Proteas' neighbours are becoming noisy: The rise of Namibian cricket

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Namibia qualified for the ICC World T20 last year.
Namibia qualified for the ICC World T20 last year.
ICC
  • Namibia is on the rise as a cricketing nation under the tutelage of former Titans stalwart Pierre de Bruyn and his Proteas assistant Albie Morkel.
  • That was confirmed earlier this week after the ICC handed the Eagles the award for Associate Member Men’s Performance of the Year at its annual Development Awards.
  • Not only has the senior side's on-field success translated into them regaining ODI status, it's led to the full professionalisation of the local game's structures and a healthy pipeline.

"Look out for us, we're on a mission."

Pierre de Bruyn, one of South African franchise cricket's quintessential former bulldogs with bat and ball, isn't merely talking a big game about the Namibian national team he's coaching along with former Proteas all-rounder Albie Morkel.

Those words have been backed up by deeds over the past 19 months.

Within four months of commencing his duties at the start of January last year, the Eagles were crowned as the ICC World Cricket League Division Two champions, in the process regaining official ODI status after a 16-year lapse.

Six months later, Namibia managed to qualify for the now postponed ICC World T20 for the first time in their history.

And to top it off, the ICC earlier this week awarded them the Associate Member Men’s Performance of the Year at its annual Development Awards.

"I have to admit that I was very surprised when we received that accolade," De Bruyn told Sport24 from Windhoek.

Despite being typically and endearingly eager to get back into the thick of things, the 43-year-old has a bit more time to reflect on an "unbelievable journey" to date - he still has one more day of a mandatory two-week self-isolation period to go.

"When I came here, I was confronted with a team culture that had crumbled. About two months before my arrival, we lost to Botswana (in a regional World T20 qualifier)," he said.

"My mandate was quite obvious. Things needed to be put in place. Namibia has always had players with great potential, but the structures and culture was lacking. With that Division Two tournament around the corner, we really had to get things up to speed quickly."

De Bruyn, whose career at Easterns, the Titans and Dolphins was defined by enthusiasm and an immense work ethic, came up with a simple yet highly effective value system based around four pillars: inspiration, pride, courage and selflessness.

"The thing about those four values is that we apply them every single day. We measure ourselves against it and it's been the harbinger of our success.

"The ICC award was just reward, a fantastic moment for cricket in the country," he said.

Bullish

Yet the sheer pace of Namibia's turnaround - from losing to a lowly neighbour to winning a tournament that clinched ODI status - attests to a group of players who has embraced excellence and accountability. 

In fact, skipper Gerhard Erasmus - De Bruyn affectionately calls him by his first name "Merwe" - and his troops were so keen to instigate the change that their level of confidence skyrocketed from low to plain bullish... with little in between.

"I really want to give the players the credit. If they didn't buy into the philosophy we were trying to implement, I would've gotten nowhere," said De Bruyn.

"There was a sense before the Division Two tournament, which we hosted, that we simply needed to qualify, get into the top four. But it wasn't our mindset at all. Everybody said to each other: 'Let'es go win this thing'." 

However, the Eagles' newfound purpose didn't immediately translate into positive results.

Losses by two runs and four wickets to the USA and Oman respectively threatened to swiftly stop the revolution in its tracks, rendering a final group match against Hong Kong a complicated event.

It wasn't merely a must-win, they needed to improve their net run rate sufficiently too to reach the final.

Jean-Pierre Kotze whacked a swashbuckling 86-ball 148 and Stephan Baard crafted a more sedate 122 in a second-wicket stand of 243 as Namibia galloped to a total of 396/3, a batting effort padded up by JJ Smit's brutal 61 off just 26 deliveries.

Then no less than eight bowlers were employed as the hosts bowled their opponents out for 245, securing a 151-run victory that saw them sneak into the showpiece game.

It was also that performance that secured them this week's ICC award.

Galvanised, the Namibians cruised to a 145-run triumph in the final, decimating Oman's batting order for a meagre 81.

"From thereon, our curve just went upwards. In our following assignments, we didn't just win, we dominated," said De Bruyn.

"Our players have always been hugely talented, they just didn't quite have self-belief. The cherry on top was last year's World T20 qualification. It's been amazing how the players have responded. This success didn't just fall into our laps. It's been through hard work and taking ownership."

Even if the Eagles' focus is on the collective, De Bruyn's assertion that the team possesses excellent players is wholly justified.

25-year-old Erasmus, a former Matie with a law degree, was almost lost to the game back in 2018 when he considered taking up a position in his father Francois' firm.

By the end of last year's triumphant World T20 qualification in Dubai, the right-hander was named Player of the Tournament.

"It's an unbelievable achievement when you consider the tournament's competitiveness and the fact that 14 teams participated," said De Bruyn.

On-field success rewards backdoor heroes

Pleasingly, the national team's rise has positively influenced other areas of the sport too.

"Our success has rewarded a country of 2.5 million people that take their cricket very seriously. It's rewarded a lot of good people in the administration too, our president Dr Rudie van Vuuren and his board, our CEO Johan Muller and our patron Francois Erasmus. People always come pat me on the back, but I can't do it without the support of these people," said De Bruyn, who also highlights the sacrifices made by his wife and two daughters in staying behind in South Africa while he's away for significant periods.

"When I started, we had four players on full-time contracts. Now we have 16. I love the fact that we're creating opportunities. It was unheard of a few years ago that a guy can tell you he's a professional cricketer. We've bolstered our pipeline, there's a really good foundation to build on now in terms of our age-group teams."

But higher ambitions mean harder work and no room for complacency.

De Bruyn and "brilliant right-hand man" Morkel wouldn't want it any other way.

"We sit behind closed doors for long hours, plotting selections and game-plans. It's a meticulous process. It's just not in my nature to believe that we've reached our potential . We have so much more still to play for.

"The hard work actually starts now."

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