| Brijal Patel hits a six as Adam Gilchrist watches during their tri-series tie in Nairobi Thursday. (Reuters)
Nairobi: Kenya stretched Australia to the last over of the match before the world champions squeezed out a five-wicket win with five balls to spare in the final league match of the triangular tournament Thursday.
All-rounder Shane Watson hit an unbeaten 77, including two sixes, to secure victory after Kenya had scored a spirited 204 for nine. Off-spinner Nathan Hauritz also chipped in with a decent performance, taking four for 39 off ten overs.
Australia, who rested several players for this game and also reshuffled their batting order, play Pakistan in Saturday’s final. Australia finished their group engagements with four wins from four games, while Kenya failed to register a single win. Pakistan won two and lost the other two.
Watson stepped out to bat after Australia had lost Jimmy Maher and Michael Bevan, both to pace bowler Thomas Odoyo, in the space of three runs to slump to 27 for two. Watson, though, added 79 with Andrew Symonds for the fourth wicket to secure victory.
Few would have given Kenya a chance after Australia had dismissed them for 84 in their first meeting of the tournament. But, after winning the toss Thursday, they came up with a spirited performance. Maurice Odumbe scored a 54-ball 55 batting at seven to claim the Man of the Match award. He hit seven fours.
“Kenya’s fielding was outstanding. Overall, it was a terrific performance by them,” Australia’s Adam Gilchrist said. Kenya lost early wickets in their innings, with David Obuya falling in the second over, bowled by Andrew Bichel for a duck with just a run on the board.
Kenya slumped to 46 for three, Brett Lee accounting for James Kamande and Watson sending back Kennedy Otieno, before Steve Tikolo and Brijal Patel stabilised the innings with a fifth-wicket partnership of 65.
Patel made 42, with six fours and a six, before he was run out. Tikolo made 35 before falling leg-before to Shane Warne. Odumbe’s fine innings came to an end in the 48th over when he lifted Hauritz to Matthew Hayden at long-on.
Australia rested strike bowlers Jason Gillespie, Glenn McGrath and captain Ricky Ponting, who suffered a slight injury in the leg against Pakistan Wednesday, for this match. Even then, the Aussies made early inroads into the Kenyan line-up, with Lee, Bichel and Watson doing the damage.
The Kenyan batting order, handicapped severely in the absence of Ravindu Shah and dilapidated with pillars Odumbe and Tikolo having a poor run, still managed to stitch together a recovery of sorts with the captain and Patel getting among the runs.
The overall run-rate was not too disappointing and the home team gained significantly through the meaningful contribution made by Odumbe. The former skipper ended a series of poor outings with a kind of innings that had accorded him the status of one of the most promising non-Test playing batsmen in the World Cup of 1996.
It was not an innings too high on quality, but the effectiveness of the effort was beyond suspicion. Odumbe, very much a free-flowing stroke-maker in the mould of the Sri Lankan maverick Aravinda De Silva, stroked his way to a fine half-century. His innings lifted Kenya to their first notable total in the entire tournament after a string of dismal outings and left Australia with something to chase.