For India, amateurs with attitude | india | Hindustan Times
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For India, amateurs with attitude

Their best batsman began playing his cricket with corn cobs for balls, and bats carved out of any piece of wood he and his friends found.

india Updated: Mar 18, 2003 12:11 IST

Their best batsman began playing his cricket with corn cobs for balls, and bats carved out of any piece of wood he and his friends found. Their ace leg-spinner is used to holding spherical red objects — he makes his living selling tomatoes; cricket is a hobby. And when the ICC asked them to furnish a list of 30 names for the World Cup, they could manage to send just 21.

That is the team India play in the semi-final at Durban on March 20. It is also the team that has beaten Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe in this tournament, and Australia took a standing eight count against them. It’s easy to underestimate Kenya. It’s possibly foolish as well.

Cricket was a white or Asian sport in Kenya till not very long ago. Young blacks like captain Steve Tikolo, who lived in low-cost housing across the roads from the stadiums, would watch the game and then play their own version of it outside the ground.

Even the graduation to tennis ball cricket was tough: several friends had to save to buy a ball. Come to think of it, their advance to the World Cup final has been easier — once they got their gear.

Kenya, as their shirts will tell you, don't have a sponsor; and players like leg-spinner Collins Obuya earn just about $1,000 from cricket, and even at 21 find it difficult to continue in a game that doesn't pay. “That is the problem with Kenyan cricket,” Maurice Odumbe told the Hindustan Times. “There is very little incentive for people to keep playing.”

His colleague Asif Karim has been quoted as saying there are “25 cricketers in Kenya”, which, according to those who are familiar with Kenyan cricket, is only a slight exaggeration. The Kenyans, however, have made the best of what this Cup offers.

There were rumours about their contracts not being renewed (which sounds absurd: if you end the contracts of the 16 playing in South Africa, you are left with about nine Kenyans to whom you can offer contracts).

No one knows what the Kenyan board will eventually do, but the team is assured their biggest pay-check ever ($4,00,000) even if they lose in the semi-finals.

And India is assured a game.