Saturday, January 30, 2010

Valiant effort could not erase the debacle of Day 1

Kenya's copmetetive start to the cricketing year got off to a disasterous start as the team crumbled to 91 all out on the first day of the Intercontinental Cup match versus top of the table Scotland. Only 2 of the Kenyan batsmen Maurice Omua (20) and Collins Obuya (40) made it into double figures as the Scottish seamers ran rampant. It was a collapse that Kenya were to try valiantly to recover from throughout the rest of the match, but the damage had already been done.

Scotland's first innings produced 306 runs, but in truth the bulk of these also came from 2 batsmen: Qasim Sheikh who made 108 and Richie Berrington who contributed 80. Nehemiah Odhiambo spearheading the Kenyan attack took 3/60 and Elijah Otieno chipped in with 2/46 as Kenya toiled hard to get back into the game. Wickets from the usual areas in the spin department (Varaiya 1/38, Tikolo 1/45 and Kamande 2/31) helped the cause, but Scotland were very much in the ascendancy at the half way point with a lead of 185 over Kenya who had already lost Seren Waters not long before stumps.

Hiren Varaiya (pictured) was sent in as night watchman and played the part to perfection. Not only did he survive to stumps but batted on for the best part of day 3 as Kenya slowly but surely eroded the deficit. He faced a massive 237 balls for his career best 44 and though Collins Obuya (38) and Steve Tikolo (34) added quicker runs, it was his effort that provided the glue for Kenya's innings. Overtaking Scotland and setting a target needed someone to step up and make a big score and it was the Kenyan Captain, Maurice Ouma, who did just that making a career best 130 as Kenya set Scotland 109 to win on the final day.

Despite the 3 personal bests produced by the Kenyans in the second innings (Elijah Otieno also chipped in with 13 in a 51 run partnership with Ouma for the 8th wicket, it was never going to be enough and Scotland eased to victory with 8 wickets to spare.

Defeat is never easy to take and Kenya will certainly not be happy with allowing Scotland to take the full 20 points on Kenyan soil, but they should also take heart from how they continued to fight throughout the last 3 days. If the first innings was an illustration of all that is wrong with the Kenyan game - poor shot selection, a questionable line up and complete lack of application, the rest of the game highlighted the great spirit that this team has and produced some fine performances. Both Varaiya and Ouma played the innings of their lives to date and should gain great confidence from them. Collins Obuya showed his potential in both innings, Nehemiah Odhiambo bowled well for his 3 wickets and James Ngoche had a good spell for his maiden First Class wicket on the final day.

Question marks will remain over the team selection - Thomas Odoyo was ruled out at the time of squad selection due to injury, but was able to turn out for southern Rocks at the same time Kenya were playing Scotland. Word from Cricket Kenya is that the coach was unwilling to bank on a player that had broken down early in series before when not fully fit, but in hindsight, Kenya could have done with his talent with both bat and ball. He will surely be missed in the 20-20 World Cup Qualifiers. Peter Ongondo was also left out and while Nelson Mandela toiled hard, he perhaps looked underdone for this level of cricket. His time will come, but it does not look to be here yet.

Jimmy Kamande's spot as vice captain is also open to question as failures in both innings certainly did not help his team's cause, though as usual he bowled well. Shem Obado may well get a run in his place for the 20-20s, though who will be name vice captain is open to conjecture. James Ngoche bowled well in the second innings, but with Varaiya and Tikolo both able to offer proven spin options, perhaps an extra seam option could also have been preferred. Certainly it is odd that Luseno was included in the squad for just the Intercontinental Cup, but despite his pace, not used.

Today sees Kenya take on Uganda in the first match of the 20-20 triangular tournament and the hosts will be hoping for revenge from the 3-0 whitewash inflicted at the end of last year. Lets hope it is the 2nd innings mentality that is brought to the game, not the 1st.

More photos of the IC match will be posted on facebook shortly.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Big game for Kenya starts today

Kenya take on Scotland from today at Nairobi Gymkhana in what has become a must win match for the home side if they are to stay in contention for a finals spot come the end of the competition. Yesterday Afghanistan defeated Ireland – their first loss in the tournament since 2004 – to go top of the table with 43 points and Kenya must look to take a full 20 points to match this having already played one extra game.

Rain has hampered preparations for Maurice Ouma’s men, but they will still take the home ground advantage into the match and on balance will be the more experienced of the two sides that take the field. An exception to this, and it could be a telling one, is in the seam bowl department where for the first time in many years, Kenya will be without either Thomas Odoyo (injured) and Peter Ongondo (left out of the squad).

This leaves the seam responsibilities to Alfred Luseno, Elijah Otieno and Nehemiah Odhiambo. It is certainly an attack that has shown improvement over the last 12 months and especially since new coach Eldine Baptiste took the reigns, but will it have the experience to knock over the Scottish top order? Should they fail to do so, at least there is plenty of experience and quality in the spin attack that should feature all of Hiren Varaiya, Jimmy Kamande and Steve Tikolo, though youngster James Ngoche may also get a surprise cap.

With the bat, Kenya should have the quality to post big scores on a ground the batsmen are used to playing on. Seren Waters, David Obuya, Rakep Patel and Alex Obanda will all feel they have things to prove while Steve Tikolo has shown time and again he remains a star batsman.

Scotland come into the game with a relatively inexperienced side, several of whom have not yet played in Kenya so the home side will be hoping to turn this to their advantage and put on early pressure. While they do not have the experience, there is no doubting the quality in the Scotland camp and they too will start today looking for a win. Majid Haq, Kyle Coetzer and Qasim Sheikh are all potential match winners on their day and Scotland too have high aspirations this year in a competition they last won in 2004.

Weather permitting, it should turn out to be a great match. There has been some build up among Kenyan cricket fans and despite the match happening on work days – why they could not have scheduled the start for a Sunday, only the ICC know – there should be a few supporters at the ground to cheer their team on. Here’s hoping that 2010 gets off to a better start for Kenyan cricket the previous year…