"It has been a reward for three years of hard work," said Rudi van Buuren, the president of Cricket Namibia. Van Buuren, who famously took Sachin Tendulkar's wicket and a credible five-wicket haul in the 2003 ICC Cricket World Cup, saw the Namibian boys write one of the most astonishing stories in modern-day cricket, 18 years after he and his teammates took part in a World Cup which remained their first and last appearance in a global tournament until 2021.
Namibia came into the T20 World Cup as the lowest-ranked team in the tournament and they were placed in Group A along with Sri Lanka, Ireland and Netherlands. They, on paper, were the weakest side in the group and not many predicted that they would progress to the Super 12s.
But Namibia not only qualified for the main stage but also won their first-ever game in the Super 12s against Scotland. It's a feat that hasn't been achieved even by the likes of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. It seems like what these boys are touching is turning into gold. Rudi van Buuren knows these wins are no fluke but results of sheer perseverance over the last few years.
Cricket is hardly among the top two sports in Namibia, a country where the population is only 2.5 million. Cricket is only played in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, where five clubs fight for the championship. There are only nine cricket fields in the country and it shouldn't be a surprise that Namibia was a team with only three centrally contracted players two years back.
They were granted ODI status in 2019 and that's when Cricket Namibia signed 13 more players. That was the same year when they qualified to play for the Men's T20 World Cup by making the semifinals of the qualifying tournament. Namibia skipper Gerhard Erasmus was the player of that tournament. All-rounder JJ Smit hit the most number of sixes. They've been a brilliant T20 side since their debut but were untested against bigger opponents and in bigger stages.
Before the World Cup, they were bolstered by the inclusion of a T20 maverick in David Wiese. Wiese has been one of the key players for them in the tournament and was one of the prime reasons why Namibia qualified for the Super 12s.
Namibia won all the matches in the 2021 UAE T20 Summer Bash and were confident coming into the World Cup. They faced Sri Lanka in their first game in the tournament. This was the first time they were facing a top team and the result was inevitable. But Namibia had the belief and they didn't lose heart after a disappointing start.
Against the Netherlands, they chased down a substantial total thanks to David Wiese's superb fifty. He was there in the middle again when they beat Ireland, hitting the winning runs. Gerhard Erasmus showed his prowess by notching up a solid match-winning fifty. This was the first time they beat a Test-playing nation in T20Is. With the win, they secured a spot in the Super 12s. It was certainly one of the greatest moments in the history of Namibian cricket.
But it was just the beginning. They humbled Scotland in their first Super 12s match. Scotland, of course, are a more experienced side but Namibia knew they had to play better on the given day. Ruben Trumplemann set the tone by sending back three key Scotland batters in the shed in the first over itself. How often have you seen a team take complete control after just six deliveries?
Namibia will face India, Pakistan, New Zealand and Afghanistan in their upcoming matches in the tournament. It will surely be a massive learning opportunity for the boys who have been dreaming of facing top cricketing sides since their childhood. They might pull off an upset in, maybe, one of the matches. If they lose all the matches, it will still remain a major success story. For a team that doesn't have a full-time physiotherapist and a strength and conditioning coach, making the main round and winning their first game is a tremendous achievement.
These cricketers gifted the 2.5 million people back home in Namibia so many moments over the last few days to cherish for a lifetime. "Small country, a small number of people play cricket," said Erasmus but they, for sure, dreamt big and achieved that.
And it's not over yet.