As Kenya’s Football Premier League starts to look more and more like a reflection of the stock exchange this year’s title race boils down to a horse race with three teams , Mathare United on 52 points, former champions Tusker FC (50) and defending champions Sony Sugar (47) . Though Mathare United head the table that Sony Sugar and Tusker FC both have 3 games in hand on Mathare but any slip ups such as Tuskers’ barren draw away at Thika United last weekend could still see Mathare United claim their maiden Premier League title.
Mathare United will be looking to collect as many wins as they can from the remaining fixtures and hope that it gives them enough points to hang on to first place come the final reckoning and will be boosted by the victory they ground out away at Agro-Chemical in Muhoroni although they could very well lose their lead as they do not have any scheduled fixtures on Saturday.
Tusker only two point behind the league leaders will have a chance to put their misfortunes of the week before aside as they host relegation threatened Coast Stars at Nyayo Stadium this weekend. However that Tusker have not exactly been in flying form and the threat that looms of relegation that looms over their opponents means that this encounter will be more than a mere formality for a club that has not won the title in four years even with the relative strength of its resources.
Defending champions Sony Sugar host mid-table Homegrown, who are themselves on a 5 match unbeaten streak, looking to protect what slim chances they still have to defend their title. Going into the weekend matches on 47 points from 25 games, Sony Sugar surely cannot afford any slip ups if they are to prevent the race for the title becoming a two horse race.
On the other end of the table Gor Mahia will be looking to avoid relegation with victory against Mathare Youth who themselves will also be looking nervously over their shoulders as the season draws to a close. Relegation for the 1987 Mandela Cup champions, a possibility that at the turn of the century would have seemed laughable now looms large as ‘Gor’ as they are affectionately called by their loyal supporters lie 3rd from bottom on 26 points, but with the bottom of the table beig so congested with 6 clubs all within 5 points of each other an unbeaten streak with a few wins could prove just enough to keep Gor Mahia going for another season in the top flight
With the unavailability of middle order prodigy Tanmay Mishra from the team for what has been reported as personal reasons and fitness concerns hanging around the Swamibapa players considering their inactivity (under somewhat dubious and probably avoidable circumstances) many fans and pundits were wondering if this was one gamble too many, or some unexplainable burst of inspiration going into the first day of the Intercontinental Cup on Friday morning at the Nairobi Gymkhana. Besides that the team that was selected for this game was largely unchanged from the T20 World cup with the exception of Fast bowler Alfred Luseno’s restoration to the team in place of Medium pacer Rajesh Bhudia
Canada on the other hand with a largely new and inexperienced squad came into the match having been in the Kenya for about a week and having just about scraped a ten run win against a plucky Kenya ‘A’ side on Wednesday. Among the more high profile absentees from the team was regular captain and Ashish Bagai due to work commitments thus the team was led out by Sunil Dhaniram but with strong performances in the Intercontinental cup including a finals appearance in the 2006 edition they were certainly not intending to simply be rolled over by their Kenyan counterparts.
So into the match and having won the toss Canada’s opening pair,Abdul Jabar Chauwdry and Mohammad Iqbal set about building a solid foundation for their innings reaching 78 without loss partners seeind off new ball bowlers Thomas Odoyo and Peter Ongondo as well as scoring qiuck runs of Nehemiah Odhiambo and returning Fast bowler Alfred Luseno before the introduction of spinners Jimmy Kamande and Hiren Varaiya sparked an almost cataclysmic collapse with the score then sliding to 122/6 soon after lunch when Ashif Mulla was runout of the bowling of Varaiya. Jimmy Kamande took his four wickets in a run of 4/0 in his first spell as well as running out Ashif Mulla while Varaiya bowling from the other end was less succesful only getting among the wickets later on in the day. At this point it seemed Canada were going to be shot out for a small 1st innings total but stand-in captain Sunil Dhaniram and Umar Bhatti came together at the crease to see off the pressure applied by Kenya’s spinners and Lift Canada to 220, before the pair were split by a delivery from Varaiya. With Dhaniram falling to Varaiya on 78 (the highest score of the Canadian innings, Umar Bhatti battled on with Durand Soraine to take Canada to 26o before the seamers, Odoyo, Odhiambo and Ongondo returned to take the reaminig wickets for 3 runs and end Canada’s innings at 263 all out.
