| The aggressive Aussies celebrate the fall of another New Zealand wicket on Tuesday. (AP/PTI)
These have been the most revealing days of the World Cup. The presence of Kenya and Zimbabwe as surprise Super Sixers seemed to compromise the showpiece end of the tournament, but now Kenya have brought romance to an event which was rapidly losing its appeal.
Their achievement of securing a place in the semi-finals is remarkable, given the limited talent available and the fact that the game is run by Asians and played mainly by Africans. Given the colonial history of Africa this is not surprising, but it does illustrate the difficulties of broadening the game’s base and sustaining its growth.
It would be nice to think that there would be parties on the streets of Nairobi tonight, but cricket has not caught on in the popular sense. The International Cricket Council missed a trick three years ago when the Champions Trophy, as it is now known, was staged in Nairobi.
There was no coverage on Kenyan television and ticket prices were absurdly high. If the game is to be properly developed, the ICC will have to do some underwriting otherwise Steve Tikolo and Maurice Odumbe, two of cricket’s finest, will still be turning out with their children, never mind their brothers.
Sadly, but unsurprisingly, crowds are sparse when they play for the public have not appreciated the distorted manner of their qualification. The West Indies should be here still and if South Africa were too, the party spirit would have continued.
Some South Africans have switched their allegiance to the Kenyans, talking of them as “we” and “us”. Others are now backing India, which nicely sets up the Durban day-night semi-final. There are a million Indians in Natal alone and playing at Kingsmead is usually like playing at home. This occasion was sold out months ago so the tribal fervour should, at least, make for a jolly night.
Momentum can be an irresistible force and since their humiliation against Australia a month ago, Sourav Ganguly’s Indian side have won six times consecutively.
They are rapidly becoming one of India’s best teams. Monday’s demolition job on Sri Lanka was even more profound in its way than the one done on the same opponents by the Australians last Friday. We knew Australia were ruthless, but we are just finding out about India. With a bit of luck these two countries will contest the final on a sunny day and a true Wanderers pitch.
The tournament needs something uncomplicated like that.
It appears India are the only team who could conceivably beat Australia, and even that is a long shot. On pitches in Port Elizabeth that in no way suit Australia’s all-out, aggressive style, both England and New Zealand had them in the coffin but could not find the nails.
No one would expect opponents to escape from the desperate position in which the Aussies found themselves on Tuesday, yet Shane Bond took six for 23 and lost. For all the talent, Australia are a champion team because of the strength of characters who never give in and, as they would admit if they were honest, don’t believe that anyone else is fit to lick their boots anyway. They are right. There is an off day to come but it does not look as though it will be here.
On Saturday Kenya get their chance to go up against the best and they will be amazed by the ferocity and intensity that greets them. Steve Tikolo, the captain, has made noises about his team deserving Test status. Going head to head with these Aussies might lead him to rethink.
Having said that, the Kenyans are under no illusions about the true reasons for their place in the Super Six — rain in Benoni, New Zealand’s fears of playing in Nairobi, and Collins Obuya’s leg spin against a shambolic Sri Lanka.
But they have upset big names before, notably the West Indies in the 1996 World Cup and India during a triangular tournament in South Africa last year. Bangladesh have managed this only once, and that in the dubiously motivated match against Pakistan at Northampton in the last World Cup.
Now Kenya have utterly outplayed Zimbabwe in a do-or-die situation, which brings them great credit. Three full member nations have fallen at their feet in this tournament, so Tikolo has a point when making comparisons. The truth, of course, is that neither Bangladesh nor Kenya should have Test status. Test cricket is another game and one which cannot afford to be undervalued.