IT took an innings of raw courage, as much as instinctive class, from Brian Lara, and high quality bowling by the constantly improving Pedro Collins for the West Indies to overcome Kenya’s spirited challenge in the ICC Champions Trophy yesterday.
It ended with a distressed Lara in a Colombo hospital for the second time in nine months, awaiting tests on suspected hepatitis, a liver ailment. During the West Indies tour here last December, he fractured and dislocated his left elbow in an on field accident that kept him out of the game for four months.
Careless Kenyan fielding that missed the double world record-holder at 37, 45 and 61 on his way to 111, his 15th hundred in one-day internationals and, less significantly, Shivnarine Chanderpaul at 3 and 36 in his laboured 40 off 76 balls also aided the West Indies to get home by 29 runs.
Had they not converted a clear chance of victory into a stunning, last ball loss to South Africa in their opening match last Friday, the result would have booked their semi-final place.
That possibility is now beyond their control, depending as it does on Kenya somehow upsetting South Africa on Friday.
Summoning the will power to survive the physical torment that he clearly endured throughout his two and a half hours in the middle, Lara defied the sweltering 35 degree heat and high humidity to compile 111, his 15th hundred in one-day internationals.
His first, unconvincing 50 took him 80 deliveries as he battled against the illness that began to take hold the previous day.
Although needing the on field attention of his non-playing teammates and lying flat on his back, panting uncomfortably during the refreshment break, he plundered his next 61 runs off a mere 41.
It was acceleration, complemented by Ramnaresh Sarwan’s busy, run-a-ball 20 and Wavell Hinds’ two breathtaking sixes in 20 from just seven balls, that gave the innings an emphatic conclusion.
The last five overs yielded 56 runs and a 50-overs total of 260 for six. Kenya were bowled out with five balls remaining for 232.
Collins, offering nothing to the batsmen with his controlled, accurate left-arm movement, immediately set Kenya back with a wicket in his second over, bowling Kennedy Obuya round his legs.
Every time he was called back to check Kenya’s worrying advance, led by captain Steve Tikolo’s 93 off 91 balls with nine fours, the left-armer responded with a restraining spell.
His figures when he appropriately formalised the result with the first ball of the last over by bowling Martin Suji were 9.1-4-18-3. They were his best in the shorter game. Not many have had better.
On a pitch of slow pace offering encouraging turn, batting was never straightforward. Chanderpaul, as he did against South Africa, made it seem as difficult as wringing water from stone. Until he finally found his range, and rode his luck, it also mocked Lara’s timing.
The off-spin of Maurice Odumbe, Man-of-the-Match in Kenya’s unforgettable win over the West Indies in the World Cup six years ago, and Tikolo, another survivor from that time, and the leg-spin of Collins Obuya presented the main problems.
Odumbe gave up only 21 from his 10 overs for the wicket of Chanderpaul, caught behind cutting for 40 in the 29th over.
At the start, the faster bowlers kept Chris Gayle scoreless of his first 15 balls but the tall left-hander then lashed two long sixes off successive balls from Thomas Obuya one of three Kenyan brothers in the side once known as Otieno.
He had made 33 off 42 balls when he topedged a catch to midwicket.
For the next 17.4 overs, as they added 55, Chanderpaul and Lara could hardly get the ball off the square so the West Indies were only 115 for two when Chanderpaul was caught behind cutting in the 29th over.
At Hooper’s dismissal in the 41st, caught at deep midwicket, they were 179 for three but Lara was then finding his range, finishing with two sixes and eight fours when bowled by Tikolo with 11 balls remaining in spite of his distress. Sarwan and Hinds simply added to the momentum.
Collins apart, the early West Indies bowling was ragged as Tikolo, long since proven a batsman of Test quality, made it look even more so, first with Ravindu Shah, then with Hijal Patel.
Nagamootoo, firing down his leg-breaks and top-spinners at near medium-pace, was repeatedly off length and line as was Hooper with his off-breaks. Dillon was also inconsistent and it took the introduction of Vasbert Drakes and Gayle to settle things down.
Nagamootoo did have two wickets but Shah’s across the line swipe and Patel’s gentle push to mid-wicket were batting errors.
For all his waywardness, Dillon repeatedly claims the key wickets. He did again.
He might have been lucky with umpire Venkat’s lbw verdict against Odumbe, that seemed a little high, but he sent down the perfect yorker to nail Tikolo’s off-stump with his first ball of a new spell when the Kenyan captain was threatening to repeat the World Cup triumph all on his own.
At that point, Kenya’s goal was 43 from the remaining 3.3 overs, an unlikely mission with Tikolo gone, and Gayle and Collins combined to polish things off.
But, for some time, the general performance had no gloss to it.