Durban, March 19: The hopes of a small nation have grown big; the hopes of a big nation have grown bigger. That puts in perspective the India against Kenya semifinal at Kingsmead tomorrow.
Both teams, of course, have had an exceptional World Cup. Surprise Super Six qualifiers Kenya are now shock semifinalists. India, on the other hand, took to the tournament low on confidence but have emerged the team to beat champions Australia.
“None of us has ever played a World Cup final.... The semifinal, therefore, is a big occasion for us. We’ll be giving more than hundred per cent,” promised Sourav Ganguly, bristling with confidence.
Yet, he quickly added: “In fact, we’ll have to be at the top of our game.... From this stage, there are no carried-over points, there’s little of the past.... Now, how we play the 100 overs is what alone will count.”
A damper, though, could be the weather. It poured from the afternoon (forcing Kenya to train indoors) and, last evening, Durban almost turned into Free School Street. Rain is forecast for the morrow as well and both Sourav and Steve Tikolo will have one eye on the weather.
Tikolo, who presented a bold front (“I’m not nervous...”), will have his other eye on the fitness of some key players. Incidentally, Friday is the reserve day.
Among the Indians, only Sachin Tendulkar — almost certain to bag the Man of the Tournament award — and Jawagal Srinath have experienced a World Cup semifinal (1996). In the Kenya ranks, the sole veteran is coach Sandeep Patil, a member of India’s 1983 World Cup-winning XI.
This afternoon, Patil was cool. “To repeat what I said the other day, I’m in an all-win situation.… I’ll be happy if Kenya win; equally happy if India win.... Being realistic, I know India will come real hard at us,” he said.
With good reasons, the pressure is on India. But, if the team plays to potential, Kenya will be blown away. Indeed, Sourav admitted India’s Cape Town (Super Six) performance was “only at 50 per cent”. Still, India won by six wickets, with Sourav leading from the front (107 not out).
Usually, the established teams are somewhat tentative when up versus a Kenya. First, the reputation factor weighs away. Then, the unknown element comes into play. Thankfully, India have already played (and beaten) Kenya in the last fortnight.
The semifinal won’t be about tactical innovations and such like. Rather, if India bat first, Kenya must watch out for the many cannons waiting to explode. And, if they are to set a target, Kenya will have to guard against the sniper-like accuracy of India’s new ball bowlers.
Team India, by the way, isn’t going to be short on glamorous cheerleaders. Besides some of the hottest stars from Bollywood, corporate bigwigs, too, are descending on this alluring port city. As for Kenya, wives/girlfriends have been allowed to join the history-creating squad.