Namibia itself is a fascinating country with a chequered and interesting history, but this article is about cricket. After independence from South African rule in 1990, Cricket Namibia got itself organised and became a member of the ICC. On their CV, they already had defeats of Gloucestershire and the Netherlands, and a game brought to the country by South Africans was flourishing without them. They quickly made an impact as new ICC Associates, too, finishing a respectable ninth place in the 1994 ICC Trophy. They then resoundingly dominated tours against Italy and Malaysia. However, a poor display in 1997 left them 15th out of the Associates, and in the lower rung of the 2001 tournament, which was helpfully restructured to leave them with little or no chance of making it to the 2003 World Cup.
After flattening their Division Two group with a Net Run Rate of +3, they then also flew through the Super League and into the World Cup, a fairytale campaign. Unfortunately, the fairytale couldn't quite last another two years, and in 2003, the Namibians were way out of their depth. They got rolled six times to finish bottom of their group and return home with their tails between their legs. They could then have taken the Bermudian route and retired to a secluded corner of the Associate circuit, but they did not. Instead, they went away, worked hard, played cricket, and now, a decade later, finally look set to make another global tournament.
In that decade, Namibia used the Provincial competitions in South Africa to blood as many young players as possible and help them to experience first-class cricket. This has resulted in their under-19 team being rightly viewed as one of, if not the strongest in Africa after South Africa, and in their national team being full of players who know their games. In 2012, the Namibians came within a single victory of qualifying for the World Twenty20. Now, with three times as many spots to play four, they must be hopeful of making it to the world stage once more.
Namibia pushed their cricket team out of their comfort zones to find success.
The Namibians have a massive battery of all-round talent, each of which can fulfil a slightly different role. Louis van der Weisthuizen is a viscious pinch hitter, and bowls tight left arm spin; Gerrie Snyman is a middle order aggressor of genuine quality, and handy seamer; Craig Williams is a classy bat and partnership breaker; Sarel Burger is the skipper, and is a calm batsman and steady bowler; Christi Viljoen hits a long ball, and bowls quick, swinging yorkers off the wrong foot; Nicolaas Scholtz is something of a rescue man in the lower order, and bowls leggies. Even the 'keeper, Ray van Schoor, is a destructive opener and excellent off-spinner.
In the longer format, though, there seems to be a slight dearth of dour opening batsmen. Every good side has one, and the best that Namibia had to offer in that mould was for a while a choice between Wian van Vuuren or Pikky Ya France. Xander Pitchers is the latest man to take on this mantle, and his five-hour 114 against South West Districts would indicate that he has the long game to see off the new ball bowlers, and the spinners, and make sure they're good and tired if and when they're needed to bat.
Craig Williams would grace any Test side. He is a proven century maker in all three formats, with no less than thirteen in first-class cricket alone at an average of 40. His medium pace isn't to be sniffed at either, and he regularly picks up important wickets by hurrying the batsman unexpectedly. In the Provincial competitions, and the Intercontinental Cup, Williams is a fish out of water, a fish that would probably do a good job as a county overseas, should somebody have the gumption to sign him up.
The Namibian club scene doesn't have the pyramid structure of the Interpros, or the glitz of some of the UAE's flashier competitions, but what it does have is a steady stream of coaches. The links built between Cricket Namibia and universities in England like Nottingham-Trent means that a steady stream of enthusiastic and academic cricketers come and go, people who are just as interested in learning about the culture and history of their host land as they are in passing on cricketing knowledge. Even if they aren't all success stories, I personally have met one who was. Also, the young Under-19 players have a forum to impress, to push for national selection, and an alarming number of them make a good go of it. Clearly, there's something that's working right.
Well, aside from having no real prospects of playing ODI cricket any time soon (don't get me started on this, I believe that all of the WCL Championship games should be retrospectively awarded ODI status) and no direct route up to the Test arena, Namibian cricket is hardly rolling in money. Most players tend to have to take time away from cricket to look after their farms as cricket doesn't pay the bills. As a result, whatever they may seem like on the field, Namibia is probably the least professional WCLC team. Their players have little opportunity to train more than once a week, and not all live in the close vicinity of the centre of cricket in the country, Windhoek. This is why some of the players often drop in and out of the side with no apparent rhyme or reason.
Well, as the Associate Road Trip reaches its closing stages, I will be looking at the talented team in Hong Kong next week. Until then, goodbye.