Cricket: England can benefit from Knight vision

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The Independent Online
THERE IS a Swahili phrase - "Kujihadhari dudu" - that England should take note of when they meet Kenya at Canterbury today. The term, which translates as "beware the insect", warns of the perils of taking lightly those things that do not appear to threaten with either size or reputation.

England may be cock-a-hoop after beating the World Cup holders last Friday, but any side who has beaten the West Indies, as Kenya did during the last World Cup, is unlikely to roll over without some potent coercion.

Guarding against complacency, while clearly wise, does not mean that England cannot experiment with their team. Indeed, if Alec Stewart's side are to go all the way they need Nick Knight back to his swashbuckling best. They could also do with a wicket-taker like Angus Fraser to share the new ball with Darren Gough, especially now that Alan Mullally appears set to come on as first change. Robert Croft may also be in the frame for a return, though, with grey skies and rain forecast, seam will probably prevail.

England selected their squad around the opening partnership of Stewart and Knight and should really do their utmost to get it firing on both cylinders now that they have surmounted two hurdles - beating Sri Lanka and getting Stewart back among the runs - with one leap. While it was justifiable to use Nasser Hussain in the opening encounter the Kenya match, as well as the one against Zimbabwe at Trent Bridge, offer the hosts an opportunity to get Knight back on the road.

Considering a rained-off match (with a point each) would be the real villain of the piece, the risk from playing Knight is minimal. In any case, if England are to prosper throughout, planning for the later stages must begin now. As ever, the England captain gave no indication if such a change were afoot, though the selectors - of which he is one third - are thought to be divided over the issue.

"In my opinion we should be looking to play the best eleven every time," Stewart said. "We want to win every game and get on a winning trot. Some people say we should experiment, but I've not played against Kenya before, so I'll be treating them just the same as Sri Lanka: as a good side and one we have to beat."

Kenya, by contrast, will be desperate to show the world that their famous win over West Indies, as well as the one enjoyed over India a few years ago, was not a fluke. "We want to prove ourselves one of the best of the smaller cricketing nations, showing we are worthy competitors," said their captain, Asif Karim, formerly a champion tennis player.

Many of the squad who played in the last World Cup are back this time, but so few games are played - they have only played 26 one-day matches of international quality - that experience actually counts for little.

Their spirit, like their batting and fielding, is ebullient and they will not be overwhelmed by the situation. However, with most teams looking to insert, a preference for chasing means they must win the toss.

Only their bowlers, currently coached by Peter Lever, are likely to compromise them and most of them will have good cause to remember at least one England player. Two winters ago Andrew Flintoff hit 104 from 90 balls off them, a knock that included five sixes. The pitch, less grassy than many at Canterbury, looks sluggish, which means a repeat is unlikely. It is also cracked, which suggests the possibility of some variable bounce, a factor that might better serve their plethora of medium-pacers than the true surface at Taunton, where they lost to Zimbabwe.

Lever, previously of Lancashire and England, is a straight-talking soul, a trait that upset one or two during his previous incarnation as England's bowling coach under Raymond Illingworth.

"They are a talented bunch, but lack consistency," said the 58-year-old Lever. "If they were all to put it together on the day, there could be an upset. They won't be overawed and haven't come here considering themselves to be the poor Cinderellas of cricket."

If the slipper is to fit, Kenya badly need some runs from Steve Tikolo, their most gifted batsmen. Tikolo is from the Abaluhyia tribe on the western side of the rift valley, which is famous for its artisans and musicians. If he can just get that bat of his singing, Kenya, like some of its less savoury insect life, might just get under England's skin.

Mark Waugh, page 27

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