Aces favourites, but all to play for
Steve Tikolo's Eastern Aces swept all before them to emerge convincing winners of the Sahara Elite League 20-20 competition that concluded last weekend and as a result will go into today's first match of the 50 Over League as firm favourites. This does not mean that they will have things all their own way however for while the Aces were devastating in the 20-20s, the 50 over game is much longer and will allow some of the key players in other teams to come into their own more.
Aces take on Thomas Odoyo's Northern Nomads in their first game which starts at Ruaraka Sports Ground at 9:30 this morning and the Nomads will be itching to avenge their loss in the 20-20s. Tikolo remains the key for the Aces and Odoyo and the rest of his bowlers will be keen to get in amongst the rest of the line up early. Other form players for the Aces are youngster Alex Obanda, though he did struggle in his last 2 games against the MCC, Ramesh Mepani and the young bowling pair of Nelson Odhiambo and Elijah Otieno. Odhiambo in particular has impressed so far in 2008 and may even be doing enough to warrant the selectors looking at him over his namesake Nehemiah. This league will be a perfect opportunity for him to press for that place in the national team.
Nomads will of course rely heavily on Odoyo with both bat and ball, but he receives ample support in the bowling department from speedster Alfred Luseno, the experienced Josephat Ababu while youngsters Dominic Wesonga and Shem Obado have also proved useful in recent matches. Batting wise, Nomads will expect runs from Kenyan opener David Obuya, while Shashikant Sanghani will need to continue his run of form.
Aces go into this favourites, but I predict Nomads to spring a narrow upset.
In the second match of the day, the Western Chiefs take on the so far winless Southern Stars. This is a difficult match to pick as, despite finishing bottom of the 20-20s, Stars improved throughout while the Chiefs seemed to get worse. Much will depend on the Chiefs bowling attack which is definitely their strong point. Peter Ongondo is not Kenya's International wicket taking record holder for nothing and has a strong support group in Tony Suji, Moses Otieno and Harish Varsani. Batting wise, they look a little short of what they need to challenge for the title, but did play two games in the 20-20s without Maurice Ouma. His return could bolster the line up and if they bat first and put up a decent score, expect them to defend it well.
Stars on paper look one of the best balanced sides of the competition, so it was a surprise how badly they did in the 20-20s. Expect a resurgence at this level though as Kennedy Obuya leads from the front with the bat. If Stewart Kayne is moved up the order, he should find a partner who can carry the attack to any opposition and there is the depth in the middle order to capitalise. Rajesh Bhudia was one of the most impressive bowlers in the 20-20 and will look to a similar performance in the 50 over format to push for a return to Kenyan colours later in the year. Nehemiah Odhiambo needs to step up to what is expected of his as does Hiren Varaiya.
Chiefs are favourites, but again I'm picking a narrow upset by the Stars.