'We have five pitches' - Namibia's T20 journey

1 year ago 3255
Venue: Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi Date: 27 October Time: 15:00 BST
Coverage: BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra commentary. Live text commentary, in-play clips and video highlights on BBC Sport website and app.

Namibia captain Gerhard Erasmus dropped to the ground in tears when David Wiese hit the winning runs to seal qualification to the Super 12 stage of the Men's T20 World Cup.

Eighteen years since Namibia last played in a World Cup, they were tears of joy all the way from Windhoek to Sharjah as the lowest-ranked side in the tournament defied the odds.

Erasmus says those emotions, not just from himself but the Namibia entourage, were the result of the long journey that has featured obstacles that most international teams could never dream of, let alone overcome.

"Grown men crying on a cricket field is not normal. You don't decide to cry. You get a feeling of emotion and it happens because of the special people along the way - and the special things that have happened," Erasmus tells BBC Sport.

"Although it may be a small moment in cricketing history, it's a very big moment in lots of people's lives."

For a nation with a serious lack of cricket resources, Erasmus firmly believes their experiences have helped create a team culture built on resilience and selflessness.

"With the resources we have, it's tough and that's called for a real tight ship," he adds.

"We have five cricket pitches in the country. We train at the same facility all year. Simple things like training with old softballs. We have to regularly go out of our way to get high-quality cricket.

"Pierre (de Bruyn, Namibia head coach) buys our snacks for training on a Monday. Karl Birkenstock brings the water can. I don't want to make it sound as if we're this hopeless case of a team, but those are the kind of limited resources we've built a culture around."

That culture and the mental strength the Namibia players have developed is also down to playing "games with real consequence" among the Associate nations - matches which can often be the difference between playing cricket for a living or finding another job.

"It's cut-throat. Those tournaments and qualifiers where you know if you don't qualify, you won't have enough cricket or funding for the next couple of years... We've played lots of these."

Gerhard ErasmusGerhard Erasmus averages 36.88 with a strike rate of 136 from 25 Twenty20s for Namibia

In 2019 Namibia clinched one-day international status, which substantially increased the funding they would receive over the coming years. That funding allowed 13 more players to receive full-time contracts. Before 2019, only three players were contracted.

"Our central contacts are only as big as our budget," says Erasmus. "We don't have the finances to get contracts that are big enough to help sustain a living or a livelihood for after cricket, so it's always in the back of your mind."

Several players also combine cricket with other jobs. Craig Williams runs a cricket shop and is a quantity surveyor. The 37-year-old also opened a cricket academy featuring Namibia's first indoor training facility.

Erasmus, a 26-year-old law graduate, says securing ODI status was the difference between him playing cricket full-time and having to find a job once more.

"Without that kind of funding, a lot of us would have had to go that route again, where guys get small contracts and are essentially player-workers," he says.

Namibia began their T20 World Cup campaign with defeat by established Test side and former 50-over world champions Sri Lanka.

A stunning win against the Netherlands gave Namibia their first success at a World Cup, and that was followed by a comfortable win over Ireland to book a spot in the Super 12 phase.

"Having lost to Sri Lanka, being 52-3 after nine overs [chasing 165] against the Netherlands, it would have been quite easy to roll over and that's our tournament done," says Erasmus.

"But we stuck to it. Those years of learning, mental strength and real resilience throughout the journey are now values within us."

Namibia's reward for progressing to the main draw are matches against Scotland - in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday at 15:00 BST - Afghanistan, Pakistan, New Zealand and India.

The prospect of facing some of the biggest stars in cricket is barely believable.

"Coming from Windhoek, where we usually have our family and friends next to the field having a barbecue, it doesn't get much louder than a few hand claps," says Erasmus.

"It's going to be great fun playing in front of massive global audiences and let's hope to use that energy to our advantage. It's the things that dreams are made for all of us and we're going to enjoy it."

Watching Namibia at the 2003 50-over World Cup inspired a seven-year-old Erasmus to focus on cricket rather than rugby.

It says much for how far they have come that he is now in a position to say: "We owe it to ourselves to inspire the next generation."

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