An Ode to Steve Tikolo: Farewell to Kenya’s Finest

International cricket witnessed the end of an era today, as Steve Tikolo bid farewell as he found himself LBW for 10 against Zimbabwe. The reaction to his dismissal was extraordinary as Zimbabwe cricketers crowded around to shake his hand as he trudged off the pitch for one last time.

Because if one man has come to embody his countries ups and downs during their brief history in international cricket, it has been this man.

For every high point-the 2003 World Cup for instance-there has been a low point-this tournament in particular0yet the constant throughout has been Tikolo, a batsman of rare talent who was offered precious few opportunities to show it against the best.

But when he did, more often than not he delivered. His record is testament to that, posting half centuries against the Test playing nations like West Indies and England. He was no great technician, but struck the ball powerfully, and could settle well against both seam and spin-attacking both competently.

He was the prized Kenyan wicket for over 15 years, but he was also an ambassador for their game and an embodiment of what Kenya were trying to achieve. Captaining them to the semi-finals in 2003, despite struggling for runs in the tournament, was a personal highlight.

That tournament ought to have heralded more for Kenya and for Tikolo. The mismanagement and broken promises that have dragged down Kenyan cricket have been well documented. The contrast between then and now is stark.

But in both instances, though vastly different, there has been the elder statesmen attempting to hold things together for his country.

Ultimately, it was not the most glorious of exits and perhaps not fitting for a man who has achieved so much in the game. But significant it certainly was.

His name will not go down as one of the greats of the game but for what he embodied and achieved for Kenyan cricket, Steve Tikolo’s feats deserved far more than the ending they got. Because as he left the stage one last time it was not just the ending of a career, but a whole era in Kenyan cricket.

From then until now there has been only Tikolo, Kenya’s heartbeat through it all. The likes of him seldom come around very often, and both international cricket and particularly Kenyan cricket will certainly be a poorer place without him.

South Africa’s key men are hitting form ahead of the World Cup

Always the bridesmaid and never the bride in international cricket are South Africa. The biggest nation never to win an ICC trophy now that England has finally walked away with some silverware, but could next year’s tournament in India finally be their year?

Well going into every World Cup tournament, South Africa are always among the favourites, and you’d need to be fairly stingy not to name them this time.

This is the first World Cup in a long time which contains no clear favourites for the title, and while India’s home support and Sri Lanka’s unique talent are important, the sheer power and talent at South Africa’s disposal must also be considered.

Anyone who watched the impressive dismantling of Zimbabwe, granted against opposition far below their standards, will have been excited. Coach Corrie Van Zyl took the opportunity to blood younger players such as Peter Ingram, Rusty Theron and 21-year old David Miller and all three took their opportunity to impress.

Captain Graham Smith was equally impressed, lauding the performances of all three and declaring: “I think it’s great, you want to see these guys coming in and performing well.”

Yet what will have most delighted Smith will have been the form of three of the key men in South Africa’s batting line-up, all of whom will play a decisive part in their chances in India next year.

Firstly at the top of the order was Hashim Amla, who scored two centuries and averaged almost 80 over 3 games, then there was the return of J P Duminy, who after a relatively quiet 12 months, finished the series with his highest ODI score, and the continued success of A B De Villiers who showed that taking the gloves has not affected his form with the bat.

The importance of these three to South Africa’s chances in India cannot be underestimated. Of all of South Africa’s batsmen, these are the three best suited to scoring in India, where the slower, spinning surfaces tend to suit the spin bowlers and players who play with their wrists and score through placement as much as power.

All three have impressive records in India, Amla averages over 100  there after a frankly stupendous tour last year, De Villiers averages over 50 and racked up his highest test score of 217, while JP Duminy smashed 99 not out against Royal Challengers Bangalore. An innings which led Ian Chappell to label him “a great in the making”.

These three will be the beating heart of South Africa’s challenge for honours in India, and while their performances in the Pakistan series will probably provide a better barometer of how well their players are doing, the signs so far suggest that when the time comes, South Africa and their dangermen will be up for the challenge.