Under-19 World Cup, Sri Lanka January 21, 2006

Namibia's youngsters set for learning curve

Namibia are looking to the future in next month's Under-19 World Cup. They earned a place in Sri Lanka by winning the Africa/East Asia-Pacific tournament last August and have five 17 year-olds in their squad.

And that concentration on very young players is all part of a long-term strategy according to coach Andy Waller. "For us as a team this tournament is definitely a learning curve which we can use later on in our cricketing careers," he said.

"By taking so many very young players it bodes well for the future of Namibia cricket as all the players should be able to absorb and enjoy the experience of a World Cup.

"The players can learn from it to prepare for bigger international cricket in Namibia and as a lot of them are young enough to play in the 2008 tournament they can really put their experiences [in Sri Lanka] to good use in future," added the former Zimbabwe batsman.

The side may be young but they are also talented as their success in the qualifying event in Benoni, South Africa, illustrates. They lost just one match, to fellow World Cup qualifiers Uganda, but got their revenge over their fellow African side by beating them in a closely-fought final by three wickets.

Namibia have the misfortune of being drawn in one of the toughest groups, Group C, and will face tournament favourites India and hosts Sri Lanka, as well as fellow associate country Scotland. However they still have several players who appear capable of making an impact.

Chief among them is the allrounder Louis van der Westhuizen, who was one of Namibia's stand-out performers in Benoni. His left-arm spin proved consistently effective with nine wickets in five matches including 3 for 10 against Fiji and 3 for 21 against Tanzania, and in two matches against Uganda he conceded just 37 runs in 20 overs.

And as if that was not enough he also scored 113 from 136 balls as an opening batsman against Papua New Guinea (PNG) in the semi-final win that confirmed their trip to Sri Lanka as one of the two qualifiers.

Vice-captain Nicolaas Scholtz also impressed as a left-arm spinner in the Benoni tournament with seven wickets in five matches and that means Namibia have two bowlers capable of exploiting what are traditionally spin-friendly conditions.

Their pace-bowling resources include Henno Prinsloo, Floris Marx - highly regarded for his abilities at the end of the innings - and the left-armer Marc Olivier, who took 3 for 27 in the final of the qualifying tournament against Uganda.

With the bat, Namibia will be looking to their captain, ST Ackermann, who made crucial contributions in the two matches against Uganda, and opener Dawid Botha, who made 66 against PNG.

Waller is realistic about his side's chances but is also hopeful they can win at least one of their matches in the group stage. "We don't expect to win the tournament," he said. "But we have targeted our game against Scotland as a must-win game.

"That would mean we should be third in the group and we would end up in the Plate section and from there we would be happy if we achieved the semi-final."

That is not an unrealistic aim given that Namibia did exactly that when they last played in this tournament, in New Zealand in 2002, beating Sri Lanka, Scotland and Canada to reach that stage before losing to Zimbabwe.

Ahead of what is bound to be a voyage of discovery for Namibia's young players, Ackermann summed up their philosophy when he said: "Our first goal is to do our best in every match and perform to our best both on and off the field but most of all to enjoy the experience and learn from it."

Nambia squad ST Ackermann (capt), Nicolaas Scholtz, Jason Bandlow, Dawid Botha, Morne Engelbrecht, Pieter Grove, Andrew Louw, Hendrik Marx, Floris Marx, Marc Olivier, Henno Prinsloo, Ewald Steenkamp, Keady Strauss and Louis van der Westhuizen.