Nomads clinch title with win over Stars
On a day when a big victory was needed to clinch the 50 over title in the Sahara Elite League, it took a brilliant individual performance and a stroke of luck in the form of overnight rain that shortened both games, for the Northern Nomads to scrape home. It was captain Thomas Odoyo who provided the brilliance by ripping through the Stars top order before steering his side home with the bat. The luck came courtesy of the 20-20 Champions, Eastern Aces who just held off the Western Chiefs by 11 runs in a match reduced to 20 overs a side. Had the Chiefs managed to win, they would have gone close to taking the title on net run rate, but once again Peter Ongondo was left with too much to do by the rest of the team.
For Tomas Odoyo and his Nomads, the day started well with Odoyo winning the toss and then tearing his way through the Stars top order in a devastating 5 over spell. By the end of it, he had sent K Rashid (1), Kennedy Obuya (4), Peter Kituku (8) and Rajesh Bhudia (1) all back to the pavilion to have the Stars reeling on 30-4. Had Alfred Luseno at the other end not been going for 5 an over, things could have been even worse. As it was, the resistance did not last much beyond the change in bowling. Wesonga replaced Odoyo and not long after had Stewart Kayne (6) trapped in front. Josephat Ababu then got into the act with 3 wickets of his own and by the time the spinners came on to clean up, there was hardly anything to do. A half hearted wag from the tail took the score into triple figures - Varaiya (14), Shah (10) Trivedi (13) at least all made double figures, more than any of the recognised batsmen except Nehemiah Odhiambo who top scored with 24. Stars had used 35.4 of their allotted 36 overs.
Even with arguably two of the best bowlers in the competition in Rajesh Bhudia and Hiren Varaiya, 101 was never going to be a big enough total for the Stars to defend. David Obuya (21) and Shashikant Sanghani (14) got the chase off to a good start before Bhudia trapped Sanghani in front with the score on 27. Nelson Odhiambo removed Anand Gore for a first ball duck the next over and when Bhudia struck again to send Obuya packing, a flicker of hope remained for the Stars. Abdul Rehman (17) rebuilt the innings and despite losing Rekep Patel (0) before himself becoming Bhudia's third victim he had brought the team to within 40 runs of victory. Jimmy Kamande was the final consolation prize for the Stars, run out by Kennedy Obuya for 7, but then it was a fitting partnership between Odoyo (16*) and Ababu (19*) that saw their team home. Varaiya as usual was economical bowling 7 overs for 8 runs, but there was not a big enough total on the board for that to translate into pressure.
After their 5 wicket win over the Aces in the first round, the margin of victory was enough to clinch the title for Odoyo and the Nomads, but it could yet have been pinched from under their noses had the other match not been reduced to 20 overs a side. Steve Tikolo's Eastern Aces needed a big win over the Western Chiefs if they were going to beat the Nomads on run rate, but the Chiefs, who have scored by far the most runs in the tournament would have got close with even a small victory in a longer match. As it was, a match reduced to 20 overs a side significantly reduced the chances of a big enough win for either team, especially when they are so evenly matched anyway.
Tikolo maintained his winning streak in the coin toss stakes and opted to put runs on the board. Tight bowling from the Chiefs, especially Ongondo (4-0-18-2) kept the prolific Aces batsmen under control and none of their big guns really got going. Alex Obanda managed 19 off 18 at the top of the innings, but it was Amit Bhudia who top scored for the team with 30 off 33. Naran (5), Tikolo (9) and Mepani (0) had all looked dangerous in earlier matches, but failed to make starts. Harish Varsani (2/23), Tony Suji (1/29) and James Ngoche (1/18) all picked up wickets as the Aces batsmen perished trying to up the run rate. In the end, they scraped past 100 to finish on 104 with Kush Parmar selflessly running himself out off the last ball in a bid for that extra run.
It should not have been enough for victory. Despite losing both Jadavji Jeshani (8) and Nilesh Jeshani (4) early on, David Maina (12) and Tony Suji (17) both looked as though they were going to set up a win before losing their wickets. As his team lost their heads around him, Peter Ongondo played almost a lone hand in chasing the total, but was let down by a lack of support. Pritesh Lalji (1) and Moses Otieno (1) were both guilty of needless run outs when the end was in sight and in the end his team left Ongondo too much to do. Last man out for 36 off 31 deliveries, he will no doubt be disappointed that his charges were not able to hold it together long enough to win, in the end falling 11 runs short with 9 balls still remaining.
Nomads' win sees them trade places with Tikolo's Aces who won the 20-20 version of the League with the Chiefs and Stars once more finishing 3rd and 4th. Compared to the 20-20 format, the One Day competition provided some much closer matches and the effects of playing against consistent quality players has been illustrated by the success of the Elite League players in the NPCA matches. There is no doubt that this competition is good for Kenyan cricket, but it is still too short to fulfil its true potential. If Cricket Kenya can look to either expand the competition by including Uganda and Tanzania or lengthen it by doubling the number of games, or better yet both, it will have a huge impact on improving the playing standards of Kenya's top players even further.