October 19, 2001

Kenyans pay for their air fares

Of all the international captains currently tramping through world cricket, easily the most engaging is Kenya's Maurice Odumbe. Put it this way, if you were planning to throw some steak on the braai and pass a few beers around, then the cricketer to call to lift the company would be Odumbe. Always assuming, of course, that your name is not umpire Dave Orchard.

Odumbe's criticisms of Orchard earned him a two-match ban this week, a ban to which the Kenyans responded by inflicting a 70-run defeat on India in one of the biggest upsets in the modern game.

After the Kenyans had been drawn and quartered by India in Bloemfontein last Friday, Odumbe's rueful response was that the practically only thing to do in the circumstances was to take his boys out on the town and get them drunk After Lance Klusener had taken five successive boundaries off him in Kimberley last Sunday, he confessed that what he'd wanted to do at that moment was find somewhere to hide.

There hasn't been such frankness from a captain on these shores since Ken Rutherford described his New Zealand team as a "bunch of social retards" in the wake of a surprise victory over South Africa at the Wanderers. "And," he added, "I'm off to join them."

It was Rutherford, of course, who also declared that New Zealand cricket had "corned the turner" after an equally surprising win against Pakistan. Rutherford had his farewell do in Johannesburg this week before taking himself back off to his native land. Go well, Ruds.

To get back to Odumbe, though, what appeals as much as anything else about him is that even in the aftermath of humiliation, he's still aware that only a fortunate few are privileged to make a living from playing cricket. Compared to a small core within the South African camp who seem determined to match England in the prima donna stakes, the Kenyans are a breath of fresh air.

More so now, after Wednesday's shock result. The problem, however, in the post- Hansiegate age, is that you're never quite sure what to make of upsets like this. If Sachin Tendulkar, the best batsman in the world, struggles for 20 balls to make just 3, then is he just having a bad day at the office or are more sinister forces at work.

Which is not to suggest that the Indians tanked it, simply that whatever Hansie Cronje believes, his activities still cast a dark shadow over the game. Interestingly, it is understood that members of the International Cricket Council's Anti-Corruption Unit were around Port Elizabeth on Wednesday. The ACU has been a little cagey about this which, in some ways, is surprising. Surely, if the ACU is tasked with policing cricket and guarding against corruption, one of the most effective ways of achieving this would be to let it be known that you're around and you've got your ears close to the ground.

The other fascinating point to emerge after Wednesday's match - even though it has been strenuously denied - is that discussions were apparently held about Kenya's continuing participation in the tournament. In Bloemfontein last week only a couple of hundred spectators turned out to watch India trounce Kenya and some people started to wonder whether their presence in the Standard Bank One-Day Series wasn't undermining the whole tournament.

In the event Kenya stayed on and gave cricket in South Africa what should prove to be one of the best nights of the summer. The question, though, still remains: are triangular tournaments fatally flawed if one of the teams is demonstrably weaker than the other two? The answer in most cases is yes, but Kenya did themselves, and the series, an enormous favour by cashing in on what was a woefully inept Indian effort.

The result, almost certainly, will not affect the tournament as a whole. South Africa and India, you can bet on this, will be in the final at Kingsmead next Friday. But before then South Africa play Kenya at Newlands on Monday and if Cape Town manages to shrug off Currie Cup fever (or a Currie Cup hangover, whichever applies after this weekend) then there could be a sellout

Which is exactly what this series needs and, let's not be coy about this, which is exactly what South African cricket needs just at the moment.