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May 18, 1999

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Kenyans flatter to deceive

Prem Panicker

The class of Darren Gough stood between England and severe embarassment, as the hosts met Kenya at Canterbury in their second league outing today.

Anchored by the free-flowing strokeplay of Steve Tikolo, the 500-1 outsiders coped easily with the openings spells of Gough, Austin and Mullally, weathering an early setback to post a national record 107-run partnership for the second wicket.

England, which dropped Adam Hollioake for off spinner Robert Croft -- the buzz being that the change was on the 'naughty boy' lines, with Hollioake being disciplined for some transgression -- found themselves completely unable to break through. Ravindu Shah (46 off 80) played with exaggerated caution but Tikolo was pure class, especially in his driving on the off. The best drivers in the game are known for the smooth extension of their arms into the shot, and Tikolo's (71 off 107) is an exemplar.

Tikolo had impressed in the 1996 World Cup, but between then and now, he's taken several giant strides forward -- perhaps his stint in South Africa's domestic circuit, where he plays for Border, has something to do with this.

Alec Stewart gambled big time by bringing Darren Gough on for a second spell in the middle overs, after the second wicket pair weathered 23 overs of the best that England could throw at them. It was a more desperate gamble than most because the England spearhead had looked a touch lacking during his first spell, and had he not managed to strike, Stewart would have been left without enough overs from him at the death.

Gough, though, ensured that all those ifs remained theoretical as he forced Shah to inside edge a drive, Stewart diving to his left to take a good catch. An over later, a reverse-swining delivery starting from outside off and seaming through the gate got rid of the dangerous Maurice Odumbe and England had been saved some serious blushes. Gough then came back at the death with some laser-guided yorkers -- the England quick does get them in the spot more often than not, wicked reverse swing making the deliveries even more lethal.

Kenya's inexperience showed in the way the middle and lower order failed to capitalise on the solid platform their second wicket pair had given them. England, which on the day impressed in the field, added to the pressure when Fairbrother produced a great direct hit, from backward point, to throw out Hitesh Modi at the bowler's end.

Tikolo, watching the procession from the other end, then produced his only false shot of the innings when he tried to steer Mark Ealham off his legs, the slower ball forcing the leading edge to mid on. Thomas Odoyo, no respecter of names and reputations, pulled Mullally fiercely over the square leg fence in a nice little cameo of 34, but Kenya's 203 was at least 25 short of what they should have got, batting the way they had, against this attack.

Having said that, Kenya among the three associate nations on view thus far are easily the most talented with the bat, their strokeplay having an almost Caribbean touch to it. Understandable, perhaps, given that their coach is the classy Alvin Kallicharan.

Looking at England's performance with the ball, it is hard not to foresee problems when they go up against South Africa, India and Zimbabwe. Gough is obviously classy, and Mullally has his odd good moments (though in the case of the left hander, I would back both the Indians and South Africans to pick him off easily off their pads). But Austin opening the attack looks pedestrian, and effectively eases the pressure Gough tries to build up at the other end; Ealham appears a journeyman performer at best, and neither Hollioake, nor his replacement of today, Croft, seem capable of applying brakes on any decent batting side.

When England batted, neither Stewart nor Hussain lived up to their billing against an attack that bowled well in parts, but overall was too erratic to apply any kind of sustained pressure.

Hussain, in fact, is liable to be the weak link up the order. His timing is shot, his footwork non-existent, and the way he kept cutting at deliveries that seamed in -- and time and again, either edging to third man or seeing the ball flash past the stumps -- indicated that he was not reading the movement particularly well. (After the rain interruption, when play resumed, Hussain started throwing his bat around a bit more and looked rather more fluent, but at the start of each of his two outings thus far, he hasn't given room for any optimism).

On the plus side, Hick is looking better with each successive outing, strokes flowing freely from the moment he comes out to bat. And that gives the side a huge advantage -- a Hick in form is a guarantee of solidity, and rapid run-getting, up the order.

Rain interrupted the England innings at 106/1. And speaking of rain, it does raise a question about the way this tournament is being organised.

After every single game thus far, we have seen spectators rushing onto the ground and jostling the players -- Azhar and Dravid in fact came in for some heavy-duty jostling after their game against South Africa at Hove. The Australians have had their share of being pushed around. And a day before, we had the spectacle of two streakers parading their wares for a full three minutes with nary a securityman in sight.

The other day, the third umpire was called in to adjudicate on a stumping -- and it was discovered that the fixed line cameras, installed at considerable expense to give the third umpire a clear view, had not even been switched on!

Now if either of the two things had happened in India or Pakistan or Sri Lanka, there would have been an international outcry. In England, apparently, it is alright if organisation is non-existent. before schedule. And the two umpires, Rudi Koertzen and K T Francis, added those eight minutes to the scheduled 45-minute lunch break instead of minusing it!

We will brief the umpires about it, says Tim Lamb. Oh well, better late, I guess, than never.

And still they talk about the awful conditions in the sub-continent!


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