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11 December 2023

Minnows take heart from shock-laden World Cup


8.2-6-7-3. Those were not the World Cup bowling figures of Australian leg-spin wizard Shane Warne or Pakistani fast bowling great Wasim Akram, but of a one-time tennis player.

Kenyan left-arm spinner Aasif Karim, who also represented his country in the Davis Cup, was 39 when he caught the eye with those 50 magical deliveries, tying famed Australian batsmen into knots in Durban in 2003.

He had quit cricket after the 1999 World Cup in England but returned for the next edition in South Africa, showing what players from non-Test playing nations were capable of at cricket's showpiece event.

Karim's victims included Australian captain Ricky Ponting, Darren Lehmann and Brad Hogg. He did not taste success after his heroics, going wicketless against India in the next game, which turned out to be his last one-day match.

Players from so-called minnows may quake at the prospect of facing pacemen Dale Steyn and Mitchell Johnson or bowling to Rohit Sharma and Chris Gayle.

But the giants of the game should under-estimate the minnows - represented in Australia and New Zealand by the likes of Afghanistan, Scotland and the UAE - at their peril.

Previous World Cups are full of examples of players from smaller sides who have enjoyed a rare moment in the sun such as Canadian John Davison, Kenyan Maurice Odumbe and Irish brothers Niall and Kevin O'Brien.

Davison overshadowed batting greats for a day when he smashed the then fastest World Cup hundred, off 67 balls, against the West Indies at Centurion in 2003.

New Zealand were to suffer next from Davison's punishing blade as the Canadian hammered a half-century off just 25 balls against an attack containing quality pacemen Shane Bond and Jacob Oram.

Ireland's part-timers made history on St Patrick's Day in 2007 when they knocked out former champions Pakistan in the first round with a three-wicket win, their stars being paceman Boyd Rankin (3-32) and Niall O'Brien (72).

In another famous shock, when Kenyan Rajab Ali shared the new ball with Martin Suji in a 1996 World Cup match at Pune, two-time champions West Indies did not expect they would struggle to chase a modest 167-run target.

But Ali rocked the top order with two wickets, including that of Brian Lara, while off-spinner Odumbe (3-15) kept pressure on the middle order as their team pulled off a sensational 73-run victory.

England were surprised by Zimbabwean chicken farmer Eddo Brandes, who finished with 4-21 off 10 dream overs in his team's nine-run victory in a 1992 World Cup game at Albury, before the African side played their first Test.

Zimbabwe had pulled off a major shock nine years earlier when Duncan Fletcher (69 not out and 4-42) masterminded Australia's downfall with a brilliant all-round show.

Dave Houghton managed to win two man-of-the-match awards even in Zimbabwe's defeats, cracking 84 against Australia at Southampton in 1983 and 142 against New Zealand at Hyderabad in India in 1987.

Four years ago in Bangalore, Kevin O'Brien hit the fastest World Cup century off just 50 balls as Ireland stunned England.