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Don?t underestimate these men

There was a feeling of the unreal and a sense of inevitability at the Centurion on Wednesday.

india Updated: Mar 12, 2003 23:58 IST

There was a feeling of the unreal and a sense of inevitability at the Centurion on Wednesday. Though the Indian team was at the ground to prepare for the Super Six match against New Zealand, their minds were focussed on the Zimbabwe-Kenya encounter.

As the news filtered in that Kenya were well on their way to an upset which would stun a sceptical cricketing world into silence, the Indians began to rejoice.

By the time John Wright sat on the chair to address the huge Indian press corps, it was becoming clear that India's likely opponents in the World Cup semi-finals would be Kenya. It also a measure of the cynicism with which the hardcore Indian fan is treating the Kenyan fairytale in this Cup, that most have taken a place in the final as a matter of norm.

Though the questions being asked were on India's chances against New Zealand and whether this would be a "grudge" match, at the back of most minds was the comfortable reality that India might already be through to the final.

Finally, Wright was asked the question ---- was India happy at the thought that they would probably face Kenya in the semi-final?

The overly cautious, low-profile Wright, generally given to understatement, broke into a huge grin, a surprise in itself, and said: "We are not thinking about who our semi-final opponents will be. We are thinking of winning that game." And then came words of caution: "We should not forget that Kenya gave us a scare. It was a much closer game than the scores would suggest. They are doing very well in this tournament and we should not fall into the trap of believing that it will be an easy match."

Wright made his point. The Indians played badly against Kenya in Cape Town last week and one of the reasons for their almost losing that game was their overconfidence. When complacency sets in, anything can happen.

No one should forget that the team we are going to play, is one that has made the semi-finals not by default, but by playing good, entertaining cricket. Had the Kenyan spinners not bowled long hops and half-volleys at a crucial stage --- when India were not yet out of the woods ---- the story of that match could well have been very different.

Wright, who knows his side as well as anyone, should also have added that Kenya has twice beaten India. And that one of those wins came here, in South Africa.

When Kenya qualified for the Super Six, most experts felt that the Cup had been devalued. The fact that Kenya had made it because New Zealand forfeited a match received more attention than the fact that Kenya had beaten Sri Lanka in their league encounter. Now that they have made the semi-finals, there should be an end to this talk of their not being worthy of a place in the top four.

And what’s being written about them obviously rankles. "When we made the Super Six, people did not give us the credit for doing so. I hope that with today's win here, we have proved ourselves again and will now be given the credit for what we have achieved," Kenyan captain Steve Tikolo said after they beat Zimbabwe and ensured they filled that third semi-final slot.

Let us not take any credit away from Kenya. With a string of fine performances, they have breathed new life to a World Cup, which, barring a few exceptions, has been a series of one-sided, mediocre encounters. And Kenya was not the most prominent of the sides to figure in those.

Let us instead, welcome the arrival of a new force into the world of cricket's elite. Not undermine a great achievement, both cricketing and historic.

First Published: Mar 12, 2003 23:58 IST