If one ever wondered how instrumental a sport can be in acting as a country’s common thread in unifying the masses, they need only to hear Mohammad Nabi and Gerhard Erasmus speak.
“The only happiness in Afghanistan is cricket,” Mohammad Nabi said prior to their game against Scotland. Following the withdrawal of US troops, Taliban’s takeover left the country in disarray and turmoil with little optimism in sight.
The situation is not as dire in Namibia, though in qualifying for the Super 12s, have manoeuvred through a challenging maelstrom of the pandemic to reach cricket’s top table.
“It’s been quite tough times during COVID over the last two years,” Erasmus said in the pre-match press conference ahead of their game against Scotland. “If I can say, economy-wise, it’s been quite tough in Namibia. Everyone is quite excited to see athletes do well in sport, and it has the power to change the mood in the country, I think.
“This along with probably our Olympians doing well over the last couple of months, it’s a great sporting achievement which has really uplifted the spirits of the nation back home, and we’re a very proud team to have done that.”
The road to Dubai began in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, in 2018. Having finished second in the African sub-regional and the regional qualifiers, they beat Scotland, Oman, Kenya, Bermuda and Singapore in the 2019 global qualifiers to book their place in the then-scheduled 2020 T20 World Cup.
The intense process of going through several legs of qualifiers over the years hasn’t been forgiving and it would be churlish to tag them as outliers after a preliminary round where they outsmarted the Netherlands and Ireland, holding their own when games could have easily turned on them.
They come into the Super 12s ranked 19th – lowest of all teams, but you wouldn’t begrudge an upset or two to a group of players that huddled around Erasmus and David Wiese at Sharjah last week in a raw, cathartic expression of a myriad of emotions.
“Associate cricket is quite a dogfight at times, and if you get through stages like this and you get to reap these rewards, most definitely you enjoy all of those fruits,” said Erasmus, who made his Namibia debut a decade ago as a 16-year-old.
The rewards of their perseverance are significant: it guarantees qualification for next year’s T20 World Cup in Australia, televised matches against Scotland and four Full Members over the next few weeks and an upsurge in their funding from the ICC.
It is all the more heartening when one notes the galling challenges Namibian cricket has cut through, not least having a semi-professional set-up to breed cricket culture in. It was only after they secured ODI status in 2019, incidentally doing so in a record-breaking fashion at Affies Park in Windhoek, that the board could secure the services of 16 players on a full-time basis increasing the pool from just three players previously.
The strong South African influence in their coaching set-up in the form of Albie Morkel, Pierre de Bruyn, Richard das Neves and Maurice Aronstam is further proof of the standard they aspire to reach and in seeking David Wiese’s expertise, it is a nudge in the right direction.
“I think I can go back as far as, say, three years ago we were in quite a tough place as a cricketing nation, not only financially where we were not really where we wanted to be, but as a team we weren’t really performing.
“I think at the tournaments, like our qualifying tournaments we tend to just fall away at the end. You know, we really had to turn it around. It’s been an effort to do that. There had to be some great role players within Cricket Namibia from the coaching staff to the board members to the administration itself that have all had to buy in to one vision and go somewhere,” adds Erasmus.
“Now we sort of are, I guess, at the peak and reaping those rewards, which is great. Hopefully we can continue going upwards.”
Wiese has been a vital cog in Namibia’s ambitions to make it to this round but Erasmus believes the best is yet to come from a side that boasts of experience and a strong depth across all departments. What better opportunity than now to vindicate it?
“David (Wiese) has had an excellent tournament for us although I don’t think we’ve quite fired as a team as a whole. So that’s great to know that there’s some potential sitting in the dugout still that has to come right sometime in the tournament.
“We’ll be looking to tap into the resources of each and every individual on the team, not only a few of the guys. There’s lots of guys that still need to prove themselves or want to prove themselves. Run this course around, get some wickets. I believe they can do it. We have full confidence in every guy we select on the day.
“These guys have been playing quality cricket for two years against club position back in South Africa in different conditions. So there’s definitely a performance or two around the corner for some other guys. I’m going to be very excited as a captain to see who it is next.”
As they walk out over the next few weeks to contest in a World Cup, their first since 2003, they will do so in the safe knowledge that back home, the sacrifices have paid off and a generation is being inspired to take up the sport. The smiles will inevitably follow.
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