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Kenya, handle with care

Cape Town, March 6: The World Cup 2003 format is such that Kenya could make the semi-finals without winning even a single Super Six game — assuming, of course, that New Zealand and Zimbabwe both lose two of their three matches.

Sounds bizarre, but with 10 carried-over points (from the league stage), Kenya actually take to the Super Six with a muscular look. Reason enough for India to treat tomorrow’s game with care. India’s carried-over total is eight.

“It’s an all-gain situation for Kenya and, so, we can’t afford to take them lightly. Doing so will be a big mistake,” acknowledged Sourav Ganguly, the Indian captain. In any case, the Kenyans — currently coached by the debonair Sandeep Patil — have upset India twice in recent years.

Patil, who has ensured his team has enough candies for player-turned-commentator Navjyot Singh Sidhu to lick, is looking at adding to the “statement” already made. Talking to The Telegraph this morning, Patil said: “Be it Holland, Namibia or Canada, all are delighted that we’ve made a statement on their behalf as well... That we’ve proved a point.”

Yet, Patil (India’s coach for six months in 1996) is aware of the big ask that lies ahead. “We would like to take that half-step forward, but the Indians pack too many guns... That we’ve beaten the 1996 champions (Sri Lanka) has upped our confidence, but...”

The presence of that doyen among coaches, Bob Woolmer, at the morning nets must have enhanced the Kenyans’ confidence. A Capetonian for a number of years, Woolmer had customary words of advice, but also picked India as “second favourites (behind Australia)” to take the World Cup home.

Asked whether his tips were specific or general, Woolmer guffawed: “I just told (captain) Steve Tikolo that he and his players should enjoy themselves and give it all they have. They have nothing to lose.” Woolmer, by the way, has been associated with an ICC (high-performance) programme aimed at sharpening the emerging countries’ skills.

Sourav, for his part, is convinced full (four) points and India’s path towards the semi-finals will be facilitated. Already within sniffing distance, the team looked mean and hungry at this afternoon’s workout. Left to coach John Wright, he would have described the session as “not lacking in intensity”.

Indeed, the one point he has been drilling home over the past few days has been simple: Respect Kenya and treat the match as you would a knockout game.

The last India-Kenya meeting (Bristol) in a World Cup, though, had seen little respect from either Sachin Tendulkar (140 not out) or Rahul Dravid (an unbeaten 104). So destructive was their partnership that W.G. Grace, whose statue adorns the ground, would have applauded up in heaven.

A similar effort and the Patil-Tikolo combine will have to begin heading towards the nearest sorcerer.

According to the tournament’s executive director, Ali Bacher, the second (day-night) semi-final in Durban on March 20 won’t be rescheduled into a day affair.

“There are good reasons why a change can’t be effected,” he informed today.

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