Following their impressive display in the 1996 World Cup in the subcontinent, during which they famously toppled the fancied West Indians at Pune, Kenya were awarded ODI status by the ICC. This was a welcome boost to their surge towards becoming the leading Associate nation in the world.
A little over six months after the World Cup, history was created at the Gymkhana Club Ground in Nairobi as it hosted the first official One-Day International match on Kenyan soil, with newly-crowned World Cup champions Sri Lanka playing the home team on September 28, 1996.
This was the opening game of the four-nation Kenya Cricket Association Centenary Tournament, which also featured Pakistan and South Africa and was played in white clothing. The tournament was held to mark hundred years since the game was first played in Kenya, at Mombasa in 1896. Maurice Odumbe captained the hosts, while his Sri Lankan counterpart was Arjuna Ranatunga.
Kenya had met Sri Lanka at Kandy in the World Cup earlier in the year, a match remembered for Sri Lanka’s new world record total of 398/5. Kenya replied valiantly to this mammoth total, ending at 254/7 with Steve Tikolo scoring an entertaining 96. Nine of the eleven Kenyans who played this game also took the field in the opening contest of the KCA Centenary Tournament.
Sri Lanka elected to field first in front of an enthusiastic crowd, and almost immediately had the Kenyans on the mat. Chaminda Vaas castled Dipak Chudasama for a duck in the first over itself to set the tone. Debutant Sajeewa de Silva, like Vaas a left-arm pace bowler, then dealt a major twin blow, getting rid of Kennedy Otieno and Tikolo to leave Kenya lurching at 14/3.
Left-hander Hitesh Modi (seen fielding against India in 2000) was the top scorer for Kenya in their first home ODI, with an unbeaten 78 (source – espncricinfo.com)
It did not get any better for the hosts, as Odumbe was caught behind off the part-time medium pace of his opposite number Ranatunga to make it 31/4. At the other end, Sandeep Gupta, who was making his ODI debut, showed positivity in compiling 41 off 66 balls before being bowled by Muttiah Muralitharan, the first of the off-spin wizard’s four victims.
Talented southpaw Hitesh Modi, who came in at the fall of the fourth wicket, began to rebuild the innings, but could not help the collapse brought about by Muralitharan. Thomas Odoyo, Martin Suji and Edward ‘Tito’ Odumbe – Maurice’s elder brother – all fell to ‘Murali’ without reaching double figures as Kenya went from 65/4 to a lamentable 93/8.
At this point, it seemed inevitable that Modi would eventually run out of partners. However, he found late support from the reliable Aasif Karim for the ninth wicket. Together they nearly doubled the score, putting on a crucial 89 runs. It was the dismissal of Karim, run out for 24, that brought an end to the partnership.
Modi stayed till the end, unbeaten on a fluent 78 from 105 balls with nine fours and a six. This would remain his career-best ODI score. Kenya had managed to last their 50 overs, finishing at 188/9 – a far cry from the position they were in at the fall of the eighth wicket. Muralitharan, who was later named man of the match, returned impressive figures of 10-4-18-4.
Though the total was modest, Modi’s efforts had at least provided the Kenyan bowlers with something reasonable to defend. Edward Odumbe, with his medium pace, gave his side the ideal start, nailing the dangerous Sanath Jayasuriya – man of the tournament at the 1996 World Cup – LBW with only five runs on the board.
An over later, Odumbe removed Asanka Gurusinha, who was trapped on the pads as well, without troubling the scorers. Faint hopes of a Kenyan comeback arose among the local supporters as Sri Lanka were now reduced to 7/2. However, there was nothing for them to cheer about after this bright start, what with Aravinda de Silva joining Romesh Kaluwitharana in the middle.
Muttiah Muralitharan was named man of the match for his haul of 4/18 in the first ODI played in Kenya (source – fastcricket.com)
Kaluwitharana, undeterred by the loss of his marauding opening partner, made short work of the inconsistent Kenyan bowling. The seasoned de Silva gave him able support, and together they raised 121 runs for the third wicket until ‘Mad Max’ was dismissed courtesy a catch by Edward Odumbe off Maurice Odumbe for an assertive 55 from 47 balls.
Ranatunga helped Kaluwitharana to put the finishing touches, as the fourth wicket fetched an unbroken 62 runs. Sri Lanka galloped to a comprehensive seven-wicket victory, reaching 190/3 in just 30.4 overs. Kaluwitharana scored his maiden ODI hundred – a typically stroke-filled 100* in 89 balls, with 17 fours and a six.
In their following match of the tournament against Pakistan, which was the first ODI played at the Aga Khan Sports Club, Kenya, defending 148, had their opponents at 61/5 before eventually going down by four wickets. Their last match against South Africa was a hiding – they were beaten by 202 runs thanks to ‘White Lightning’ Allan Donald’s 6/23.
The last league match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka was notable for Shahid Afridi’s stunning century off 37 balls, a record that stood for over 17 years. It was South Africa who won the trophy, beating Pakistan by seven wickets at the Gymkhana in front of a crowd of 10,000, with Gary Kirsten (118*) ensuring a smooth chase of 204. Donald (14 wickets) was named man of the tournament.
Six and a half years later, Sri Lanka were back at the Gymkhana to take on Kenya in a group match of the 2003 World Cup. Muralitharan took four wickets again, but this time he was bettered by Collins Obuya, whose 5/24 spun his team to a famous 53-run victory. This win was a major factor in enabling Kenya to reach the semifinals – the first and only time an Associate nation has done so.