Namibia's golden generation ready to make waves after 18-year absence from the big stage
Gerhard Erasmus was only seven years old when Namibia last played in an ICC World Cup. Taking part in the 2003 Cricket World cup, they went winless across the six games.
You suspect they will fare better this time around, with the current generation of Namibian cricketers considered by many as their best yet. And while the class of 2003 may not have won a match at the Cricket World Cup, they inspired the generation that has come through.
A generation that plays team-first cricket and has no fears over the prospect of taking on the game's best over the next month in their maiden ICC T20 World Cup campaign.
“We’re really excited for it now, so imagine the night before," Erasmus, the Namibia captain, said following the release of the tournament fixtures.
Eighteen years on from their global tournament debut, Namibia are firm contenders to make it out of a hyper-competitive First Round group that features Sri Lanka, the Netherlands and Ireland.
The team's recent rise to prominence can be traced back to the changes made in late 2018, following a disappointing World Cricket League 2 campaign, which saw them miss out on a spot at the Qualifier for the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2019.
Appointing former Leicestershire coach Pierre de Bruyn, and bringing former South African international Albie Morkel in as his assistant, Namibia re-grouped and won World Cricket League 2 in 2019 to attain ODI status. Full-time contracts ensued for the playing group, and a strong pool of national team players has formed a steely team culture akin to their Full Member foes.
In the middle of this top-to-bottom change in Namibian cricket, from the grassroots up to the high-performance levels, coach de Bruyn was still faced with difficult decisions when it came to finalising the squad for this month's T20 World Cup. That is further testament to this generation’s quality. They come to the T20 World Cup not only with high hopes but the balance of an outfit capable of pushing on.
The same year they attained ODI status, the Namibians also qualified for the upcoming T20 World Cup. It was a bumpy ride with Erasmus' side suffering an early stumble at the ICC T20 World Cup Qualifier 2019, as they tasted defeats to the Netherlands and Papua New Guinea in the group stage. But overall, the Eagles produced strong performances at the tournament, epitomising team-first cricket, with several players stepping up in key situations to ultimately achieve the objective: T20 World Cup qualification.
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Winning a near do-or-die match-up against a heavily favoured Scotland outfit, Namibia pressed on with emphatic victories over Bermuda, Kenya and Singapore. Rocketing to third at the end of the round-robin phase, Namibia carried the momentum into the playoff stages, defeating Oman by 54 runs to book their ticket to the upcoming tournament.
Skipper Erasmus led from the front with the bat, making three half-centuries in the campaign, only bettered by Ireland’s Paul Stirling in terms of tournament runs. All-rounder JJ Smit struck 190 runs at a strike rate of 168, with the dependable Craig Williams and Stephen Baard providing valuable runs at the top.
With the ball, it was death by left-armers for Namibia’s adversaries. Smit and Jan Frylinck’s angles worked with great effect with the new ball, while the finger-spin of Bernard Scholtz suffocated opposing players in the middle overs, with his round-arm action leading to plenty of bowled and lbw dismissals.
Despite the retirements of Zhivago Groenewald and Jean-Pierre Kotze, Namibia’s team include a bulk of their squad from the qualifier. They are further bolstered by the inclusion of David Wiese, a former South African international now competing under the Namibian flag.
A domestic T20 maverick in recent years, Wiese last represented South Africa in 2016, taking 24 T20I wickets at an economy of 7.60 in 20 international matches. Striking at 143.52 across his T20 career, he’ll provide another headache for opponents in the final overs with both bat and ball.
Namibia’s squad has also seen an injection of youth. Leg-spinning all-rounder Nicol Loftie-Eaton is one young player to keep an eye on, while Michael van Lingen only made his international debut this month. Twenty-three-year-old Ruben Trumpelmann joins Smit and Frylinck in a left-arm trio of quicks, while off-spinner Mauritius Ngupita joins the team as a travelling reserve.
Gerhard Erasmus (c), Stephen Baard, Karl Birkenstock, Michau du Preez, Jan Frylinck, Zane Green, Nicol Lofie-Eaton, Bernard Scholtz, Ben Shikongo, JJ Smit, Ruben Trumpelmann, Michael van Lingen, David Wiese, Craig Williams, Picky Ya France
Reserves: Mauritius Ngupita
18 Oct – v Sri Lanka
20 Oct – v the Netherlands
22 Oct – v Ireland
Best finish: N/A (Tournament Debut)
After heartbreaking exits at the last three T20 World Cup Qualifiers, Namibia make a long-awaited debut in the competition. Finishing third with only two available spots in the 2012 Qualifier, they were also the best of the rest at the 2015 tournament.
Look out for
A devastating all-rounder, JJ Smit stands as a pivotal figure in the Namibian line-up, with match-winning ability with both bat and ball.
A good player of both spin and pace, Smit is quick on the short ball, though also adept at hitting over the off-side, with a number of memorable drives hit into the stands during Namibia’s qualification campaign two years ago in the UAE.
With the addition of Wiese into the team, Smit could well move up the batting order. He is also likely to play a big part on the bowling side, given his ability to swing the new ball or push it away from right-handed players.
If Gerhard Erasmus isn’t the best batter in Associate cricket, the right-hander is certainly in the conversation. Technically gifted, and with a textbook of shots all around the ground, Erasmus shone at the 2019 Qualifier, with only Paul Stirling notching more runs than his tally of 268.
Averaging a tick under 35 with the bat at a strike rate of 140.70 in his first 22 T20Is, while leading his team to an impressive record, Erasmus is set to face his sternest test at the upcoming tournament.
It would be remiss not to acknowledge his successes thus far. On top of qualifying for this year’s World Cup, Erasmus also led Namibia back to ODI status in 2019, winning World Cricket League 2 at home with both his nous as a leader and his talent with the bat.
Erasmus may lean on his own off-spinning services with the ball, and provides energy with athleticism in the field.
The Netherlands - 20 October
After a tough opener against Sri Lanka, Namibia will turn their attention to their second group game against the Netherlands, a likely make-or-break fixture in their hopes of a Super 12 berth. The Netherlands were 44-run winners in their match back at the Qualifier, though the Namibians’ were self-admitting slow starters in their first match at the tournament.