Missing out on a spot for last year’s World Cup Qualifier, Namibia’s fourth place at World Cricket League 2 in their own backyard was a frustrating result. Losing to UAE on the last day, they fumbled the chance to finish in the top two, subsequently handing their opponents that day a top two spot.
Given the changes to Associate cricket structure though, a result of fourth again this year would now be considered a pass rather than a perceived failure, with the top four this year join Nepal, Scotland and UAE in the new ICC Cricket World Cup League 2. Whether or not the team has the capability to match their placing of last year though remains to be seen, as progress has been made by other teams competing in the tournament. The likes of Oman and USA have built on their work over the past 18 months as Namibia to the outsider looks to have stood still. Overall, it makes this campaign a tricky mission to accomplish.
Playing their last ‘official’ One Day International over 16 years ago at the Cricket World Cup, the top two-third qualification standard means that Namibia has a golden opportunity to secure their place as a strong associate, building through 36 guaranteed matches over the next three years.
While it may be no surprise that no individual who played in that 2003 World Cup takes part in this year’s WCL2, it so nearly happened: Sarel Burger, who turned 20 during their World Cup campaign in 2003, only retired last year at the conclusion of a South African 3 Day Cup match in February last year. With over 6000 runs and over 200 wickets across several formats and competitions for his country, the home side will find filling the void of Burger difficult. Craig Williams, who had retired alongside Burger last year, returns to the squad to compete in their home tournament, most likely as a result of the scale and repercussions of the tournament.
As the other five participants of World Cricket League 2 prepare with tours, tournaments and various warm up matches, the Namibians have been less proactive. Pulling out of South African domestic cricket has left the calendar empty, with the only international cricket of note being Southern Sub-region African T20 qualifiers in November. Namibia were comfortable qualifiers to the regional qualifiers, but not without a blemish – they were beaten by Botswana in the last match, albeit with a number of players left out. It meant that Botswana topped the group.
19-year-old Lohan Louwrens, the leading run-scorer for that qualifier, was a surprise omission when Namibia announced their squad for this year’s WCL2. Scoring 243 at 48.60, with a strike rate of 164.18 in Botswana, no reason for his omission has been specifically given. Louwrens captained the U19 side during their World Cup in 2018, and had been blooded into the Namibian senior line-up. Louwren’s non-selection means that Zane Green will take the gloves for the tournament, with Jean-Pierre Kotze able to back up in the role if required.
Gerhard Erasmus has been handed the captaincy for this tournament, with Jan Frylinck deputising. Frylinck had taken the role during T20 African qualifying, though Cricket Namibia opted for the 24-year-old, perhaps a nod in long-term confidence. A law student at Stellenbosch University, Erasmus debuted for his country as a 16-year-old, and carries a wealth of experience already.
While the added pressure of leadership may be a burden on a new captain, Erasmus can take solace in the fact that his team bat a long way down the eleven, with several all-rounders to choose from. Williams, Frylinck and Jean Bredenkamp can be asked to contribute with ball and bat, with Bredenkamp performing for North West in the South African Provincial Cup.
Several of Namibia’s players have had rather alternative preparation for WCL2 given the lack of international matches. Stephen Baard and Christi Viljoen both played in New Zealand over the summer, with Viljoen playing for Otago in New Zealand domestic cricket. Baard joined North Shore Cricket Club in Auckland.
For Namibia to achieve qualification for ICC World Cup League 2, a group effort with the ball will go a long way to take the pressure of Erasmus and his top order.
Bernard Scholtz’s left-arm orthodox looks to be the go-to for Erasmus, who can stifle in the middle overs. Taking 11 wickets at 11.81 and with an economy of less than 2.5 last year at the tournament, Scholtz suffocated teams, unable to continue their momentum from overs 15-40.
Left-arm quick JJ Smit took as many wickets as Scholtz at WCL2 2018, albeit with an economy of 4.94. Entrusted to do his damage at the top of the innings, Smit also was put on death bowling duties, picking up a host of wickets in the back-end of innings. Perhaps a target for batsmen in T20 with pace onto the bat, Smit looks to be a defining factor in Namibia’s 50-over hopes.
Another young gun to watch is Jan-Izak de Villiers, who has kilometres in the legs after leading the U19 attack in their World Cup Qualifying campaign. Despite the failure of missing out on World Cup qualification, de Villiers picked up wickets in every game of the campaign, and has been rewarded for selection in their 14-man squad.
As regulars of WCL2 cricket and by virtue of being hosts for the tournament once again, Namibia has every chance of finishing as one of the four granted One Day International status, handing them the chance to finally taste victory after six ODI defeats. Though it’s difficult to gauge just how much quality there is in the Namibian eleven given their lack of international cricket in the last 12 months, let alone in the 50-over format. Even if practice and internal camps have been at a high level, it is no substitute for time in the middle, and it could be a lack of matches that drags Namibia down into the bottom two.