For Namibia, it's a chance to throw their chips on the table and let it ride
They might not make it to the knockouts, but this generation of Namibia cricketers can certainly leave behind a legacy to be proud of
If making their first appearance in a T20 World Cup wasn't enough of an achievement, Namibia have gone not just one but two better: a first victory over a Test-playing nation, and qualification to the Super 12s. At this stage, Namibia are playing with house money.
Nobody will expect them to win three games to be in with a shot at qualifying for the semi-finals, at least not with group matches against Afghanistan, New Zealand, India and Pakistan, not to mention Scotland, the fellow Associates. Not having that burden of expectation just might give them the license to throw their chips on the table and let it ride.
Players such as Gerhard Erasmus and Stephan Baard, both of whom have served as captains for Namibia at the Under-19 and senior levels, have been quoted in interviews saying how they were inspired as young boys growing up in Namibia by the deeds of Namibia's 2003 50-over World Cup squad. It didn't matter that they lost every game. What mattered was that they took the field to stand shoulder to shoulder, toe to toe, against the likes of Andy Flower, Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Shoaib Akhtar, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar.
But whereas the 2003 Namibia squad was made up of players who were doctors and policemen, and held various other nine-to-five jobs, these players are full-time professionals. Securing ODI status in 2019 has opened the door for Erasmus to commit himself full-time to cricket, and delay a career putting his law school degree to use. Cricket Namibia is now reaping the rewards of that extra funding that could be invested in player development.
The success against Ireland to vault into the Super 12s has instilled new-found belief into the likes of Erasmus and the rest of his charges. If he was inspired simply by seeing the likes of Rudi van Vuuren and Deon Kotze stand on the field against such illustrious names of the 2000s, one can only imagine what it may do for the next generation in Namibia if Erasmus's men not only take the field against some of the Full Member heavyweights, but actually trump a team led by Kane Williamson, Mohammad Nabi, Babar Azam or Virat Kohli.
For anyone sleeping under a rock for the last week, Namibia are riding high after taking two wins out of three in the opening round of the tournament. But that is just a continuation of their outstanding form in 2021. Namibia have won eight of nine T20Is in the calendar year, including three matches earlier in October against UAE, PNG and Scotland, the last of which was a dominant five-wicket win chasing a target of 138 with 14 balls to spare. Even though Scotland won their qualifying group, which included a win over Bangladesh, Namibia are arguably favourites in that Super 12 encounter before they square off against their Full Member slate.
This is the stronger side of Namibia's game. One of the fascinating parts of Namibia's win over Ireland to end the opening round was the on-air television commentary discussion centered on who should be promoted in the order to give the innings a spark after a slow powerplay. The main argument was that JJ Smit should have been sent in to crack a few boundaries and get the innings in gear. He wound up not even being needed after the tremendous partnership between Erasmus and David Wiese took Namibia home. Just as remarkably, Baard - who is their third-highest scorer in T20Is and second-highest in all T20s - was left out of the XI after a string of low scores throughout October. But when in form, Baard can be devastating, as can the versatile Craig Williams, who is one of just two Namibians - along with Louis van der Westhuizen - to have multiple centuries in their T20 career. The point is, this is not just a two-man band with Erasmus and Wiese.
There isn't anybody who would be characterized as express on the bowling side, but T20 has brought out their clever bag of tricks. The left-arm trio of Smit, Ruben Trumpelmann and Jan Frylinck can hit their cutters and yorkers when called upon and Wiese's arrival has added a level of experience to take the pressure off some of the younger men in that group when sticky situational match-ups arise. Though Frylinck's 3 for 21 was lost in the shuffle of the heroics produced by Wiese and Erasmus in the chase, it was no less pivotal in the win over Ireland. On the spin-bowling side, Bernard Scholtz was the leading spin bowler at the global qualifier two years ago in the UAE and resumed his quietly tidy and efficient spells in the opening round. Against sides packed with left-handers, the option to select Pikky Ya France as an offspinner is also open for Namibia to maintain balance in the side.
Player to watch
Most people might call on Wiese as Namibia's trump card, but he himself said upon accepting the Player of the Match award in the win over Ireland that it should have gone to captain Erasmus. Groomed as a future captain from the time he made his senior team debut as a lanky 16-year-old against Ireland in Belfast in the 2011 Intercontinental Cup, Erasmus is the heartbeat of the squad. He bats with intelligence - no better evidence than his constant pursuit of pinching low-risk twos rather than slogging for boundaries on a tricky Sharjah surface against Ireland - but can ramp up the intensity when required as demonstrated by a memorable sequence of four sixes in a row against Singapore during the 2019 global qualifier. He's their best player of spin, their best all-round fielder, and though he only bowled one over in the opening round, his handy part-time offspin could become an increasingly key factor in the Super 12s.
How to get the best out of Craig Williams?
The 37-year-old stalwart was in red-hot form entering the tournament with four consecutive T20I fifties, and also top-scored with 29 against Sri Lanka. Prior to 2021, he spent his entire T20I career batting in the middle-order, but post-pandemic has shifted between opening and coming in at No. 3. He started off the tournament at No. 3, but due to Baard's struggles was promoted to open against Ireland and made 15 off 16. If he does end up staying at the top, his success or failure will also depend on the ability of his partner to get Williams on strike. The few times Williams struck boundaries against Ireland, he struggled to stay in rhythm because Zane Green was blocking, leaving and chewing up dot balls at the opposite end. Whoever is batting with Williams needs to focus on singles and get off strike to let the old pro work his magic.
Likely XI: 1 Stephan Baard, 2 Zane Green (wk), 3 Craig Williams, 4 Gerhard Erasmus (capt), 5 David Wiese, 6 JJ Smit, 7 Jan Frylinck, 8 Jan Nicol Loftie-Eaton, 9 Pikky Ya France, 10 Ruben Trumpelmann, 11 Bernard Scholtz
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent @PeterDellaPenna