Burger pays tribute to room-mate van Schoor
Former Namibia captain Sarel Burger has said that "the world is less one great guy" following the death of his close friend Raymond van Schoor on Friday aged 25. The two players had been room-mates for Namibia on tours since 2011 and Burger said it would be hard for the team going forward without one of Namibia's most talented players.
"Throughout the whole community in terms of cricket in Namibia, any national player is well known and I think Raymond was a bit more known than normal guys because his family has been doing it before he started playing," Burger told ESPNcricinfo.
At a Sunday night candlelight vigil attended by several hundred on the pitch of van Schoor's home ground at United Cricket Club, a picture of van Schoor was laid along with roses at the batting crease and they were surrounded by candles formed in the shape of van Schoor's shirt number, 27.
"In Windhoek, when I walk in town random people would come up to me to say they are sorry about the loss, people I never knew watched cricket and people I knew from different entities, they actually knew him," Burger said. "I think he'd have been proud to see all the people who came out last night to pay tribute to him and the family. I was proud to see all the people he actually touched in his life on earth."
Burger made his national team debut in 2002 as a 19-year-old playing alongside Raymond's father Melt van Schoor, who was also a wicketkeeper. He remembers meeting Raymond when the younger van Schoor was only 12, coming in to hit the ball in the nets after Namibia team training had wrapped, and says that it was clear from an early age that he would one day play for Namibia.
"From that stage we had a connection," Burger said. "He was always trying to test his skills against yours. I can remember while my brother Louis was captain, Raymond was normally a guy who would make bets with my brother saying, 'If I make a hundred today, I would like that new Puma bat or that Kookaburra bat' and 90% of the time he'd win the bet making a hundred. So he was full of life and full of character."
Due to the seven-year age gap between the pair, it was naturally quite a bit of time before they could be considered peers let alone friends. Raymond van Schoor made his debut for Namibia as a 17-year-old in 2007 but Burger says it was after van Schoor returned from playing a season of club cricket in England in 2010 that they started to form a closer bond.
"After he came back from England he matured quite a lot," Burger said. "The way his personality was, because I play cricket and work part-time, he was always very curious about what type of work I'm doing and how does one do this or that. I started playing a mentor role to him. A lot of times when he had questions, he would come to me regarding advice, thinking about starting to work but wanting to keep playing cricket and how can one combine these two things."
Up until 2011, Burger, 32, had been room-mates with Gerrie Snyman on tour with the national team, but a management decision was taken to try to mix up the veteran players more with guys still relatively new to the national team - and van Schoor "was adamant" Burger room with him. The pair stuck together throughout the rest of van Schoor's career, a timespan which traversed Burger's time as captain from 2011-14 with van Schoor serving as his deputy.
"We became actually like family, with his girlfriend and my wife," Burger said. "With the exception of my brother, all of my family is in South Africa so Raymond and his girlfriend, Zandre, they were looking after our children in the evenings when we wanted to go for a supper or if we had a function. Whatever the case may be, they were always willing to look after our kids and that obviously made the bond a bit stronger because they were like parents to my kids as well.
"Myself and Raymond would go hunting together at his girlfriend's father's farm. We started spending a lot of time together, especially off the cricket field. If we weren't hunting, we would be braaing together. We were family friends. We had a braai on Saturday evening, the night before the incident, him and his girlfriend at my house. Off the field, obviously we had great times. His sense of humour and his smile is something that's going to be missed. He had a lot of feelings for his girlfriend and I'm going to miss them together."
Burger said one of his favorite memories happened just last month on the occasion of van Schoor's 100th List A match. Described as a sometimes quiet but mischievous presence in the change room, van Schoor was presented with a bottle of champagne by team management upon reaching the career landmark and before long was spraying the bubbly all over Burger.
"If you would meet him, you would think he was withdrawn and quiet but it was more the silence before the storm," Burger said. "Without thinking he started shaking the bottle and walked up to me as I was packing my kit, he just said, 'Listen Rooms, open up your eyes, it's coming!' and he opened up the bottle and shot it straight at me and then he giggled and ran out of the change rooms.
"On the field, the way he would normally encourage me, he had this saying in Afrikaans, 'Kom Oupie'. Oupie in Afrikaans is like grandpa. 'Come on Oupie let's show them.' The way he motivated me on the field and the way he backed me off the field as well. Cricketers go through tough patches and he was the first, when he saw things weren't going that well for myself, he would come have a word to give some encouragement."
Though Burger was not in the Namibia line-up during Sunday's match against Free State, he said he was following along online and when he saw that van Schoor had retired hurt, he called van Schoor's girlfriend Zandre to check what was happening. When told that Raymond had left the field due to dehydration and was on an intravenous drip at the hospital, Burger made plans to come visit the next day.
"We were under the impression it was just dehydration so I said I'd go past there in the morning because she said he was sleeping. Monday morning I went to the hospital early and when I arrived we realised something bigger had happened. He could still talk to me at this time and when I asked questions he could answer me and he was still all right. I was there until about 12 o'clock when they took him in for scans and from there it all deteriorated.
"He was admitted to ICU on Thursday evening. Obviously when someone gets admitted to ICU, things are not going that well. Ninety percent of the team and close friends and family, I arrived there quite early on Friday morning and the reception area of the ICU was packed with people waiting. At that stage we knew that if he was in ICU, things were not well but we were hoping that he would pull through because of his nature."
It was the battling reputation that van Schoor forged at the crease for Namibia that Burger said will be his legacy in the cricket community. More than the weight of his statistics, Burger said it is the way van Schoor played on the field and his jovial but caring nature off the field that will stick with him the most.
"He was a fighter. If you wanted someone to save a three-day or four-day game, he was a fighter and the guy you wanted there because you knew he wouldn't give up. I think he was much more than just a cricket player. He was a great friend.
"He had great ambitions. Cricket was just one of a lot of talents he had. The approach he had to life in terms of, he was good at cricket but there's more to life than just being good at one thing. I think he strived to be a great cricketer but also a great person in life and he will be missed."
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna