It's 20 years today for the greatest upset in World Cup cricket history. With apologies to India's stunning victory over Clive Lloyd's West Indies on that summer day at Lord's in 1983, Kenya's win over the men from the same region was probably the bigger upset.
Kenyan team players celebrate their win. Pic/ Mid-day archives
The majority of us journalists covering the West Indies vs Kenya World Cup game in 1996 were left wondering why were we being sent to Pune for this mismatch. Like the Kenyan cricketers, many of us too didn't reach in the first half of the day when the West Indies trained at Nehru Stadium. And a good number of us were jaded after covering the previous night's Australia vs India clash at Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai.
On match day, the stadium, as expected, was not packed, a complete far cry to what I had experienced the previous season when India hosted New Zealand for whom Chris Cairns belted a splendid century which went in vain.
Kenya managed just 166, a total which was never going to bother the West Indies.
The West Indies innings began and soon their skipper Richie Richardson was walking back to the pavilion, bowled by Rajab Ali. One-drop Brian Lara watched Sherwin Campbell's furniture dismantled by Martin Suji. Little did Lara realise he would be the next batsman making his way to the sheds. Tariq Iqbal's wicketkeeping was jocular. The 1997 edition of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack pointed to his "village-standard juggling" which dismissed Lara off Rajab Ali for eight.
Hitesh Modi, who was the second top-scorer for the Kenyans with 26, said to me yesterday that the belief set in when they got rid of Lara. He remembered the words of team coach Hanumant Singh, who said Kenya must bat the entire 50 overs because if they did, they could put West Indies under pressure with whatever runs they could manage. Modi and Thomas Odoyo put 44 for the seventh wicket before Modi was dismissed by Curtly Ambrose.
"We believed things could change if we got Lara. Our batting was not as good, but our bowling and fielding was. And our team work... brilliant. We had nothing to lose so we gave it our best," said Modi.
Modi remembered getting Keith Arthurton run out for a duck. It was a disastrous World Cup for the left-hander, who managed just two runs in five games.
Barring Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Roger Harper, the Kenyans did not have many hurdles left and ended up winning by 73 runs. Skipper Maurice Odumbe bowled his off-spinners well to end up with 3 for 15. He was captain cool, constantly urging his players to calm down towards the closing stages of the game. At the same time, he didn't tolerate a misfield as West Indies folded up for 93.
We walked across the ground to speak to the rival captains and Hanumant. Not to miss out on a piece of history, a fellow journalist made me wait for a few moments before a picture of the scoreboard was shot.
It was chaotic when we reached the pavilion end. Someone had to inform West Indies skipper Richardson that the media were waiting. He stepped out of his morgue-like dressing room, jumped on a ramp (which was presumably the players' viewing area) and said something to the effect that he would be very brief in his reaction and that his team played poorly and lost to a team that played better on the day.
Meanwhile, a bunch of Kenyan students who had heard about Kenya's chances after Lara departed and made their way from East Street to the Nehru Stadium, began to dance. All this was happening while a few West Indians visited the Kenyan dressing room. Presumably, Ambrose was not among that small group of visitors. He went on to write in his autobiography: "I packed my kit and left, saying nothing. No one could explain this result to me in a way that would make any sense."
Modi recalled the West Indians congratulating them. "They were actually happy for us. Lara said that they didn't mind losing to us," he said. In fact, Aniruddha Bahal (then writing for Outlook magazine) reported what Lara said to the Kenyans: "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."
I left the ground in an autorickshaw for the Blue Diamond Hotel where the Kenyans were staying. I had to wait for a while before captain Odumbe walked in. He allowed me to accompany him to his room and conduct the interview that I wanted. Someone gave him a bouquet of flowers in the reception and the sound of a ringing telephone greeted him as he unlocked his room door. Odumbe picked the phone. With one hand on the receiver, he told me that it was the BBC calling from London. After the attending to his call, he exclaimed, "is this really happening?" Then he revealed, "we are going to get pissed tonight." He couldn't help recalling the time when he and Steve Tikolo asked Lara for his autographed only to be refused although he didn't tell what he reportedly told Lara back at the dressing room - "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."
On leaving the captain's room, I discovered that most of the Kenyan cricketers had their room doors open. After interviewing Rajab Ali and Tariq Iqbal, I heard some argumentative West Indian voices. They were indicative of dissent. It was a sad day for West Indies cricket, but who could deny Kenya the credit for a masterful display of bowling and fielding?
The late Peter Roebuck, one of the finest cricket writers did justice to the performance in the Sydney Morning Herald: "The Kenyans bowled and fielded like men possessed, stopping and catching everything, and hardly bowling a bad ball as they played on the nerves of the disintegrating favourites."
Modi's father Subhash's Ogilvy office in Nairobi was abuzz with excitement. Subhash, who went on to become an international umpire, recalled his creative director asking him to watch the game with him. "We were the talk of the cricketing world. It was unbelievable and there was mighty celebrations at Nairobi Gymkhana and other venues," said Subhash.
February 29, 1986 may not be as celebrated as June 25, 1983 but it's a significant day in cricket history.
Kenya 166 all out in 49.3 overs (Steve Tikolo 29, Hitesh Modi 26, Thomas Odoyo 24; Courtney Walsh 3-46, Roger Harper 3-15) beat West Indies 93 all out in 35.2 overs (Shivnarine Chanderpaul 19; Rajab Ali 3-17, Maurice Odumbe 3-15) by 73 runs.
Man of the match: Maurice Odumbe.