Friday, March 16, 2007

A good way to win

Kenya got their world Cup capaign off to the perfect start yesterday beating Canada by 7 wickets at Goss Islet in St. Lucia. I wrote a full match report on CricketEurope Kenya, so won't repeat myself here, but will concentrate on what the performance means to Kenya.
Firstly, what a great performance by the team. It was not the fact that they won, but the way in which they won. There may have been some concern over the lack of penetration from the opening bowlers, and they will no doubt face a stiffer test against the Kiwis and Poms, but they bowled well on the whole and did not let Canada get away in the early overs. Nehemiah Odiambo got the treatment, expecially in his second over from Geoff Barnett, and it will be interesting to see how Harper responds in terms of the third seamer for the match against New Zealand. He could either bring in Onyango or Bhudia or give Odhiambo a chance to redeem himself. It is a difficult decision as aside from the bowling, Odhiambo gives the option of a pinch hitter as well.
By far the most outstanding performance came from the spinners. Tikolo and Kamande both took two wickets to Varaiya's one, but it was the latter's economy rate that really made the difference as soon as he came on. Kamande provided fantastic support, and it was really these two that took the match away from the Canadians. With Tikolo as the third spinner, Kenya are looking good in the middle overs, especially if Varaiya is able to come on and bowl during the third powerplay as he did yesterday. It means that Tikolo has the option of only using the third seamer sparingly, or protecting him as was the case with Odhiambo. It might not be a combination that works so well against the Test sides, or on other pitches, but witht the St. Lucia pitch giving assistance to the spinners, it looks like a potent weapon for the moment.
My only real concern with the bowlers, other than the third seamer, is with the closing overs. Peter Ongondo tried to find the yorker without success and Odoyo bowled a good line, but while Canada were not able to capitalise, New Zealand and England are likely to be a very different story.
Fielding wise, Kenya looked like a polished unit. They were alert in the circle and quick enough to prevent singles. Only one catrch was put down, and Ongondo redeemed himself for that before too much damage had been done. In the outfield, the Kenyans were quick across the ground and threw themselves around to stop boundaries. Three players stood out for their efforts. Tanmay Mishra looked World Class wherever he was put, but it was his catch on the ropes to dismiss Barnett that was particularly special. Had he got it wrong, he would have given away a six, but he positioned himself perfectly, checked his position with respect to the rope, steadied, then took the catch cleanly high up. Fantastic stuff. The other two were Kamande and Varaiya off their own bowling. When a bowler covers a few yards either side of the wicket well, it gives the skipper less space to worry about in terms of placing fielders. Both did this well, and the rewards were obvious. If Kenya can field like this in the remaining matches, they will at the least win plenty of respect.
Batting wise, it was a clinical effort for the most part. David Obuya looked troubled by Cummins, eho eventually removed him, and it is a concern how he will fare against the likes of Bond. Maurice Ouma however shoed a touch of class in making his fifty and aside from the hoick that got him out played sensibly. Hopefully a sign of things to come.
Shah looked out of sorts, but is a classy enough player to find form again quickly. He will need to do so befoer we face New Zealand as he is a crucial part of the line up. Tikolo and Mishra did just what was neccessary, though both showed that had they needed, they could have stepped it up a notch. Tikolo's consecutive fours to bring up his half century were sublime and he showed again what a class act he is. Mishra responds well batting with his captain and once again provided a significant contribution to a Kenyan win.
All in all, this was a very professional effort from Kenya, and one they should be proud of. Sterner tests lie ahead, but if they play like they did yesterday, they will give any opposition a run for their money. If everything goes right, they could well even cause an upset, and it only needs one now to get them through to the next round. Here's hoping...

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Getting it together at the right time

Having narrowly lost their first warm up game to the Windies, Kenya were able to hold on to an even closer game against the Dutch in their final run before the World Cup starts in earnest against Canada on March 14th (15th if you are in Australia like me).
In both matches, Kenya scored in the region of 250 - a score seen by many as par for many of the new pitches in the West Indies. This is a very positive sign for Steve Tikolo's men as it shows that the batting is continuing to improve and importantly that players are finding form and building partnerships. In the 2 warm up games, the following batsmen have made decent scores:
Shah (41 v WI)
Tikolo (34 & 51)
Collins Obuya (54* & 33)
Suji (47 v NED)
Odoyo (73 v NED)
Basically, the middle order look like they are doing their job well, especially the combination of Odoyo and Obuya (and to a lesser extent Suji and Kamande) in the final overs.
A slight worry is still the opening pair. They did fantastically well in Nairobi and were a big reason that Kenya was able to win the WCL, but Ouma (10 & 4) and David Obuya (7 & 13) have not had great warm up games. They have both proved to themselves and everyone else in the past few months that they are capable of making decent scores and if Kenya are to cause an upset, they must rise to the occasion and provide the middle order with a decent platform.
Tanmay Mishra (22 & 4) has also not been his reliable self, but is of a class where he should be able to step up once the Cup proper starts. He scored a match winning 62 against the Canadians in Nairobi during the WCL, so can hopefully repeat that performance or go better when the teams face off in a couple of days time.
With the runs given to Malhar Patel and Tony Suji, it has looked as though the team have experimented with slotting in an extra batsman at number 4 and moving the rest down one which is interesting. So far, the batting has looked fairly solid, but we have on both occasions failed to bowl the opposition out. Bringing in Suji - he performed best out of the two, will be at the expense of a bowler and is this something Kenya can afford?
Leaving out Suji and the bowler for the moment, the team looks like this:
D Obuya
C Obuya
There will need to be a third seamer which will be between Odhiambo (the most likely on performances in the warm ups), Onyango (who has been expensive) and Bhudia (who has not bowled enough to suggest he is likely to play).
If we assume Odhiambo gets the nod - he also gives the option of a quick scoring bat, the battle for the final place is then between Suji - a batsman and Kamande - a spinning all-rounder.
This is a tricky decision. Suji has played well with the two chances he has been given making 16* batting at 9 against the Windies and 47 batting at 4 against the Dutch. Kamande has only had the one chance with the bat - a quickfire unbeaten 19 against the Dutch. Bowling wise, he went for 6 an over against the Netherlands, so one would initially think Suji would get the nod going purely on his batting form. This would however leave Kenya with only 5 bowlers, and against good batting sides, this is a big gamble. It means that there is no one Tikolo can turn to if one of them is getting a belting, a definite possibility with the likes of Pietersen and Taylor looming.
Importantly, Kamande is a spinner and there are two reasons why this is in his favour. First, the pitches in the West Indies seem to be holding up to expectations and taking spin well. Going into a game with three spinners capable of stifling runs and taking wickets would give Kenya an edge over the other teams in their group. Second, Tikolo is a great marshal of spin bowling. Possibly because he is a spinner himself, he seems able to really get the most out of the middle overs when Kenya need to slow the run rate and frustrate the opposition. This has been one of the team's strong points over the last 12 months and it would be wise to take advantage of it.
Finally, there is the fielding aspect. Kamande has always been a great fielder and his athleticism in the final of the WCL contributed a great deal to Scotland's uncertainly in the middle. The Obuya brother may have got the run outs then, but it was Kamande who put the pressure on with several great stops and two direct hits - one from square on. His presence in the field can only benefit the rest of the team just as Jonty Rhodes did for South Africa and Symonds does for Australia. For once, Kenya are faced with a selection decision based on good performances. It will be tough for Suji to miss out, but on balance maybe this is Kamande's turn.
Hopefully Kenya's bowlers will be able to do what they failed to do in the two warm up games and take regular and early wickets to put pressure on the opposition. Odoyo has looked in good touch so far and will be key. A couple of early breakthroughs from him will allow Ongondo to tighten the screws at the other end. It will then be up to the spinners to keep the lid on. Things are coming together at just about the right time for Kenya and if they should be happy with the preparations. There are just one or two final things to be worked on, but if the team all play to the potential they have shown, this could be a very exciting couple of weeks indeed for Kenyan cricket.