| Sachin Tendulkar does stretching exercises during a training session at SuperSport Park in Centurion. (AFP)
Johannesburg, March 12: It was around 2.30 pm that Sourav Ganguly parked himself before the giant TV screen at the Food Court in the Sandton City Mall and whispered: “I hope God will be kind....” The Kenyan innings had just about started, coinciding with the Indian captain’s sushi lunch.
Some two-and-a-half hours later, as Maurice Odumbe smashed the winning runs in Bloemfontein, Sourav’s wish — of a semifinal with Kenya in World Cup 2003 — was fulfilled.
Yet, at that moment, the captain chose his words carefully. “Good cricket alone will get us past Kenya (in Durban, on March 20).... Of course, I’m happy for the Kenyans, specially coach Sandeep Patil,” he told The Telegraph, adding: “I’ll be calling to personally convey my congratulations.”
After stopping Zimbabwe at 133, the Kenyans got to 135 losing only three wickets. In the league stage, they had shocked Sri Lanka in Nairobi. This afternoon, they scripted the most glittering moment of their cricket. Clearly, Kenya doesn’t just produce long-distance champions, but cricketers who can almost go the distance.
Cricket in Kenya has usually been rocked by problems but, now, the steps can only be forward-taking. In any case, the Kenyans have already begun to learn. By captain Steve Tikolo’s own admission, making the Super Six was the sole objective. Once there, they began getting ambitious.
The Kenyans, however, have been lucky.
First, New Zealand declined to play in Nairobi and gifted four points. Then, Tikolo’s men indirectly gained when rain affected the West Indies versus Bangladesh match, forcing the more favoured team to share points. Having said that, the Kenyans deserved every break and took to the Super Six with an amazing 10 carried-over points.
It made a huge difference and, now, Bangladesh’s embarrassment is bound to increase. As Patil remarked the other day, the ICC must take notice of the Kenyan performances. From stunning the West Indies in Pune, seven years ago, they have actually come a long distance.
Collectively, after whipping Pakistan in Centurion, Team India had a double-prayer: that Pakistan shouldn’t make the Super Six, thereby eliminating any chance of another face-off in the tournament and, second, that the semifinal be against Kenya.
While the Australians settled the first bit by holding off England’s challenge in Port Elizabeth, the Zimbabweans did the rest. However, it will be risky underestimating Kenya, the first non-Test playing nation to make the semifinals in any World Cup.
Moreover, the Kenyans ran India very close in Cape Town last Friday.
The other semifinal, in fact the first (Port Elizabeth, March 18), will feature champions Australia and either Sri Lanka or New Zealand. Should India beat the Black Caps, in Centurion on Friday, Stephen Fleming’s team will head home unless the Sri Lankans (behind by half-a-point) can’t put it across Zimbabwe a day later.
Meanwhile, Sahara India Pariwar, sponsors of the Indian team, are arranging a chartered flight to carry Sourav and Co. home. “This arrangement will stay even if the team loses in the semifinals,” said Abhijit Sarkar, head of corporate communications.
The one difference, though, will be that the aircraft won’t then arrive with the Amitabh Bachchans, Anil Ambanis and Subrata Roys. After all, with everybody assuming India will make the March 23 final, a clutch of celebrities are expected on the (intended) March 22 flight from Mumbai to here.
Sahara, incidentally, is finalising felicitations at the two halts — Mumbai and New Delhi — before the chartered aircraft’s final destination: Calcutta, the captain’s home turf.