October 22, 2021, is a date that the Namibian fans will remember vividly, and a day that really lifted David Wiese’s stature in Namibian cricketing history. It was the first time that they qualified for the T20 World Cup.
All eyes were on Albie Morkel, Wiese, Ruben Trumpelmann but one man that went under the radar, unnoticed with his work rate was Pierre de Bruyn and skipper, Gerhard Erasmus. While the former was the mastermind behind the lens, Erasmus was playing with a broken finger, displaying his commitment for the country.
It was a perfect watershed moment in Namibia, a nation that perhaps had their priorities set this way: football, rugby and cricket. Ever since they qualified, the “almost forgotten sport” has made a big splash in the country.
Coming into the 2022 World Cup, Namibia were far better prepared. They arrived in the country before most of the teams and were constantly working hard on improving themselves. In a group where there was Netherlands, UAE and Sri Lanka, qualification really wasn’t guaranteed. But as pointed out by Albie to Cricket.com, there was a lot of desire in the group.
In T20 cricket, it can boil down to who wants it more on the day. In 2021, Namibia proved that they wanted it more than their competitors. This year, they were aiming for the same. But their opener was against Sri Lanka, the Asian Champions in Geelong, a venue that certainly had longer boundaries.
“Cricket wasn’t that big, it was almost like a forgotten sport. With the way the boys have played, with the success they’ve had, they’ve awakened a small little giant in Namibia,” said Albie, and they had to carry this on, against Sri Lanka.
Notably, there were a few aspects that tilted the game in Namibia’s favour: fearless cricket, astute tactician and putting plans to execution. At 93/6, the game was already drifting, the two batters – JJ Smit and Jan Frylinck had a tough task at hand. But what tilted the game was them being fearless, combined with Sri Lanka not paying attention to the dimension of the ground.
Even when Sri Lanka paid attention to it, Namibia were one step ahead, piercing the gap with ease. Smit’s power-hitting was something that Albie had attested to, and the world is slowly starting to see what the all-rounder can do, he can be a menace. 16-ball 31, combined with the brilliance from Frylinck 28-ball 44, took the Eagles to 163.
At that halfway stage, it was a game that could have gone either way but there was one thing that everyone had a common consensus on, Sri Lankan bowlers were terrible with their plans. They conceded at least 20-30 runs more than they should have, something that definitely could bite them back later in the competition.
Namibia’s bowling is a definite strength for them. But when they did not have their star pacer, Ruben Trumpelmann in the playing XI, there was immense pressure on Ben Shikongo, who was just starting to spread his wings in international cricket. Having finished with a figure of 3/11, it was certain that he was going to play an important role.
There was a pattern to the dismissals, Namibia bowled to their strength, the back of a length, where they bowled 51.2% of their deliveries in comparison to Sri Lanka’s 33.3%. Seven wickets in the evening fell to the balls that were bowled in that corridor. Combined with the intelligent use of the longer boundaries on one square, Namibia stunned Sri Lanka.
In fact, the bravery of Erasmus might go unnoticed after the thumping win. Despite Bhanuka Rajapaksa’s well-known form and aggression against left-arm spinners was seen during the Asia Cup. When Bernard Scholtz was handed the ball, it could have resulted in a high-scoring over but the long boundary on the leg-side meant that it was a favourable match-up.
“Credit goes to Pierre (de Bruyn) the way he has installed coaching to this team, one that's a winning culture and one that sticks together. With the limited resources, I don't think there's anyone else that could run such a tight ship,” Erasmus said after the match.
It is these small things that pay off in international cricket. Cricket might have been a dying sport in Namibia but not anymore. De Bryun’s coaching will yet again go under the radar but he is perhaps the driving force behind rescuing the sport from its dying stage in the country.
Inch by inch, day by day, win by win, Namibia are not only bringing back the sport to its popularity in the country but are also showing how intelligent they can be at it. It is the first time they have beaten a giant like Sri Lanka. And, if you do know a bit of de Bruyn by now, you would know that this is just the beginning.