Netherlands, Namibia look to fly their flags high at T20 World Cup
Both teams also carry a few South African names as they look to deflect pressure ahead of the tournament's opening round
The T20 World Cup is all about winning but Namibia's Gerhard Erasmus and Netherlands' Pieter Seelaar tussled over whose team will fly further under the radar in a bid to deflect pressure off their sides ahead of the tournament's opening round.
When asked about the expectation facing Associate nations keen to punch above their weight on the biggest stage, Seelaar put the ball firmly in Group A favourites Sri Lanka's court, saying, "Sri Lanka need to go through; we want to go through, so that's the difference," before Erasmus chipped in with, "Maybe I will grab the underdog tag from Pieter and we'll go with that."
There were chuckles all around but in reality both captains are feeling the immense weight they carry ahead of what could be the most important week in many of their cricketing careers.
Netherlands had not qualified for either of the last two 50-over World Cups and did not make it to the second round of the last T20 World Cup and want to rebuild their reputation as one of the stronger "smaller" sides. Namibia have never been at a T20 World Cup and have not played in an major event since the 2003 World Cup and believe they can surpass those glory days almost two decades later.
"We had (2003 World Cup captain) Deon Kotze at our send-off event, speaking very fondly. He branded us as being a better team than theirs which is a great honour," Erasmus said. "Those are individuals we looked up to and guys that sparked something for us. They drew a line in the sand back then and 18 years later, although it's too long for Cricket Namibia's liking, we are back at it and hopefully we can continue."
While neither Erasmus nor Seelaar was willing to label themselves their country's best just yet, they both believe they have the ingredients to fly their flags high, albeit some of their key components come from elsewhere. Incidentally, the same elsewhere.
Netherlands are headlined by former South African allrounder Roelof van der Merwe and former Warriors player Colin Ackermann, who Seelar singled out as being two players that give them the edge. "We've got Colin Ackermann and Roelof van der Merwe - two guys who bat in the top six, who can also bowl," he said.
And Namibia have a South African-heavy coaching staff led by Pierre de Bruyn, with Albie Morkel as assistant and Easterns coach Richard das Neves as a consultant. They will also give an international debut to former South African allrounder David Wiese, whose journeyman T20 career brings vast expertise to the group.
"Not only does he bring skills with bat, ball and in the field but he has been to a lot of tournaments and brings a lot of experience having played around the world," Erasmus said. "He has been amazing with fitting in the changeroom and he is only going to add value to this tournament."
While neither Namibia nor Netherlands played any T20 cricket in the pandemic-affected year of 2020, they are both reasonably happy with the recent preparation they have had, especially Namibia. "We've been able to play a lot of cricket back home. Coming from winter, we had to go and find our own cricket. We managed to do that right around Southern Africa," Erasmus said.
Namibia hosted Uganda, a Zimbabwean and South African Emerging side, and a South African domestic team, Titans, which included Test captain Dean Elgar and who Namibia beat. "All those teams brought different challenges. You can't get anything better than playing lots of games of cricket but we're a bit over the warm-up games now and we're raring to go."
Seelaar and his side feel the same. They won the qualifying event for this tournament almost two years ago and are keen to see if they can perform as well now as they did then. On paper, they are probably considered to be as likely as Ireland to progress to the main draw but Seelaar was not going to go there. "There's no clear favourite and no weak side," he said, before adding that Sri Lanka would not have it easy. "I wouldn't say Sri Lanka is definitely* going to go through, they are going to have a hard time beating all three of us."
*October 18 - This quote was amended to include the word "definitely"
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent