It was a tale of "so near yet so far" for Kenya in the opener of the four-nation LG Cup Series on Saturday in Nairobi. Most Kenya batsmen, on this day, lacked staying power. That prevented the team from setting up a challenging target for an all round side like Zimbabwe.
A total of 199 for 8 in 50 made the Kenyan bowlers' task tougher. Yet the Kenyan bowlers and fielders waged a spirited battle that lasted till the 50th over second ball. Zimbabwe, amidst excitement, reached home with three wickets and four balls to spare. In fact there was hardly any sign for such a dull scoring rate when Kenya's second wicket pair of Ravindu Shah and Steven Tikolo tackled the Zimbabwe attack with felicity.
Shah was the man, who set the pattern with some delectable cuts, drives and pulls. Tikolo played the second fiddle with admirable sense of understanding. The pair added exactly 100 runs before Tikolo was run out to a smart throw from Grant Flower. Tikolo made 33. Soon Shah (71, 100 balls, 11x4) also left putting up a return catch to Guy Whittal. His was a grand knock that laid a firm foundation for Kenya. But the batsmen who followed this pair just could not take any liberties with an eight-man attack that gave everything it had to frustrate the inexperienced Kenyan batsmen. Hitesh Modi (31 in 47 balls) showed some semblance of a fight back. But he could not do it all alone. His colleagues deserted him at regular intervals. Zimbabwe skipper Alistair Campbell who chose to field tried a novel method of making it an eight-man attack.
So many bowlers operating in a match is strange in One-Day International atmosphere. But then Campbell and his bowlers backed by splendid fielding succeeded in their effort to restrict the home team. They had thus given their batting line-up an encouraging asking rate of four runs per over to reach the target. Campbell, with his leg-spinners, took two wickets while Guy Whittal, an off-break bowler, got three for 29 in 10 overs. In general, all bowlers did well to maintain a nagging line and length and justified Campbell's decision to put Kenya in to bat. Zimbabwe's chase could be described in three phases.
Openers Neil Johnson and Grant Flower gathered 31 quick runs in only 5.2 overs before both of them were sent back in successive overs. Debutante J.Ababu took a wicket off his very first ball in international cricket. Johnson played the ball on to his stumps.
G.Flower was trapped leg before by Thomas Odoyo. There was slump in the scoring rate but the third wicket pair of Alistair Campbell and Murray Goodwin promised a lot. Campbell (27) was brilliantly stumped by Kennedy Otieno off Maurice Odumbe. (72for 3 in 19). Then came a spell of Zimbabwe dominance that ensured victory. Andy Flower (55,76 balls, 10x4) and Goodwin (76 not out, 105 balls, 12x4) added 109 runs by the 41st over before Flower fell to a catch by Ababu off Tikolo.
The score at that juncture read 181 for 4 in 40.2. Then began the drama. The Kenyan bowlers and fielders played their hearts out and Zimbabwe was in a mess losing three more wickets by the 49th over fifth ball. Zimbabwe heaved a sigh of relief when scored three runs off the second ball of the 50th over from Odoyo.