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The dream is still not over

Lights, camera, action and ? welcome to the glamour world of international cricket. For all their lives, the Kenyans have wistfully watched cameramen chase the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Adam Gilchrist.

india Updated: Mar 18, 2003 00:43 IST

Lights, camera, action and … welcome to the glamour world of international cricket. For all their lives, the Kenyans have wistfully watched cameramen chase the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Adam Gilchrist.

When the World Cup began, they were the nowhere men, just in the competition to make up the numbers. Not any more. Today, they are the real stars - being chased and sought after by a media desperate to know something about them so that the story of Kenyan cricket can be pieced together and told to a largely admiring world.

The theme is much the same. Does anyone know what this bloke Asif Karim looks like? Will Steve Tikolo talk? What about Ravindu Shah, let's try and talk to him --- he seems to be their most accomplished batsman.

Why not their leg spinner Collins Obuya, he really bowls well yaar…

The team hotel is swarming with mediamen and everyone wants either a soundbyte from the Kenyans or a few quotes. The Indian players, staying in the same hotel, are in the strange position of being almost ignored. The Kenyans are the flavour of the day.

The most familiar face in the lobby is that of India's own Sandeep Patil. He is the Kenyan coach and, is understandably, revelling in the attention.

"I have talked non-stop for two hours since morning and am likely to lose my voice anytime now. And if that happens, I will blame the India media for our loss in the semi-finals,'' says Patil in jest. Someone immediately quips: "You can then sue the India media.''

Patil, who has had a brush with the glamour world of films during his playing days, says the "reality has just not sunk in. Not yet. Are we really in the semi-finals? Perhaps once the players go home, they will realise they are no longer ordinary players. They have done something that is simply unbelievable. For the moment though, we are all sane."

That they are, and very practical. Whatever the odd aggressive quote, the Kenyans are not seriously fancying their chances against India. "We will go out there and play according to our strengths. We know the Indians are very strong and we stand no chance against them but that does not mean we will let them bully us. If they try to do that we will also retaliate," says Patil. "Tendulkar is a great player, but that does not mean we will say, 'Sir, please take the crease and thrash us'," says Patil.

Patil is not the only one being chased. Collins Obuya, the 21-year-old leg spinner who has made a strong impression in the Cup, is telling a group of journalists that this has been a great opportunity for him. "I have picked up a lot from Anil Kumble and Shane Warne. They have given me useful tips."

And then there is that man Karim. He is 39 years old, doesn't look particularly anything like an athlete, seems content to leave the playing to others and yet, has caused the greatest stir so far. With a gentle saunter to the crease and still gentler twist of the arm, Karim wove a magic web to shake the Australian batting on Saturday. It was amateurism at its best, defying for a while a professional, regimented and structured outfit. It was quite amazing.

Karim, who came back to cricket after retiring three years ago, had the world champions at his feet at Kingsmead. Under the glare of floodlights, Karim's face had all its muscles under tight control.

Unlike the current crop of cricketers, who would have jumped, shouted, made all sorts of ugly gestures and contorted heir faces to express a gamut of emotions, Karim kept his feelings well hidden and walked off the field after bowling a dream eight-over spell with quiet dignity.

Ask him about that spell and all he has to say is, "It was a one off thing. I knew the Australians are weak against spin and I used all my experience that day.''

The more you ask, the more clear one thing becomes. The Kenyans have their feet firmly on the ground and are quite happy with what they have achieved so far. At the same time, they are neither overawed nor do they set much faith by the unbelievable.

And they have help at hand, in Patil. The flamboyant former Indian batsman has lived this experience. In 1983 against England, Patil hit the winning run that took India into the World Cup final.

"At that time too, what we had done did not sink in. The finals! We had lost all three of our practice games before the start of the tournament and when we beat the West Indies in the opening match, we thought something had gone wrong,'' says Patil in all seriousness.

India went on to win the finals as well. Is Patil going to be a part of another fairytale? As him and he would say, "Simply not possible,'' but then, who knows…

For Kenya, their journey so far has been nothing short of a dream. A dream that is still not over.

The camera is still rolling and the director has still not shouted "cut". Not yet.

First Published: Mar 18, 2003 00:43 IST