<
>

Collins Obuya proves Kenya's worth

In a match billed to be between a flyweight and a heavyweight, Kenya managed to go the distance, avoiding their widely predicted fate of embarrassing failure against the champions Australia, who are undefeated in 32 World Cup matches.

A 60-run defeat may not seem much to crow about, but for a team whose senior-most player said a day before the match that the country's cricket is at its lowest ebb, and one which was coming off a loss in the one match their captain was expecting success in, against Canada, it's a worthy achievement.

Australia dominated the match but there were pockets of joy for Kenya, who have had so little to cheer since the tournament began. "It was good to see the boys having fun out there, which is the most important thing as a sportsman," their captain Jimmy Kamande said after the match.

Their celebrations on taking wickets highlighted how much they were enjoying themselves, not satisfied with mere high-fives, they resorted to jigs with team-mates and Kamande himself was jiving after dismissing Brad Haddin. Even when Australia were past 300, their spirits weren't dampened: fast bowler Nehemiah Odhiambo had a huge grin after beating Michael Clarke with a slow bouncer in the 47th over.

Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of their performance with the 264 they managed in the chase. Kenya's batting in the initial matches of the tournament had been so miserable that even against fellow Associates Canada, Kamande only set his side the modest aim of batting out 50 overs. That compared with their task against Australia of facing the fastest attack in the tournament, with three men capable of hitting 150kph, to say nothing of heads and toes.

The contest between Australia's new-ball operators and Kenya's tottering top-order was potentially going to be the best advertisement for excluding Associate nations from the World Cup. Instead, it provided the most thrilling example of Kenya's defiance.

The recalled opener Alex Obanda blocked a few deliveries before latching on to a short and wide one from Shaun Tait and hammering it over the third-man boundary for six. That left Tait nonplussed, and there was more chin-scratching for the bowler when Obanda clobbered a slower ball into the stands beyond long-on.

When two wickets went down in the first Powerplay, and worries that Kenya's ability to resist resurfaced, Tanmay Mishra kept it going, beginning with a six and a four off Steven Smith. His parents had flown down from Nairobi, and his brother, who studies in Bangalore, provided vocal support as for an hour and a half as Mishra and Collins Obuya were barely troubled by the Australian spinners.

Obuya had begun slowly, but after his century stand with Mishra ended, he pulled out the big shots as well, smacking Shane Watson into the crowd three times. Along with the belligerent Thomas Odoyo, Kenya ransacked 114 runs at more than seven an over.

Even with the late-hitting the chase was never on, but the interest was sustained till the final delivery. A powerful pull for four followed by a crashing drive past extra cover off Mitchell Johnson in the penultimate over, left Obuya needing four more to reach a maiden one-day century. He only got the strike on the fourth ball of the final over, and finished on an unbeaten 98 as Tait delivered a yorker to finish the innings.

"I'm very proud of the innings against the world champions," Obuya said. "It is very great to score runs against them, and a not out makes it even better. I'm wanted a century very badly, but I'll settle for 98 each and every day against Australia."

To be sure, Australia were never really in danger of losing, but Kenya gave the surprisingly healthy Chinnaswamy crowd of 13,600 - with their natural sympathy for the underdog, and joy at seeing Australia labour - plenty to shout about.

Kamande was satisfied with the improved show though he rated the series win against Afghanistan last October higher. "At the end of the day, it's about the matches that you win, not just the performances you give out there," he said. "A good show from most of the lads. The important thing is that we keep improving every match."

The improvements haven't yet secured a victory for Kenya, but they have a chance to bow out of the tournament with one when they come up against a more evenly matched opponent in Zimbabwe next Sunday.