International affair in Ireland
An Aussie and a Kiwi adding 163 in an international match at Belfast? It may not sound right but it happened today as Canada's antipodeans, John Davison and Ian Billcliff, flayed Namibia's bowlers at the Woodvale Cricket Club.
Tucked underneath Black Mountain in West Belfast, Woodvale is no classical cricket ground, from its square shape, brick walls and short boundaries to the fact that it is invisible to passers by, being surrounded by housing. Twice I went round the block in search of the sound of leather on willow, questioning my ability to read a map and, indeed, my sanity. Perhaps the drive up the famous Shankill Road, with its sea of Union Flags, proved too much of a distraction.
I stepped through the gate just in time to see both the first of Davison's four sixes travel into a neighbouring property and the gentleman who was painting that house showed no interest in getting down from his ladder to retrieve the ball. Davison, Canada's Australian captain, soon passed 50 but offered a chance on 58 which was grassed by his opposite number Deon Kotze.
At the other end, Billcliff offered some much-needed support having joined Davison at 26 for 2. Just as Davison lives in Sydney, Billcliff conceded that preparing for the ICC Trophy back home in Auckland was a little weird. Dropping Billcliff at third man before he had scored turned out to be a 90-run blunder for Namibia. Add to that the 67 further runs Davison benefited by after his life and you have an entirely different proposition to the eventual victory target of 285.
The words "catches win matches, eh" uttered by Namibia's 12th man Mattheaus Van Zyl could not have been more pertinent. Like many of his team-mates, Van Zyl lives and plays cricket in South Africa which goes some way to explaining how a country with just five senior clubs can make it to the World Cup as Namibia did in 2003. Of interest, too, is the fact that - unlike most of the rest of their competitors in this tournament -Namibia's players are all born in Namibia.
Everything is just a little more relaxed away from the highest level. The players sit as club players do, on the edge of the ground, not worrying where their gear is strewn; officials as high-ranking as the President of the Canadian Cricket Association sit on park benches, and the media (in this case limited to yours truly) eat lunch with highly-rated umpires (Billy Doctrove).
Even the ground announcer wandered around soaking up the action, until he came across a name in the Canada team that required a moment to compose himself before attempting to pronounce. "I was hoping he didn't have to bat," announced the announcer as Pubudu Dassanayke went to the crease.
Dassanayke did not prosper with the bat but was sharp behind the stumps - and he needed to be when he caught Danie Keulder for 83 down the legside off George Codrington's offspin. Keulder had been in full flight despite losing his opening partner JB Burger - Namibia's star batsman at the World Cup - for just 8. With Keulder gone too, Namibia started to lose direction and wickets.
They did however have few problems hitting sixes. Kola Burger and Louis Burger enjoyed a mid-afternoon feast that ensured their team would go close and Canada would go through a number of new balls. One enormous Kola Burger strike was still tracking up when it sailed over a three-story house.
There was no shortage of encouragement right to the end when Namibia needed 19 off the last two overs. Caribbean and Asian voices rung around the Canadians in the field while the locals cheered catches and boundaries alike. But when Namibia's No.9 Stephan Swanepoel reduced the target to three with a four and two sixes, the locals' chants changed to "easy, easy".
And although Namibia had just one wicket in hand with one over left, it probably should have been. The moment got the better of Swanepoel though and Codrington's excellent catch inside boundary saw Canada indulge in a baseball-style victory pile-up and left Namibia's nearly hero knelt-down, distraught on the pitch. All this, and it's just the first round.