YOU guys have heart, man. That’s good,” says West Indies captain Richie Richardson to the Kenyans in the Kenyan dressing room after the African team created cricketing history by beating the West Indies by 73 runs at Pune. Cheers go up all around. The Kenyans take a group photograph with the West Indies trio that came to congratulate them after their win—Richardson, Weslie Hall and Brian Lara.
Exit all men from the Caribbean except Lara, and the Kenyans huddle around him, shaking his hand, asking questions and getting their teammates to take photographs as they stand shoulder to shoulder with the ‘great man’ himself.
Lara gives a few batting tips to the Kenyans. Maurice Odumbe, the Kenyan skipper has something to say about the West Indian fast bowlers. “Hey man, we never played bowling this quick. They push you back all the time. We were waiting for balls that were never there to behit.” Lara nods. “Yeah, you guys should play the quicks like Sachin does, left elbow jutting up and forward. I don’t know how long you guys been playing cricket but you sure play some very, very exciting cricket.” Odumbe answers: “Most of us in the side grew up together playing cricket. At a very early age.” Lara wants to know more but Odumbe’s got other things on his mind. “You know a few years back, me and Steve Tikolo had asked you for an autograph and you refused. You should take ours now or, at least, be photographed with us.”
There are shouts and whistles and Laraobliges. Odumbe’s got something else on his mind too that’s been bothering him for months. “You know, that day, guys also said you were up in your room with a real hot, whacked-out white babe. Was it true?” Lara smiles, Odumbe’s curiosity is nearly killing him. Says Lara: “You guysshould be strapping to get them girls. But it wasn’t that bad losing to you guys. You are black. Know what I mean. Now, a team like South Africa is a different matter altogether. You know, this white thing comes into the picture. We can’t stand losing to them.”
The Kenyans are sensing something here. The world’s greatest batsman is talking. Let’s make him talk some more. Spinner Asif Karim throws a gambit. “You guys aren’t the same anymore. You aren’t the West Indies of old.” Lara’s in a confessional mood. “Yeah, there are problems in the team. Some of us don’t even talk to some of the others. It’s that bad. (Looks at Hitesh Modi, Kenyan batsman). I saw you the most yesterday at the hotel. Our guys just stick in their rooms.” Karim wants to know why Carl Hooper didn’t come over. Was he injured? “No,” says Lara. “It was just thisteam situation that made him pull out. Hooper had no malaria.”
But why is it so bad for Lara, the Kenyans want to know. “I come from Trinidad & Tobago. Not many players from there over the years. The management doesn’tlike someone coming from there and making it big. That’s the place Gus Logie and Larry Gomes came from. Just me and Ian Bishop now. When I did not go to Australia some of these guys said “ban Lara” for 2-3 years, that’s the way to get rid of him. You know at press conferences when the guys ask them about me they go around saying stuff like one person doesn’t make the team. He doesn’t obviously. But they never say encouraging stuff like, ‘yes, he’s a great player, others should learn from him’.”
Odumbe feels he has to say something here. “For us guys in Kenya, Viv Richardswas the cricketer.” Another Voice: “We heard Viv had a talk with you.” Karim probes further. “You had a swashbuckling approach today. Like you wanted to finish it off quickly. They sent a message for you to stay.” “Yeah,” says Lara. “I wasn’t quite crazy about the message. When I’m playing well they don’t send messages. When you guys took that wicket, they asked me to stick around.”
“But what’s the real problem?” shoots the voice. “You know if you have a good team but a bad management you can maybe get along. But if you have a bad team and a bad management you really get f****d. After this defeat, I think they’ll be forced to sort out some of this shit.”
Martin Suji, Kenyan opening bowler is rather apprehensive that the Kenyans shouldn’t come back dead from Sri Lanka. Lara consoles him. “I think it was really stupid of our board not to go to Sri Lanka. But it’s the board that makes the decision. Not us.” “Hey man, you are saying really hot things,” says Odumbe. Lara’s quite unfazed. Incidentally, some information for Lara fans. He won’t be playing county cricket this year. “I don’t like playing cricket six days a week. Not more than three.” Also, his girlfriend’s name is Rubiana. Lara’s parting shot to the Kenyans: “You guys have heart. Keep on playing like this. It’s nice to be playing against a new team.”
The Kenyans still can’t believe they’ve won. Some like Modi, who scored 28, think the Windies bowlers weren’t as quick as made out to be. Says Modi: “I had to stick around so I played slow.” There’s also one player, Rajab Ali, who went prophetic on match-eve. “I am going to take Lara’s wicket tomorrow,” he said to a journalist. He went and did it the next day. He also had Richardson playing onto his stumps.
While for all the Kenyans the victory was the highest sporting achievement of their careers, for wicketkeeper and ex-skipper Tariq Iqbal it was a bit more special. Says he: “Till yesterday, my biggest sporting moment was going out to toss with Azharuddin in a 1992 match in Nairobi. We are going to be real heroes in Kenya.” “Yeah, everybody kept saying why are UAE, Kenya, Holland in the Cup. We’re here because we play cricket,” adds Odumbe.
And if they really play from the heart, like they did against the Windies, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t cause an upset in Sri Lanka and enter the quarter-finals.