Kenya in Zimbabwe – Preview

Politics, coaching changes, and intercontinental rivalry. A clash of the minnows indeed, but the upcoming series between Zimbabwe and Kenya has proven already to be action-packed, and a ball has not yet been bowled.

The Kenyan team is expected to arrive in Zimbabwe in a matter of days, on February 23rd, and it is still unclear as to who will lead the home side onto the field. With Tatenda Taibu forced out of the picture on the heels of political unrest, racism, and death threats, the job of the Zimbabwean captaincy is available once again. It was thought that Andy Blignaut would assume the leadership role, but as he has stated that he wishes to first receive backpay for his services in 2005, the situation continues to be marred by uncertainty.

For Kenya, it is their first series under the guidance of coach Roger Harper, who signed on for the job in January. Harper, the former West Indies player and coach, has a big task ahead of him as he prepares his team for next year’s World Cup. This series against Zimbabwe represents Kenya’s first competitive action in months, and international series are becoming progressively harder to book for the 2003 World Cup semi-finalists.

The Players:

Kenya ODI squad: Steve Tikolo (capt), Kennedy Otieno (wk), Thomas Odoyo, Brijal Patel, Tony Suji, Peter Ongondo, Josephat Ababu, David Obuya, Nehemiah Odhiambo Ngoche, Alfred Luseno, Morris Ouma, Kalpesh Patel, James Kamande, Tanmay Mishra.

Late 2005 was the last time these two teams met, albeit with Zimbabwe titled as a second XI, and Kenya ran away with a 3-0 series win. That Zimbabwe ‘A’ side contained the likes of Heath Streak and Taibu, both of whom are absent for this rematch effort. That fact added to the consideration of the end result does not equate a happy prospect for the hosts heading into this matchup.

History proclaims Zimbabwe to be the comfortable top dog, winning 13 of 16 matches between the two and losing just once. Though, with things as they stand currently, history is irrelevant and can safely be discarded concerning predictions for the upcoming series.

Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) theoretically has a full pool of players to choose from, given that contracts were signed earlier this year. However, that there is still much to be settled in terms of backpay suggests that the reality is far different. Like Blignaut, it should be anticipated that other players would deny their services until these debts are paid out in full.

Such situations are not foreign to Kenyan cricket, however, as the players went on strike in 2004 following the withholding of payment due to them for their services in the 2003 World Cup. It has resulted in a prolonged period of inactivity and has been a disappointing follow-up to Kenya’s unexpected success at said World Cup.

It must be noted that there is more at stake than just a series win. Should Kenya defeat Zimbabwe in the upcoming series, they would leapfrog their African counterparts in the ICC ODI rankings. Aside from being a clear strike to Zimbabwean pride, such an occurrence would eliminate them from a Champions Trophy playoff spot.

It is believed that this reasoning caused ZC to attempt to shorten the tour from the initially scheduled five matches to three. Latest developments see the Kenyan authorities denying the proposal, having not been properly informed of it initially.

The series will proceed as a five-match set, and Kenya may edge to the stance as favourites in light of all these factors. The concept of team is what favours Kenya heavily. No individual has a particularly outstanding record against the Zimbabweans, and this is epitomized by champion batsman Steve Tikolo’s average of 22.30 – more than 5 runs less than his career mark. Still, Kenya’s teamwork is typically outstanding, and a greater level of cohesiveness tends to shine through despite the lack of match practice. Zimbabwe, lacking leadership and a settled player pool, find themselves entirely at the other end of the spectrum. This may well be the defining factor in the result of the series.

Cricket Web Players to Watch:

Kenya – Steve Tikolo
No squad has been named for Kenya, but it is safe to presume that Steve Tikolo will be the captain. The talisman of the Kenyan batting line-up, Tikolo has scored 1753 ODI runs for his country. Whilst his average is a moderate 27.82, he remains the major threat in any challenge Kenya would seek to mount with the bat. Tikolo has never shone against Zimbabwe, with just a solitary half-century in 13 international innings, but he will be keen to prove once again that he is indeed the best batsman outside of the Test-playing arena. Handy offspin has earned him 41 international wickets, and further the chances of Tikolo impacting profoundly upon this series.

Zimbabwe – Captain Joe Bloggs
Whoever is named to the helm of Zimbabwean cricket is in for a monumental task. The over-riding goal is clear – stay competitive. With a multitude of cricket fans anticipating that Zimbabwe to fail once again, if only in hope that Test status is fleeting, the new Zimbabwe captain bears the literal burden of the world and then some.

Zimbabwe has not won an ODI match since January of last year. They won two in a row against Bangladesh then, but went on to lose that series 3-2. It has since been a clear procession, with four margins of 100+ runs in defeat amidst seven such results between South Africa and New Zealand.

The task at hand is challenging, but there is surely no opposition other than Kenya that Zimbabwe would rather face. Though Zimbabwe has not played international cricket since September of last year, Kenya has been out of action since 2004. Such have been the difficulties for Kenya that the last ODI they participated in was against Pakistan in the last Champions Trophy. Pakistan won that game by 7 wickets, bowling out the Kenyans for just 94.

A most peculiar African derby sees two nations desperate for match practice as they press toward World Cup 2007. Politics and financial woes in the background, the onfield sport should be engaging, if not in the orthodox sense. Calls for Zimbabwe’s expulsion from the international sport grow stronger, and memories of Kenya’s presence in the international arena are fading. Both teams have points to prove and precise goals to achieve. We may not witness any thrilling, high-scoring run chases when Kenya meets Zimbabwe later this month, but for both countries, any cricket is better than none at all.

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