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Namibia live out their desert dream

Coach Pierre de Bruyn elated with the fight shown by his team to make the Super 12 stage of the T20 World Cup

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Namibia's captain Gerhard Erasmus top-scored in the game that took them to the Super 12s  •  ICC via Getty

Namibia's captain Gerhard Erasmus top-scored in the game that took them to the Super 12s  •  ICC via Getty

Namibia is a country of 2.5 million people, nine cricket fields, five cricket clubs and 16 contracted players. And they've made it to the Super 12s of a T20 World Cup.
Along the way, they've won their first-ever major tournament match and they've beaten a Full Member. Over the next three weeks, they will play against four others and they have automatically secured a spot at the next T20 World Cup too. Their performances will get people talking about the deserts and the desolate landscapes of the country they call home; a place where you can drive for hundreds of kilometres and not see another soul; of Africa's last colony, with no major cricketing achievements to its name until now.
"It's a dream that's come true. These players were six and seven year-old boys, dreaming of playing against teams like India and Pakistan. That dream has come true," Pierre de Bruyn, Namibia's coach said. "All they had in the last few years was to watch these guys on TV and dream about it. They will wake up knowing it's real. I am just so pleased for them. I don't think people really know how limited we are. We are not a cricket organisation with a luxury of great resources."
That's no understatement. Two years ago, the Namibian national men's team only had three contracted players. When they secured ODI status in April 2019, they were able to get 13 more. They still don't have a stadium to call their own and play home games at a club ground, The Wanderers (not the one you think you know). De Bruyn, who has been coaching them from the start of that year, still lives in Centurion and commutes to Windhoek as often as needed. They don't have a full time physiotherapist, a full-time strength and conditioning coach or a full-time team manager and between November 2019, when they qualified for this tournament and April 2021, they had no official fixtures.
The Covid-19 pandemic would not have helped, of course, but it meant Namibia had no match-time against the kind of teams they would face at this event. "But, we've got a saying that we've got to find a way," de Bruyn said. And they did.
One of the first things de Bruyn did was to rope in an old friend, Albie Morkel, albeit also on a part-time basis, to join the coaching staff. "He is a guy I wanted from the start. We've known each other for more than 20 years and his expertise and calmness was something I thought we could use."
The next thing was to organise matches as often as they could. In the build-up to the T20 World Cup, Namibia hosted Uganda, a Zimbabwean Emerging side, a South African Emerging side and two South African domestic teams, the Titans, captained by the country's Test skipper Dean Elgar, and the Knights. Namibia beat all those sides.
And finally, they sought out a headliner: South African allrounder, David Wiese, who qualified to play for them through ancestry. Wiese's father was born in Namibia and he had initially thought of playing for them early on in his career. Then, the Proteas happened. He went with them to the 2016 T20 World Cup and thought he would become established in the side but never did. He signed a Kolpak deal and when that system ended, started a journeyman T20 league career earning high status in the Pakistan Super League and the CPL.
He had never played for Namibia before this tournament but in three matches, has put in two award-winning performances, though he did suggest that his accolade against Ireland should have gone to the Namibian captain Gerhard Erasmus for his unbeaten 53 off 49 balls. "It was an unbelievable captain's knock under pressure," Wiese told the television broadcasters. "I'll accept it but today's his moment. They (the team) have put in a lot of hard work behind the scenes and they deserve every success."
Wiese's modesty does not reflect his value to the team so far. After they were bowled out for their joint-lowest total in a T20I against Sri Lanka, 96, he scored a half-century to help them complete their highest successful chase against Netherlands. Then, he took 2 for 22, to keep Ireland to 125 for 8 on a slow Sharjah track before plundering 28 off 14 balls to accelerate the Namibian chase just as it may have stagnated. There were stages in their reply when it seemed that the pressure was growing on them, but for de Bruyn, the result was barely in doubt.
"Our planning going into this game was calm. The conditions suit us. That's what we get back home. We had a solid game plan and we made sure we stick with that game plan," he said. "It was quite simple: don't leave the stumps, play straight and take it deep. I think where Ireland got it wrong was after that powerplay, a devastating powerplay (Ireland were 55 for 0), the next four overs, they fell asleep. We just knew we had to take it deep, rotate hard, we ran much better between the wickets. The planning was something we discussed and also the opposition analysis."
Now, de Bruyn will have other opposition to analyse, a task he relishes as Namibia enter a tough Super 12 group. Although there may not be any expectations that they will progress further, the monetary gains from getting this far will make a significant difference to their ability to develop further. "We didn't mind that [underdog] tag coming in but we had a lot to lose. We didn't accept that we would have nothing to lose because financially it makes a big difference. We can upskill and we can invest a little," de Bruyn said.
They can also show some of the bigger nations what they are made of. "We are going into Group B as the underdogs and those guys will look at us and maybe see us as a pushover. We've shown the cricketing world over the last week that we are not a pushover. We are going to keep on competing, regardless of the results."
Because they've got 2.5 million dreams to live out in a different desert.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent