Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hotly contested practice matches create headache for selectors

Perhaps it is not surprising that with one of the most competitive NPCA seasons for years, the recent Kenya squad practice matches have also created a real headache for the selectors and not a few of the incumbent team. Coupled with some of the performances in the league, the practice matches have thrown several new names into consideration for call ups, especially after Eldine Baptiste stated that there are no sacred cows in the team.

So far there have been two practice limited over games and two three-day games. Interestingly it is with the bat that most of the incumbents look safest with most underlining their credentials with centuries and half centuries. Considering that this has been Kenya’s persistent weak spot, this is heartening, even if the pitches were good tracks to bat on. In the bowling department however, all bets are off as a number of players have turned in performances to give them hope of selection while others have struggled to live up to reputation.

What is also interesting is that it is possible that the Intercontinental Cup squad will for the first time possibly contain different personnel to the ODI squad. How funds will affect this is yet to be seen, but there are certainly grounds for considering some variations for the different formats.

To the ODI matches first.

So far the standout player has been the veteran Steve Tikolo. He averaged 97 for the two games scoring 93 in his first game and 101 in the second. David Obuya hit the next highest number of runs, though it was his unbeaten 154 in the second game that made up for a disappointing 9 in the first. Both Nehemiah Odhiambo and Collins Obuya also scored centuries in the first game to bolster their chances of selection, though both failed to make double figures in the second game.

Alex Obanda (46 & 27) and Kenya skipper Maurice Ouma (23 & 42) both got starts and then failed to convert them while Rakep Patel (39 & 14); Thomas Odoyo (11 & 34) and Jimmy Kamande (30 & 8) will all feel they could have done better. Assuming that Seren Waters will be available, and given his recent form a near certainty for selection, this would give a batting line up of:
Waters, D Obuya, Obanda, Tikolo, Ouma, C Obuya. Neh Odhiambo

Then it becomes interesting. Odoyo and Kamande seem to be vying for an all-rounder spot, especially as Nehemiah Odhiambo returned figures of 9-1-43-2 in game 2 to underline his claim to being Kenya’s new number one all-rounder. His first game figures (7-0-53-0) were not nearly as impressive, but perhaps can be forgiven on the back of his century. Odoyo was impressive in the first game, though failed to pick up wickets (8-1-33-0) and was unable to bowl in game 2. Kamande was miserly in both and certainly did himself no damage with his efforts (9-2-36-1 and 7-0-31-1).

Leaving the all-rounder positions aside, choosing four stand-out bowlers will also be tricky. Several bowlers picked up wickets in both games, but were expensive in doing so: Nelson Odhiambo (4-0-23-2 and 4-0-24-1) is threatening to break into the team, but will need to tighten up if he is to be a genuine ODI bowler for Kenya. Alfred Luseno also took wickets, but again needs to concede fewer runs (8-0-64-2 and 9-0-51-2). Peter Ongondo as always can build pressure but looked a little off his best (8-1-55-1 and 5-0-40-1). Hiren Varaiya was aside from Kamande the only player who went for less than 6 an over in both games (9-0-43-1 and 9-0-53-0). Other than the established players, there were two new faces that stepped up to both take 3 wickets in an innings. Runish Gudkha finished with 5-0-35-3 in game 1 including the wickets of Collins Obuya, Steve Tikolo and Nelson Odhiambo. He did not play in game 2, but has certainly put forward his name for further consideration. Darshit Shah, a regular performer in the NPCA competition also only played one game taking 3/33 off 7 overs in game 2 again an effort that must also bring him into consideration.

Given their experience, it would be unthinkable to leave out both Odoyo and Ongondo and on current fitness, it would look like the latter would get the nod. If both Gudkha and Shah do both get a call up, then the 14 man ODI squad may look something like this:

Waters, D Obuya, Obanda, Tikolo, M Ouma, C Obuya, Neh Odhiambo, Kamande, Ongondo, Varaiya, Shah, Gudkha, Odoyo, Luseno with the batting line up staying fairly solid and the bowlers rotating.

Other bowlers missing out would be Elijah Otieno (6-0-45-0 and 8-1-65-1), Lameck Onyango (9-0-54-2 and 6-0-65-0) and James Ngoche (5.4-0-45-0 and 6-0-36-0). The only other batsmen missing out would be Peter Kituku (0 & 23).

In the 3-day games, it was again Tikolo who stood out as the pick of the batting scoring 253 runs at an average of 84.3 in his 4 innings including one century. Maurice Ouma showed his improvement at the longer format averaging 83 with top scores of 104 and 97. Collins Obuya was the only other batsman to score a century helping him to an average of 63.25 and David Obuya rounded out the 4 best performers averaging 42.

With Kenya needing at least 3 more batsmen, it now gets interesting. Again we will assume that Waters gets a call up and will play. Kenya’s next best performer in terms of average was Francis Otieno with 40.5, but this was from 3 innings, one of which was 6*, so while he puts himself into consideration, he will need to perform again in the upcoming 2 day game if he is to debut in Zimbabwe. Hiren Varaiya averaged 37, but only from 2 inning, one of which was 11*. He also was the pick of the bowling so would get selection for that alone anyhow. Jimmy Kamande averaged 34.75 but did score a 50 and with his experience and bowling will be an almost certain selection.

Boniface Otiko (Anjere?) averaged 28 but would probably be considered too inexperienced for a call up while Peter Kituku got a couple of starts but only one half century. Either player would need a good showing in the final warm up to justify selection. Alex Obanda also scored a 50 but other than that had several failures so must consider his place imperilled, ditto Odoyo who averaged just 13 from 3 innings while Nelson Odhiambo (15.5) and Rakep Patel (14.75) will also both want to do more to stake a realistic claim for the remaining spot.

Given the above it would look like Waters, D Obuya, C Obuya, Tikolo, Ouma and Kamande will make up the top 6 with one of the others fighting for the 7th spot and possibly one included as a reserve batsman.

On the bowling front, Hiren Varaiya and Peter Ongondo both pick themselves on their performances. Varaiya took the most wickets including one haul of 5/65 and 2 wickets in all other innings. Ongondo finished with 8 wickets from the two games with best figures of 4/26. Jimmy Kamande as I mentioned gets a spot as an all-rounder and was next best with 5 wickets alongside Elijah Otieno, probably the last automatic bowling selection, though his place is no means assured, especially if Odoyo is fit.

Lameck Onyango (4wkts) Alfred Luseno (3wkts) and Runish Gudkha (3wkts) were the others who will be pushing for selection with Gudkha the favourite as he only played one of the matches taking 3-14. Nehemiah Odhiambo picked up an injury so played a limited role so will also be in the running should he recover.

Pending performances in the final 2-day game scheduled for Friday, the Intercontinental Cup squad is shaping up something like:

Waters, D Obuya, C Obuya, Tikolo, Ouma, Kamande, (3 of F Otieno/Kituku/Obanda/Nel Odhiambo/R Patel), (3 of Odoyo/Neh Odhiambo/E Otieno/Gudkha), Ongondo, Varaiya.

Certainly interesting times in terms of selection and all to play for in the remaining 2 day game.

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