England v Kenya, Group C, St Kitts March 23, 2007

Nothing irrelevant about this showdown



A tour de force from Andrew Flintoff should be sufficient to overwhelm an opposition that mustered only 183 in reply to New Zealand's 331 for 7 © Getty Images

A week ago, England's indiscretions were the talk of the tournament. Now, however, like Freddie's Pedalo, they are at the very bottom of a sea of intrigue that has swamped the Caribbean. Bob Woolmer's murder, and the Chinese whispers that are accompanying it, make the exploits of six pissheads on a tropical island seem ever so slightly irrelevant.

And yet, there is nothing irrelevant about Saturday's showdown at Beausejour. As India prepare to join Pakistan on the World Cup scrapheap, England - the next-most flawed outfit among the big eight teams - prepare to take on the best of the rest, Kenya, in a must-win tussle. England should win against a side that they trounced by nine wickets in their only other one-day encounter, at Canterbury in the 1999 World Cup, but given everything that has happened in this week already, certainty is the one thing that they cannot bank on.

As the two teams don their black armbands to observe a minute's silence in memory of Woolmer, it will be a much-chastened Andrew Flintoff who lines up alongside his team-mates. Named and shamed for his excesses in the aftermath of the New Zealand match, Flintoff was dropped for England's unconvincing 51-run win over Canada on Sunday and stripped of the vice-captaincy to boot. If ever a week was designed to remind him of life's priorities, it was this.

A tour de force from Flintoff should be sufficient to overwhelm an opposition that mustered only 183 in reply to New Zealand's 331 for 7 on Tuesday, but Michael Vaughan, England's captain, was concerned about the impact that Woolmer's death might have on some of his players, particularly the likes of Ian Bell, who was nurtured as a teenaged batsman during Woolmer's stint at Warwickshire.

"We'll sit down and talk about what's happened and we'll have to get a feel for the mentality of the players," said Vaughan. "We're going to have to be strong as players and go out there and produce a performance. I hope the World Cup goes on to be an unbelievable tournament with some great games and the best team wins, but I think everyone will always remember this World Cup for one incident and rightfully so."

England's selection issues extend beyond the recall of Flintoff. Ravi Bopara, who came in as Flintoff's replacement, took 2 for 43 and made 29 from 30 balls against Canada, and he could well have done enough to earn a second outing, seeing as Jamie Dalrymple's form has collapsed since the tournament began. He made just 3 and 2 in the opening two matches, and has yet to take a wicket with his offbreaks.

Ed Joyce has also been under pressure at the top of the order, but is expected for now to hold off the challenge from the man he displaced, Andrew Strauss, while Michael Vaughan's knee, which caused yet another scare when he tripped in a pot-hole at Gros Islet on Tuesday, is not believed to be sufficiently sore to rule him out of the match.

For Kenya, Saturday's match represents a chance to emulate Ireland's achievement and secure a place in what is rapidly becoming a very depleted Super Eight. But though those hopes may seem realistic, Ravindu Shah, who top-scored for Kenya when they reached the semi-finals in 2003 and who made a classy 71 against New Zealand earlier in the week, was pessimistic about his country's hopes of progression.



'We are positive about our own ability, we have shown in the past we can perform' - Ravi Shah © AFP

"We always seem to be playing catch-up," Shah told the BBC on Friday. "After a big tournament we don't have quality cricket to follow up. Rather than progressing it's a stop-start situation. In the last four years we really haven't played any of the Test teams except Bangladesh and Zimbabwe so it's just nice to be playing against the best in the world."

Internal politics have disrupted Kenya's administration since that triumphant campaign four years ago, while the conviction for match-fixing of their former captain, Maurice Odumbe, also rocked the country's preparations for this tournament. But Cricket Kenya took sole charge in April 2005 and Shah believes that the upturn in fortunes could be around the corner. "To be fair, probably a new association needs time to put things in place so we're waiting to see how they go," he said. "We are positive about our own ability, we have shown in the past we can perform."

All the more reason why England, with their privileged set-up, will be wary of slipping up against a side with nothing much to lose on Saturday. Defeat in this match, and the team might just have to book an entire fleet of Pedalos to make their way home.

England (probable) 1 Ed Joyce, 2 Michael Vaughan (capt), 3 Ian Bell, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Andrew Flintoff, 6 Paul Collingwood, 7 Ravi Bopara, 8 Paul Nixon (wk), 9 Liam Plunkett, 10 James Anderson, 11 Monty Panesar.

Kenya (probable) 1 Maurice Ouma (wk), 2 David Obuya, 3 Ravi Shah, 4 Steve Tikolo (capt), 5 Tanmay Mishra, 6 Collins Obuya, 7 Tom Odoyo, 8 Jimmy Kamande, 9 Lameck Onyango, 10 Peter Ongondo, 11Hiren Varaiya

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo