44 for the seventh wicket, aided by extras, the top scorer with 37, Kenya's 166 seemed to be well short of a defendable score.
Even so, the fragile mindset within the West Indies camp manifested itself when Wes Hall, the manager, stormed into the match referee's room during the innings to angrily demand to know why Odumbe had not been given out when he trod on his stumps.
In reply West Indies lost two early wickets but were still in a decent position, although they needed a solid innings from Lara. What they got was someone who seemed not to care. After a crisp cover drive off the first ball he faced, he played like a man in a benefit match. Within half a dozen balls Roland Holder, the 12th man, had scurried to the middle with a bottle of water and, presumably, a message for Lara to calm down. It went unheeded. He swished and missed twice more and should have been run-out in the first 10 balls.
The end was not surprising, other than for the fact an edge was held by wicketkeeper Tariq Iqbal - "bearded and bespectacled, wearing a blue headband and a double chin", noted the Guardian - who "had dropped the ball so many times before that that his own bowlers were laughing at him". So were the TV commentators. Keith Stackpole, desperately trying to remain diplomatic, remarked after an earlier drop: "For his side it was a good attempt but any wicketkeeper in the world would have taken it."
Rajab Ali bowled a decent ball outside off stump with a hint of swing and Lara aimed a massively optimistic back-foot drive and got a thick edge to Iqbal. "The ball sank somewhere into his nether regions and the gloves clutched desperately, trying to locate it," the Daily Telegraph reported. "Then, glory be, it reappeared in his hands and was raised aloft in triumph and relief."
"Our only hope of winning was to get Lara early," recalled Hanumant Singh, the former India Test player who coached Kenya. "And you could say he contributed to that end."
From there West Indies fell apart, largely because of Odumbe's 3 for 15 off 10 overs, exploiting a turning pitch, and were bowled out for 93, sliding to a humiliating 73-run defeat. The shambolic feel of their day continued when nobody could find their presentation cheque in the post-match ceremony.
"The West Indians, as if infected by their shame, hid behind the curtains of the dressing room," Michael Henderson wrote in the Times. "They have made few friends and the reason is plain. Their minds are elsewhere and they wish their bodies were. This was a disgraceful performance and the consequences will vibrate throughout the Caribbean for some time."
When they finally emerged, Richardson was clearly shell-shocked, and uttered little more than: "I have no words right now." He did go into the Kenyan dressing room, along with several other players, to offer his congratulations, and they posed for photographs with the jubilant Kenyans. "West Indies are our idols and so to beat them is a dream," Odumbe said. "We came here to prove we could play but this is like winning the World Cup."
Back in Kenya the win caused a ripple of excitement but no more, although there were parties long into the night at the hotbeds of the game, the clubs in Nairobi and Mombasa.
In the Caribbean, the media were sounding the death knells for the game in the region, and Richardson was singled out for blame. "He is the man who must ultimately pay the price and his resignation must now be properly offered to the Board in a timely manner," said an editorial in the Barbados Nation. At a coincidental meeting of heads of government in Guyana, Prime Minister Edison James of Dominica insisted that the whole state of West Indies' cricket be urgently added to the pressing political items on the agenda.
Elsewhere it was Lara who was blamed. "He threw away his wicket like a spoilt child," wrote Henderson. "Lara swiped and slashed and eventually edged to an astonished wicketkeeper," said Peter Roebuck. "He had not shown sufficient respect." Roebuck added it was part of a "pathetic and arrogant performance".
"This must be the depths for our cricket," wrote former West Indies fast bowler Colin Croft, while Michael Holding added: "I don't think we can sink lower than this."
The following day Richardson spoke to the media. "I would say to the West Indian public that we're very, very sorry, we're as disappointed as they are. I've never felt this bad in all my life. If things are not going well, somebody should be blamed and the people at the top are usually the ones. I'm the captain, but the players are also responsible, the whole set-up is responsible... we're in a very, very deep hole and we're almost at the bottom."
As if things could not get worse, a story broke in India's Outlook magazine claiming that immediately after the game Lara had told the Kenyans that losing to them was not as bad as losing to a team like South Africa. An unnamed source was quoted as hearing him say: "You know, this white thing comes into the picture. We can't stand losing to them."
Jonathan Barnett, Lara's agent, issued a vehement denial. "Brian may be many things, but a racist he certainly is not. I talked to him after the article was published and he is bitterly upset. All that has ever mattered to him, whether in cricket or in life, is that people conduct themselves properly. Colour has never come into his thinking. He insists that he went into the Kenyan dressing room to congratulate them on a famous win and said: 'Losing to you guys hurt badly but it wasn't the worst day of my life. The worst was losing to South Africa in the 1992 World Cup because I realised we weren't going to qualify for the semis.' Never at any stage did he mention black, white or any colour."
The next day Lara himself spoke to the media. "I have no racial preferences in sport or any aspect of life," he said. "What has happened has been a big blow to me because of the respect I have for the administrators of cricket in South Africa, for the way they are developing cricket and the whole of the new South Africa. We have a great match on our hands. Let's not try and spoil it."
What happened next?
- West Indies beat Australia to sneak into the quarter-finals, where they beat South Africa. In the semi-finals they performed one of the great one-day chokes to lose to Australia by five runs after being 165 for 2 chasing 207
- The row seemed to inspire Lara, who hammered a hundred against South Africa, although his tournament ended in controversy after he was reported for rowing with the team's fitness coach on the plane home
- Richardson announced his international retirement six days after the Kenya match, playing his last match in the semi-final defeat
- Kenya were thrashed by Sri Lanka in their final match and finished bottom of their group
Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa