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Gerhard Erasmus: The lynchpin behind Namibia's recent success

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Last updated on 14 Feb 2023 | 09:07 AM
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Gerhard Erasmus: The lynchpin behind Namibia's recent success

In a chat with Cricket.com, the skipper opens up about his stint at the ILT20, the ups and downs he’s faced to take his country to great heights, and more

We are very blessed as a team and a country to have someone like him. They are one in a million, they don’t just come around every single day” -  Craig Williams, former Namibia batter.

“He’s one of those guys even though he’s a good player and got talent, he’s got a sixth sense about the things on the field” – Albie Morkel, Assistant Coach, Namibia.

“He's got exceptional cricket knowledge, he's a student of the game. He loves studying the opposition and finding the best way forward for the team to win” –  Ruben Trumpelmann, Fast bowler, Namibia.

Gerhard Erasmus has been synonymous with the rise of Namibia cricket. Since taking charge of the team, Namibia have played two T20 World Cups and are on course to have a crack at their third mega event – the ODI World Cup in India - depending on how things go over the next few months.

There is, of course, a ton of hard work behind the scenes and nothing is possible without the support of your teammates and the coaching staff. While Pierre de Bruyn and Albie Morkel have been a formidable coaching team, the players too have responded brilliantly to take Namibia out of oblivion to being among the top 15 teams across white-ball formats.

Erasmus is rated quite highly as captain by his peers and also stepped up to the plate last year, in which he finished as the leading run-getter in ODIs, scoring 956 runs at 56.23, which included a century and eight fifties. Namibia, as a result, are now well-placed to make the ODI World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe later this year, given that they are currently placed third in the League 2. 

As captain and one of the senior statesmen, he has plenty of other responsibilities, which take a toll on him, but looking at the results, they all seem to be worthwhile.

In a chat with Cricket.com, the Namibia skipper, who recently won the ILT20 with Adani Sportsline-owned Gulf Giants, speaks about his country’s rise, his experience leading the side, the influence of Morkel and de Bruyn, the T20 World Cup 2022 heartbreak, his journey, and more.

The ILT20 is the first franchise T20 league you have been part of. Tell us about your experience.

The Gulf Giants have got me into the team from the start. I've felt at home right from day one. The setup has been so good, be it from backroom staff members setting up the system and team culture so well. Thoroughly enjoyable to be here for the last 2-3 weeks. Not only been a system and an environment in which you can thrive and play your best cricket.

What are your thoughts on the tournament - perhaps the only league where having at least a couple of players from the associate nations in the XI is mandatory. Do you think that number should go up in the upcoming seasons?

As an associate player I would always say it should increase. There's long been a bit of a push for associate cricket and the development of cricket across the world. It's a great initiative by the ILT20 to bring in that rule. Also the associate players who have been playing cricket on a high level continuously yearn for opportunities like this. 

None more so in an excellent tournament like this. It's been a tournament of the highest stature. The players are also showcasing that they can play on this level and they can add lots of value. Hopefully, a few more slots open up and maybe a few more tournaments follow this great example. 

I don't think associate cricket has been in a better place than in the last couple of years with lots of international results also showing the associate countries are competing in the T20 format. The players are showcasing their T20 skills at the top level.

Andy Flower is someone who has coached in some top T20 leagues around the world. How has your experience with him been? Any particular advice that's stuck with you?

A phenomenal coach. I have always known that he has a great name in the cricketing world and having experience that now myself in the last few weeks, I have definitely enjoyed my time with Andy. One of the little pieces of advice is Andy saying I should go play my own game, score runs my own way. Just because you are in a different stage now or getting different opportunities playing alongside different players you play differently but you still got your own game way of scoring runs and playing at your best. 

Coming in from the outside, it's really reassuring that what you bring to the team is enough.

Must be nice to have a familiar face in David Wiese in the team. How vital has he been in Namibia's rise over the years? How have your interactions been with him?

David is an immensely experienced player, particularly in the T20 format, he has done so much for the Namibian side. Not only the skillset that he brings - bat and ball and on the field - but the experience and the calmness that he brings, a particular type of thinking that you get at the highest level he really brings to the Namibian side. 

A lot of those guys have fed off that, have also risen their standards and taken their game to a higher level seeing how David operates. The professional way in which he trains, the professional way in which he goes on the field and the type of skills he brings on the field with bat and ball are skills that you really need at the highest level. 

In the T20s, he has taken us from a side who have done well and qualified to beating a side like Sri Lanka in the World Cup stage. So, that in itself is a massive growth and lots of it is definitely the influence of David.

You had a memorable 2022 where you finished as the highest run-getter in ODIs. Looking back, on a personal note, what would you say worked for you?

It was kind of an up and down, to be honest. Had lots of injuries on my finger. I've really had to get stuck to it and really had to make the best of what I have at particular stages going through those injuries. The courage and resilience to fight through those tough periods in the one-day format at least is the thing that got me through to scoring more and more runs, being more consistent.

I've really had to come back even after a few setbacks, I had to come back and score more runs. If the team was in a tough place, I had to be resilient to get us out of that hole. It really did come together for me - my first ODI hundred and lots of contributions every match. I didn't train any differently, I've just probably been able to get it all together mentally and it really paid off.

Tell us about Namibia's performance in the T20 World Cup in 2022. A lot of eyes were on your team given how well you did in 2021. How disappointing was it to miss out on a place in the Super 12s after beating Sri Lanka, the best team in the group?

Very disappointing. We as a team felt very disappointed at the end of that tournament. We definitely peaked at the start of the tournament by beating Sri Lanka. We were not able to recharge and recuperate and give those performances in the second and third games against the Netherlands and the UAE. That was quite disappointing for us and we felt really sorry. But coming home to great support and great support from the cricketing world made us feel a little bit better. Everyone was really excited at the historic achievement of us beating Sri Lanka. 

But certainly as a player, as a captain and as a team, we wanted to do more. We wanted to go through to the Super 12 stage, just because we knew what the Super 12 stage has in store - all the Test-playing nations playing in Australia on the biggest grounds. It really was tough to see the other teams go through and particularly because we went through and tasted those successes in the previous tournament where we went through to the Super 12. 

We knew what a big stage it is to play in the Super 12 against the Indias and the Pakistans and all of those big nations, big crowds, big viewerships. It definitely was disappointing and hard to watch everyone else play in the Super 12, knowing you had it under control. We couldn't get to the same levels of the Sri Lankan game and unfortunately that's how cricket goes. You don't win all of them.

I have spoken to a few from the Namibian camp including Craig WilliamsAlbie Morkel and Ruben Trumpelmann. They have extremely positive things to say about you as a player and captain. Over the years, how have you managed to develop as a player along with the added responsibility of leading the side?

It's quite a tough one to balance. In the associate world, we do have a lot of pressure on the leadership and that includes the coaching staff, yes the captain, but some of the senior players in the team as well. There's a lot of extra responsibilities on those guys to lead the team and take charge of everything that goes on. That has been tough. It is mentally draining at times to three or four-fold job in a team and still take care of your own game. 

That has been something that I have had to work through with some of my mentors and the coach to really try and delineate your personal game as supposed to your work around the team as a leader. Really just need to rely on a lot of other people rather than myself. 

Those individuals include Pierre de Bruyn, Albie Morkel, Justin Kemp and your people closer to home, like your family and a few other individuals that you really see as mentors. That helps you to get perspective of where you are at as a leader and helps you to have the right answers as it is not easy to do it on your own. 

Tell us about the influence Pierre de Bruyn and Albie Morkel have had on the team and on you personally. Would you say Namibian cricket could not have soared the heights as they have without them at the helm?

Pierre and Albie are the ones who turned Namibia into what it is now. It all started in 2019 when they instilled certain culture into the team that was a winning culture and one that has inspired many wins for us as a team. The way they've run this team and the way they've built this up it's been phenomenal. I'm not sure cricket in Namibia would have soared to these heights if it weren't for those two individuals. Many other people as well too behind closed doors...Many board members and people who do work on a volunteer basis. They just love cricket in Namibia. 

They sort out all the structures and the office staff and the CEO have come on board since Pierre and Albie have been on board. They also sort out all of the other things that a cricketing nation needs - from financials to all of the administrative things that a country needs to run properly and for it to have longevity. That's something that's very much on our minds at the moment: will we be able to sustain our performances and success as an organisation going forward. 

You don't want to be successful only for 4-5 years, you want to leave a legacy that's successful and stays for 10 or 15 years and onwards. Those two individuals, in particular, Pierre has been instrumental in taking our cricket from, a very grim period of 10 or 15 years, where we didn't quite get on to the international stage that often and didn't quite perform to the potential we thought we could have. 

At the moment, we are at such an awesome place that we are competing with the best in the world with very limited resources. I don't think it is in every individual around to get a team performing like how Pierre has, like how Albie has, and all the other people that I have mentioned.

You are well-placed in the ICC CWC League 2 and seem to be well on course to make it to the Qualifier in Zimbabwe. After good shows in the last two T20 World Cups, what would it mean for Namibia to potentially play in the 50-over World Cup as well?

There's a little bit left to qualify for the ODI World Cup, seeing that there is just 10 teams. At least four Test playing nations will be in that qualifier. We have to take that stage by stage. We are on third position at the moment in World Cricket League Division 2. 

That will be a massive World Cup and if we happen to qualify for the World Cup Qualifier in July, it will be more or less be like a mini World Cup, where quality teams will be vying for two spots. For now, I am looking forward to playing in that tournament. If we play well and qualify for it, that tournament itself will be a massive, high quality one. 

Also Read: Associate nations leave a mark in an unforgettable 2022

50 overs being one of my more successful formats over a good number of years, I'll be looking to do really well in that personally. I know lots of our players will be really excited for that tournament with lots of Test-playing nations being there. Really trying to take it step by step and if you play out of your skins you could get into those last two spots for the 50-over World Cup. It being in India, it's going to be a massive World Cup. It'll be life-changing.

I believe you have a degree in Law from the University of Stellenbosch. Do you have the time to practice? Or you see that as something to fall back on when your cricketing career draws to a close? Have you thought that far yet?

Namibia being from an amateur set up we cricketers weren't paid or it wasn't really viable to only seek cricket as a career, at least through the first 10 years of my career. Lots of players or my friends in Namibia used to always go to study in South Africa. So, I followed that path to get a degree before going into professional cricket and at the moment I'll be looking at making at professional cricket and really put all my energy in that now. 

Besides having other coaching jobs and doing a few things on the side, I haven't been practicing law in Namibia. But if you have a degree, you can one day fall back on it. I've been lucky enough to get a degree in record time of four years [laughs]. Being busy with cricket and all the social life and everything in South Africa, I was lucky enough to get it in the right time. 

Now I have some time to only focus my energy on cricket. That's the safety net of having a degree but I'm not sure I'll use it yet. Definitely nice to have the qualification behind my name.

Lastly, tell us about your journey in cricket. Did you take interest in any other sport growing up?

The other sports that schools in Namibia are familiar with are field hockey and rugby and I played both until about 16. It was nice to develop all your physical attributes, your fitness needs, your skillset with your hand and eye coordination and stuff by playing three sports till about 16. I really enjoyed doing that as well. I grew a bit too late, so I wasn't going to make it in rugby because I was too small. Hockey, not my best suit, but cricket has always been my best suit. 

I've really enjoyed choosing cricket after that, but staying in touch with all of the other sports, it's good to have your body do different movements, have different skills, is always beneficial and I still use them in cricket today. The types of shots you have in hockey and types of fitness that you need for those sports can help you in the other sports.

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