| Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly at Kingsmead Wednesday. (AP/PTI)
Durban: Even as the elements threaten to take centrestage Thursday, earmarked for semi-final No.2, Team India is drawing a lesson from Graeme Smith.
When World Cup 2003 began, Smith wasn’t even in the South African squad. As luck would have it, Jonty Rhodes’ tragic exit found him the beneficiary. Then, at the weekend, Smith got the national captaincy. Few cricketers, anywhere, have seen so much in five-six weeks.
Clearly, there’s a lesson: That nothing is permanent. Team India, therefore, isn’t taking anything for granted. Not Kenya. Not that challenger’s spot in the March 23 final at the Wanderers.
“Kenya is an underrated side, but their confidence has grown as the tournament has progressed,” remarked coach John Wright, suggesting the first-time semi-finalists be given the respect due to a round-of-four qualifier.
That’s reasonable. However, on paper, it’s such a mismatch. In fact, with injuries to key players, it has got worse for Kenya.
Even as top gun Maurice Odumbe took the slow road to recovery, from a hamstring problem, Martin Suji suffered a similar injury. Then, Kennedy Obuya’s right forearm is still sore and Thomas Odoyo’s groin problem isn’t exactly a thing of the past.
Eventually, of course, all four could take the field. Coach Sandeep Patil hinted as much when he said: “In the past, too, my players have risked aggravating injury... It’s not a new situation.”
Indeed, Kenya wouldn’t mind if the semi-final is rescheduled on the reserve day, Friday, allowing for more recovery time. It may come to that if even a truncated game — with the Duckworth/Lewis Method setting the agenda — isn’t possible.
Assuming the semi-final does get underway, on schedule, but both teams don’t face a minimum of 25 overs each, Friday will see the start of a fresh (day-night) match. The continuation bit has been erased from the playing conditions.
While one doesn’t wish to be uncharitable, it’s unlikely that even a super-fit Odumbe and Suji can do a Gwalior or Port Elizabeth. And, when somebody talked of those upsets (at Wednesday’s Media conference), captain Sourav Ganguly took him to the cleaners: “I’d rather speak of the nine Indian victories...”
Later, talking to The Telegraph, Sourav emphasised: “Five-six weeks ago, I told you about our hunger to succeed... Spoke about our desperation to win. At this stage, we won’t falter.” The captain, by the way, looked relaxed and emitted just the right signals.
As for counterpart Steve Tikolo, he sought to play down the pressure element and dismissed a suggestion that his team could straightaway choke on its biggest day. “At the end of it all, it’s going to be another contest between bat and ball,” he maintained. Tikolo is entitled to his assessment, but is a World Cup semi-final all that simple'
It’s not insignificant, perhaps, that India routed England at Kingsmead three weeks ago. Ashish Nehra did the starturn (six for 23) and the confidence gained by that 82-run win came in handy during the very next game, versus Pakistan.
Well, who will do a Nehra against Kenya' By Wednesday evening, there was a queue of contenders.
Meanwhile, though Sourav announced the XI would remain unchanged, inclement weather may bring Ajit Agarkar into the picture. The question mark, then, will be over Dinesh Mongia.
INDIA (as of Wednesday night): Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, Mohammed Kaif, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Mongia, Harbhajan Singh, Jawagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra.
KENYA (from): Steve Tikolo (captain), Maurice Odumbe, Aasif Karim, Alpesh Vadher, Ravindu Shah, Hitesh Modi, Brijal Patel, Martin Suji, Tony Suji, Thomas Odoyo, Kennedy Otieno, Joseph Angara, Peter Ongondo, David Obuya, Collins Obuya.
Umpires: Steve Bucknor (WI), Daryl Harper (Aus). Third umpire: Simon Taufel (Aus). Match Referee: Mike Procter (SA). Match starts: 6.00 pm (IST).