Former hosts and potential World Cup contender Pakistan kick started their campaign against a hapless Kenyan side. In a game few expected to pose a contest, Pakistan made sure that the start to their campaign did not hit any roadblocks.
Having only seen one other game played at the Mahinda Rajapaksa Stadium, Hambantota, it was predicted that both teams would bat first if given the opportunity. The honor fell to Pakistan as Afridi won the toss. Coming into this game Kenya had more to prove, having been routed by New Zealand on Sunday. As for Pakistan they were concerned with winning and winning well.
The two openers for Pakistan started cautiously, looking to defend and get a feel for the pace and bounce of the wicket. This approach proved unsuccessful as Kenya’s opening bowlers, Thomas Odoyo and Elijah Otieno, removed the openers with the score on 12 inside 7 overs. Much has been said about Pakistan’s middle order, and this was an opportunity to prove their critics wrong. Wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal and Younus Khan joined to put on a 98 run partnership as the slowly but surely took the game away from Kenya. Following half centuries from both these players, they removed in fairly quick succession to bring to the crease test captain Misbah ul Haq and Umar Akmal. Misbah and the younger Akmal forged another attacking partnership of 118 in 13.1 overs. Akmal top scored with 71 off 52 deliveries, while Misbah also added a valiant 65. This was a classic example of 80s style one day cricket; the start was slow, the middle was a consolidation and at the end the batsmen opened their shoulders striking at over a hundred. Despite the loss of three quick wickets at the end of the innings, the middle order had down enough to take the total past 300.
The Kenyan bowlers began the innings well keeping a tight line and length, ensuring that the Pakistanis did not get off to the flyer that were hoping for. Their reward was two cheap wickets. However, in the 9th over the wheels on the Kenyan train came off as the bowlers lost their discipline. They ended the innings with a record 46 extras of which they bowled another record 37 wides. The pick of the bowlers was Thomas Odoyo who ended with figures of 7 overs, two maidens and 3 wickets for 41 runs. In the 49th over he had an opportunity at picking up a hat-trick. However, his hat-trick ball was a delivery that pitched two feet outside leg stump and flew away for 5 wides.
The Kenyan innings began in a similar fashion to the Pakistan one with both openers looking to consolidate and build a solid platform. Neither player looked interested in attempting to chase down the target. Following on from their dismal performance against New Zealand, it can be understood why they chose this approach. After putting 37 the two openers fell in quick succession, thereby opening the way for regular wickets. Collins Obuya, the famous leg spinner from the 2003 World Cup, came in at number 3. He top scored for the Kenyans with an entertaining 47, that included 3 fours and 3 sixes. For Pakistan it was their skipper, Shahid Afridi, that led the way with the ball. His leg spinners and devastating wrong un accounted for 5 wickets, and conceded only 16 runs from his 8 overs. The return of Shoaib Akthar went under the radar as he failed to pick up a wicket, although he did prove to be economical going for 2 runs an over.
The lack of penetration up front by the Pakistan bowlers may be a cause of concern for Afridi although, his personal performance will go a long way in easing the pressure. Abdul Rehman, who was preferred to Saeed Ajmal, failed to make any great impression and it can be expected that Ajmal will return for Saturdays clash against Sri Lanka. The Pakistan middle order looked in good form with all of them making 50s, the slow start of the openers was an area Afridi identified as needing improvement. For Kenya, both their games have failed to go plan. They have a few days to regroup before taking on Sri Lanka in Kandy.