Zimbabwe: The Slide Stops in Nairobi
Despite claims to the contrary by satisfied officials, Zimbabwe did not pass the subcontinental test in Bangladesh. But neither did they fail, largely thanks to the dogged pitches the team found in the now gone and forgotten tour of Bangladesh.
Pitches in Sri Lanka especially, and much of the subcontinent, have always seemed to have been held together by sawdust and glue; but even by these middling standards, the ones seen recently in the tri-nations and one-day series by Bangladesh and Zimbabwe were exceptionally awful.
Therein lies the challenge. Bad pitches lead to questioning of batsmen. Skilled ones, and those willing to apply themselves, answer them.
In this series, however, quietly forgotten and shunted aside by other greater cricket achievements in Australia and Pakistan, nobody could answer them. Premier batsman Sean Williams was quite off-color, leaving his average best for late; and the dashing Mohammad Ashraful sparkled, only to extinguish very early.
Shakib Al Hassan, now the world’s best batsman, could have been outstanding had he been challenged more often; but the totals chased always proved far too small for his considerable talents.
For the last ranked team in Test cricket, the challenges remain formidable.
The retirement of 14 senior players all at once and the horrible disappointment of losing Sean Ervine and Tinashe Panyangara are far more grave setbacks than can usually be recognized in the day to day contest of a Test.
Kenya have had theirs, mind you, as key players Maurice Odumbe and Thomas Odoyo finally succumbed to the inevitable Asian fiefdoms-cum-gambling squads a few seasons ago, and Bangladesh too; but as the latter have done, Zimbabwe will at some point have to dust them up and salvage the broken pieces they have had to make do with since.
But for now, finely tuned from the most testing pitches in Bangladesh, and after enduring a contest in between against Sri Lanka, the Chevrons of Zimbabwe are well-poised to dominate the coming five-match one-day series against Kenya.
But first they will have to contend with one Steve Tikolo, Masai of Nairobi.
Twelve years after making his debut in Cuttack against India back in 1996, the 37-year-old, now in the twilight of his career, is still the bedrock of Kenyan cricket.
Stephen Ogonji Tikolo, and no other, is to Kenya what Andy Flower was to Zimbabwe.
After leading his country to a semifinals place in the cricket World Cup six years ago in South Africa, the former Sussex player remains surely the best batsman in modern era never to have played Test cricket.
With a First Class average of 51, Tikolo is three runs higher than the celebrated Murray Goodwin in Zimbabwe, and has 14 more than the lamentable Grant Flower, at more or less the same strike. Given a go at it, with arguably a more solid technique than his peers above, who knows what heights the nuggetty batsman might have scaled in the even and sedate pace of Test cricket.
It was Tikolo's 102 runs in the team's contest against Zimbabwe that proved the difference.
If anybody stands between victory and redemption for the Zimbabweans, it is the Masai.
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