With less than an hour to play in the day it Canada struck back in the first over of Kenya’s first innings when Maurice Ouma lost his wicket to the very first delivery of Umar Bhatti to leave Kenya tottering at 0/1 in the first over. However Varaiya, sent out as night watchman, and David Obuya were able to steer Kenya through the last few overs of the day without any further damage at least not to the scorecard as Kenya reached 8/1 at stumps.
Having allready lost Maurice Ouma cheaply Kenya on the first day and with Tanmay Mishra unavailable there will be extra pressure on Kenya’s remaining top and middle order batsmen, namely Steve Tikolo, Alex Obanda,Collins Obuya, and allrounder Thomas Odoyo to perform in order to try guide Kenya to a useful 1st innning total if not a decent 1st innings lead. Canada on the other hand will be looking to try force early wickets in the morning having already broken Kenya’s opening partnership
Match Scorecard (Cricinfo)
With the two opportunities to shine against test opposition been and gone with some nightmarish results esp in the T20 World Cup in S.A. The focus for the Kenya cricket team must surely go back, for the time being, to at least proving that they are still the premier Associate nation. And one way they can do this is by putting together victories in their upcoming home Intercontinental cup matches against Canada (Oct 12-15th) and Bermuda in early November. The change of format from previous years means that everybody will play everybody in the round robin stage Ireland and The Netherlands have already set the pace with both sitting pretty at the top of the table it will be crucial for Kenya to get some momentum by closing out comprehensive victories in these two matches.
First up will be the visit of Canada, who will play Kenya in an Intercontinental cup clash before participating in a 3 match ODI series. Whearas Kenya have largely been dominant over the Canadians in the One day format of the game, the small matter of Canada’s 25 run win in Toronto last year, a win that in some ways pushed Canada into the final of that years Intercontinental cup while effectively ending Kenya’s own campaign, will surely play on the minds of our boys as they begin their campaign to win the one trophy that has strangely eluded their grasp since its inception.
The second match against Bermuda, scheduled for the beginning of November may be a less difficult encounter considering that the last time these two teams met in this competition Bermuda only escaped with a draw thanks to two days of wet weather after having their backs to the wall thanks to some incisive bowling from Kenya. A similar performance from Kenya’s bowlers and better weather should see Kenya wrap up an easy victory there. However easy as this may sound it will be important that Kenya do not allow for any complacency as any dropped points in this encounter could come back to haunt them when they embark on the more difficult tours to Netherlands, Ireland and Scotland later on next year.
Although Kenya go into these matches without a permanent head coach since the return of Roger Harper to the West Indies, the team will be managed by veterans Alfred ‘Boi’ Njuguna and Martin Suji, whose experience on the world stage will be vitally important for the confidence and stability of a relatively young national side. Whether they choose to continue with the seemingly dominant policy during Roger Harper of regularly throwing new young talent into the deep end , a policy that has uncovered potential world class gems such as Tanmay Mishra , Hiren Varaiya, and more recently Alex Obanda, or opt for bringing back older more experienced players who had been dropped such as pacemen Alfred Luseno, and Josephat Ababu will be one of the questions on many fans minds as they await the team’s next assignment with nervous anticipation.
Kenya’ s Rugby Union side went home from Madagascar where they finished credible third in the just concluded Africa. Now that they finished third in the tourney having beaten Ivory Coast, former world cup finalists in the third place playoff is indeed a credible effort but that they lost to perennial rivals Uganda in the semifinals seems to be a fact that most major media outlets made very little mention of. The Daily Nation for example while emphasising the many troubles that seemed to be unique to our boys in their preparations for the competition and provides a blow by blow report of Kenya’s 3rd place playoff win doesn’t even list the scoreline of the match played against Uganda. (By the way the match finished 24-12). While its good to show support to our national teams and back them wherever they go its really not in the best interests of the supporters to hide away from when the team actually gets beaten no matter how popular the said sport is.
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