Kenya must nurture more cricketers

Rakep Patel is more than a cricketer. He is a scientist. On Friday and Saturday in the Africa T20 Cup in South Africa, the 28-year captain of Kenya's national cricket team proved that cricket is indeed more than a sport, that it is a science, and that he can perform wonders with both bat and ball to guide Kenya to victories.

On those two days, he led from the front and saw Kenya get out of tight situations when it was thought that the cause had been lost. While playing against South Africa's provincial side Free State at Diamond Oval in Kimberely, South Africa on Friday, Rakep hit 10 boundaries and three sixes in his 44-ball 74 to lead Kenya to a six-wicket victory.

Ideally, Kenya's top order had almost collapsed and the East Africans were three wickets down inside six overs. Alex Obanda was bowled when Kenya had scored only 10 runs and Irfan Karim followed him back to the pavilion two balls later to leave Kenya reeling at 10 for 2 inside four overs.

When Rakep joined Dhiren Gondaria in the middle, Kenya were on the back foot and the duo needed to steady the Kenyan ship. By the time Gondaria's scalp was claimed by Shadley van Schalkwyk after he had scored a five-ball 11, Kenya were reeling at the palindromical 33/3 and needed to score 115 runs from 88 balls.

That can be a tall order against a side in whose country cricket is not a pastime but a professional sport guided by science, and not luck. Rakep held his nerve and, together with former skipper Collins Obuya, plundered 93 runs off the South Africans and by the time he was bowled in the 15th over, Kenya needed 22 runs from 20 balls to register their first win.

Collins and Gurdeep Singh garnered the remaining runs in 10 balls to see Kenya home and dry with six wickets, leaving the Free Staters wondering what had happened to their glittering start at the De Beers Diamond Oval.

On Saturday, Kenyans were facing Northern Cape at the same venue, and elected to field after winning the toss. The home side, like Free Staters the previous day, were shining and their openers had a 56-run partnership before Grant Mokoena was caught by Patel off Nelson Odhiambo.

They stuttered thereafter but managed 148 runs for the loss of five and Kenyans needed to score at the rate of 7.45 to win their second match in Group C that also has KawZulu-Natal.

Kenya lost Obanda in the second over and Karim in the third with the scoreboard reading 15 and by the time Collins was run out, the East Africans had scored only 38 runs and were four wickets down.

But Patel and Gurdeep added 50 and when the latter was sent back to the pavilion, the skipper and Nelson added 61 to see Kenya through with eight balls to spare.

Patel hit an unbeaten 47-ball 72, which included six fours and four sixes to fire Kenya to the top of Group C and be declared the man of the match.

One can argue that the opponents Kenya are facing in the Africa T20 Cup tournament are provincial sides and not national teams, but such a school of thought should be banished and structures strengthened to nurture more players like Rakep who have the right attitude and can respond positively.

The writer is an editor with The Standard, Weekend Editions

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