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Kennedy Otieno: One of Kenyan cricket’s pillars in 1990s

Kennedy Otieno © Getty Images
Kennedy Otieno © Getty Images

Kennedy Otieno, born on March 11, 1972, had oodles of raw talent to play pulsating pulls and square-cuts of the quickest of bowlers going around. He also served Kenyan cricket as a wicketkeeper. Bharath Ramaraj looks at the highlights of his career.

In the 1990s, Kennedy Otieno Obuya along with a slew of Kenyan cricketers like Steve Tikolo, Maurice Odumbe, Deepak Chudasama, Ravindu Shah, Martin Suji, Thomas Odoyo and company erected a platform for Kenya to thrive in the international circuit. The wicketkeeper-batsman, Otieno, himself played a major part in putting Kenya on the cricketing map. Yes, he had his fair share of ups and downs, but more often than not after being flagged down by a poor run of scores, he came back stronger to pass the litmus test by fire.

August 1995. A strong India A team had embarked on a trip to Kenya to play the national team. If the India A team’s squad members were of the view that it wasn’t going to be anything more than a Kenyan Safari, they were in for a rude awakening. The band of Kenyan players gave India a run for their money and in one of the List A games, even thumped India A by eight wickets. Incidentally, Sandeep Patil, who had played as a professional in Kenya was the coach of the India A squad and reportedly had told his team to beware of the Kenyan setup. Otieno on his part played a crucial role in their impressive showing during that series.

A few months later, Kenya, who had qualified for the 1996 World Cup by finishing second in the ICC Trophy in 1993, were taking on a formidable foe and one of the hosts of the tournament — India. In that match, Otieno showcased that he wasn’t overawed by the occasion by compiling a fine innings of 27. But it was in the next game against Australia that he gave a glimpse of his immense potential by meeting fire with fire.

Australia, led by the glorious batsmanship of the graceful Mark Waugh, had amassed a huge score of 304 on the board. After Chudasama fell to an out-swinger by Craig McDermott followed by Tikolo walking back to the pavilion, the game looked set for an early finish. But Otieno and Odumbe played eye-catching shots to stitch a century partnership. A few of Otieno’s savage rapier-like cuts from his flashing blade were reminiscent of West Indian batsmen smashing the opposition to smithereens.

One of the greatest moments of his career also arrived during that World Cup, as Kenya went onto upset the apple-cart and beat West Indies at Pune. All those Kenyan players who had grown up admiring the West Indies team, suddenly had beaten them in an international game.

In 1997, in the President’s Cup tri-series played in Kenya, Otieno was yet again in prime form. His savage attack on the hapless Bangladeshi bowlers at Nairobi floored the opposition to submission. He and Chudasama put on 225 for the opening wicket to dash the hopes of Bangladesh completely. Off-spinner Sheikh Salahuddin came in for some special treatment in that match.

He didn’t have a great 1999 World Cup in the England, but two years later in South Africa in a tri-series that also involved the hosts and India, he was in the thick of things. In the match against India at Port Elizabeth, he played a vital innings of 64 to take Kenya to 246. Kenyan bowlers followed that up by striving every sinew to crush India by a margin of 70 runs.

Otieno continued to be one of the cornerstones of the Kenyan line-up by being a pillar of excellence during the 2003 World Cup held in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya. One of his better knocks came in their magnificent win over Sri Lanka at Nairobi. On a turning track, his well-measured innings of 60 proved to be the telling difference between both sides. He also essayed a fine knock of 79 against India at Cape Town in the Super Sixes stage of the tournament. Incidentally, both his brothers, David and Collins played in that tournament as well. Collins starred in the tournament. He even took a five-wicket haul against Sri Lanka at Nairobi.

After the 2003 World Cup though, he lost his way a touch. He embarked on a journey to Australia to play club cricket in the 2005-06 season and took some coaching tips from Rodney Marsh. Otieno made a welcome return to form, but with Kenyan cricket engulfed by controversies and corruption and him being on the wrong side of 30, his days of playing at the top level were numbered. He bowed out of international circuit after playing against Ireland at Dublin in July 2009. Otieno still wanted to continue playing for Kenya, but was let down by disciplinary issues. In 2011, he was named as a national selector of Kenya.

Kennedy Otieno would be remembered in the annals of history as a fine Kenyan cricketer who played 90 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and accrued 2,016 runs at an average of 23.44. He also took 43 catches and effected 14 stumpings as a wicketkeeper.

(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)

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