Minnows capable of World Cup heroics

Kenyan spinner Aasif Karim (C) is clapped off the field by teammates after winning Man of the Match in Durban in 2003

New Delhi, February 17, 2011


By Manoj Vatsyayana


8.2-6-7-3. Those are not the bowling figures of Australian leg-spin wizard Shane Warne or Pakistani fast bowling great Wasim Akram, but of a one-time tennis player in a World Cup match.

 

Kenyan left-arm spinner Aasif Karim, who also represented his country in the Davis Cup, was 39 when he caught the eye with those 50 magical deliveries, tying famed Australian batsmen into knots in Durban in 2003.

 

He had quit cricket after the 1999 World Cup in England but returned for the next edition in South Africa, showing what players from non-Test playing nations were capable of at cricket’s showpiece event.

 

Karim’s victims included Australian captain Ricky Ponting, Darren Lehmann and Brad Hogg. He did not taste success after his heroics, going wicketless against India in the next game, which turned out to be his last one-day match.

 

Players from so-called minnows may quake at the prospect of facing thunderbolts from pacemen Dale Steyn and Brett Lee or bowling to Sachin Tendulkar and Kevin Pietersen but they can produce fireworks of their own.

 

Previous World Cups are full of examples of players from smaller sides who have enjoyed a rare moment in the sun such as Canadian John Davison, Kenyan Maurice Odumbe and Ireland’s Niall O’Brien.

 

Davison overshadowed batting greats for a day when he smashed the then fastest World Cup hundred, off 67 balls, against the West Indies at Centurion in 2003. His side lost, but he won many hearts with his bold strokeplay.

 

New Zealand were to suffer next from Davison’s punishing blade as the Canadian hammered a half-century off just 25 balls against an attack containing quality pacemen Shane Bond and Jacob Oram.

Ireland’s part-timers made history on St Patrick’s Day in 2007 when they knocked out former champions Pakistan in the first round with a three-wicket win, their stars being paceman Boyd Rankin (3-32) and O’Brien (72).

 

When record-breaking Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan said his side could not afford to relax against lesser-known teams, he was speaking for all the big sides.

 

“Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, we know these teams, who the players are, and their form. But we don’t know about Kenya, Canada and Zimbabwe and they can cause a surprise,” Muralitharan said of his team’s Group A opponents.

 

“We can’t call these smaller teams minnows anymore, because they have surprised stronger teams in the past.”

 

In another famous shock, when Kenyan Rajab Ali shared the new ball with Martin Suji in a 1996 World Cup match at Pune, two-time champions West Indies did not expect they would struggle to chase a modest 167-run target.

 

But Ali rocked the top order with two wickets, including that of Brian Lara, while off-spinner Odumbe (3-15) kept pressure on the middle order as their team pulled off a sensational 73-run victory.

 

England were surprised by Zimbabwean chicken farmer Eddo Brandes, who finished with 4-21 off 10 dream overs in his team’s nine-run victory in a 1992 World Cup game at Albury, before the African side played their first Test.

 

Zimbabweans had pulled off a major shock nine years earlier when Duncan Fletcher (69 not out and 4-42) masterminded Australia’s downfall with a brilliant all-round show.

 

That remains Zimbabwe’s only win over Australia in one-day internationals. Dave Houghton managed to win two man-of-the-match awards even in Zimbabwe’s defeats, cracking 84 against Australia at Southampton in 1983 and 142 against New Zealand at Hyderabad in India in 1987.

© AFP