Sunday, February 07, 2010

4-0 series win, but the real work awaits

After starting the year off in the worst possible way with the outright loss to Scotland in the Intercontinental Cup, Kenya have bounced back in the best possible way with a convincing 4-0 win in the 20-20 tri-series with Scotland and Uganda. Given that as little as two months ago, victory in any 20-20 game looked remote indeed as Kenya hosted and lost to Uganda 3-0, the emphatic nature of the series win has got to have boosted confidence ahead of this week’s World Cup Qualifiers in the UAE.

In Kenya’s first match, Maurice Ouma won the toss and elected to field. Uganda started belligerently scoring 30 off the first 10 overs before Nehemiah Odhiambo struck and from then on, Kenya looked in control of the match. Wickets fell at regular intervals with four of the Kenyan bowlers each picking up a brace as Uganda set a target of 123/9 off their overs. Though Nehemiah Odhiambo, newly promoted to opening the bowling in the absence of Odoyo and Ongondo took the book-end wickets, it was the spin department, especially Hiren Varaiya (4-1-9-2) who really impressed.

Kenya’s run chase was lead by a new opening pair of Steve Tikolo and David Obuya and it was an experiment that proved a resounding success every time. The pair put on 66 for the first wicket (Obuya for 24), and Tikolo went on to set a new Personal Best as he marched to 63 off just 44 deliveries to bring Kenya within touching distance of victory. Maurice Ouma (2*) and Alex Obanda (31*), himself hitting a PB of his own did the rest and the 3-0 series loss in December was part way towards being avenged.

Kenya’s second match should have seen stiffer competition in the form of Scotland, but the visitors were clearly unable to reproduce their form from the Intercontinental Cup as Kenya first restricted them to 109/9 – again with the spinners doing the damage: Shem Obado impressing in his first International graded match with figures of 4-0-10-2 while jimmy Kamande picked up 3/28.

Again Tikolo (46 off 28) and David Obuya (60 off 48) opened and again, it proved to be a masterstroke from Eldine Baptise as the pair raced Kenya to a 10 wicket win inside 13 overs. If you include Obado’s figures on debut, it was Personal Bests for four of Kenya’s players.

Kenya’s third match saw them bat first for the first and only time in the tournament and with Tikolo rested, Obanda moved up the order to join David Obuya (18) as opener. It proved to be a position he enjoyed as he made a new Personal Best of 43 off 24 to set up the rest of the line up for a big total. Maurice Ouma (39) and Collins Obuya (79* off 45) duly added their names to the list of Personal record breakers as Kenya went on to set a daunting 186 – easily the biggest total of the tournament.

Credit to Uganda who stuck to their guns in the run chase and for a while looked as though they might cause an unlikely upset. Another Kenyan debutante for the series, Nelson Odhiambo proved the difference in the bowling however as he ripped through the middle of the Ugandan innings to take 4/25 including the wicket of the dangerous looking Roger Mukasa (66). Tony suji chipped in with 2/25 and Jimmy Kamande executed two brilliant run outs to ensure Kenya finished victors by 14 runs.

Kenya’s second match against Scotland was very similar in result to their first, but it was yet another personal best and astonishing bowling performance from Nehemiah Odhiambo who took 5/25 as Kenya bowled out their visitors for 123. It is only the second time a player has taken 5 wickets in a full 20-20 international and a huge achievement for the player on whose shoulders the main bowling responsibility for Kenya now rests. Nelson Odhiambo also picked up 2 wickets while suicidal run outs accounted for the rest.

Again it was the Tikolo-Obuya show in reply and the two raced neck-a-neck to their 50s. Obuya (65* off 47) won that race by just one ball, but then continued to set yet another Personal Best at this level while Tikolo’s 56* off 42 was also a new personal record as again Kenya ran out winners by 10 wickets, this time with five and a half overs to spare. Note that the matches vs. Uganda were graded Twenty20 by the ICC whereas the matches vs. Scotland were graded T20Is.

All in all, the series was a great achievement for Kenya in the warm ups to the WC Qualifiers, but it is that fact that should remain as a stark reminder that the real work is yet to be done. Kenya play Scotland again today in a final warm up in Abu Dhabi, and on this form, should win again, but it will all count for naught if they do not get through to the final two in the qualifying tournament. If the players can continue to produce Personal Bests at this rate though, that should be a distinct possibility.