Kenya’s national cricket team have been in The U.A.E for most of the last fortnight. They were there on the urgent business of breathing new like into their faltering World Cup Qualifying and Intercontinental Cup campaigns. The opponents on this tour would be Canada. A team with even dimmer hopes of success in these competitions than, Kenya, but one that Kenya has struggled to dispatch from time to time. As it was, Kenya swept the ODI World Cup Qualifiers and took a maximum 20 points in the 4 day Intercontinental Cup tie. The only blemish being sharing the largely inconsequential (in the sense that only pride was at stake) t20 series 1-1.
The ODI And intercontinental cup wins were built on the back of several individuals sticking to their strengths in spite of the fact that they ran counter to popular perception of the best way to in about being successful in the various forms of cricket. I’m going to highlight 3 in particular. Irfan Karim, Rakep Patel and Nehemiah Odhiambo.
I’ll start with Irfan. The first time this blogger heard about him was from the captain of my high school cricket team, who couldn’t stop raving about this kid he had seen in a rival school that had mastered all all the stuff that we were still coming to grips with in the school senior team. Since then he’s popped up from time to time on this blog as I’ve covered Kenya’s youth team. Together with Emmanuel Bundi and Lucas Oluoch, he represents the best of Cricket Kenya’s nascent youth development programme. From there, it was his break out season as the anchor of the championship winning Coast Pekee batting lineup and straight into the Kenya team against Ireland in September of last year. Throughout, his batting method has defied the popular trend of explosive, hyper aggressive ‘modern’ One Day openers. It has been more of a slow yet, certain accumulation of runs built on staying in and staying in and staying in. Yet it was that patience and composure that was so key in Kenya’s opening ODI win against Canada. A patient 65 anchored Kenya to a wicket victory 6 win. The 2nd match saw a more aggressive Karim, but more importantly it saw him rewarded with his maiden One Day Century, as Kenya overcame a helter skelter start from the Canadians to close out a second 6 wicket win.
The second player I’m looking at is rather different. A product of the Kanbis Cricket Club, Rakep Patel, has been in the national squad for several seasons, yet his obvious talent has yet to be harnessed as he has only really started to get a defined role within th team. Coming in on the back of several years of topping the NPCA runs charts, he has seen himself plugged into pretty much every gap in Kenya’s batting schemes without ever really settling to a set role. On this tour, he was batting in the middle order, and though in the one day games were a foregone conclusion by the time he came in to bat, his intervention in the 1st innings of the intercontinental cup was as game changing as any I’ve witnessed in a 2 innings game. Canada were on a high, having squeezed an extra 112 runs out of their last 3 wickets of their 1st innings, and the Kenyan innings was starting to wobble when he came out to bat at No. 5. Conventional wisdom says in that situation the smart thing to do is, consolidate, take it easy, get your eye in (says the cricket jargon for it) and so on. Rakep on the other hand, in partnership with Tanmay Mishra, attacked the Canadian bowling right from ball number one, and just like that Kenya’s score went from 91/3 to 201/3. The best part of the innings was it wasn’t just a quick 6 and out affair. Rakep kept going and going, crossing the magic 100 run mark in 103. When the Canadians finally it him out for 130, the momentum had totally shifted in Kenya’s favour, setting up the third player I’ll look at’s intervention as Kenya rode the psychological blow struck by that innings to victory.
The player in question is Nehemiah Odhiambo. Making his debut in the national team in the first days of the new Cricket Kenya administration, he has slowly evolved into the leader of Kenya’s pace bowling battery, inheriting the job from such legends as Thomas Odoyo and Peter Ongondo, during a difficult time resultswise for Kenya. Given the time that was remaining in the game, even in light of Rakep’s earlier intervention, the smart money was Canada to escape with a draw, and Kenya to rue another poor result. Not on Nemi’s watch though. Leading from the front, he skewered the Canadian batting to come away with a career best 5 wickets for 45 runs bowling performance. From there Kenya’s victory was assured and though a finals appearance in the Intercontinental Cup is still 2 wins and several doses of good luck away, with bowling like that Kenya should go into their final games against Afghanistan and Scotland with greater confidence.