01 February 2016
Namibia revels in the ripples of a great win
From Raymond van Schoor to Lohan Louwrens – the significance of the team’s South African conquest is in the details
Namibia Under-19's celebrations after its win over South Africa Under-19 were visceral and nothing short of genuine exhilaration.
Perspective is a funny thing. Even the average cricket fan would have heard of the upset at the ICC Under-19 World Cup. But that word – upset – doesn’t do justice to the Namibians’ feat. Because only they really know what went behind the making of that result, the odds they beat and the troubles they’ve had to overcome. That an Associate side beat a Full-Member team is the fact. It is in the details, though, that the true significance of the story lies. Perspective.
A day after beating South Africa, the Namibian boys enjoyed a swim at Cox’s Bazar beach, one of the longest beaches in the world.
In November last year, Raymond van Schoor was batting for Free State in a Cricket South Africa One-Day Challenge match in Windhoek when he suffered a stroke. Five days later, he passed away at the tender age of 25.
The Namibian cricket circle is a small one, and a close-knit one. A few of the Under-19 lads were, in fact, were playing the same match when van Schoor collapsed. They helped carry him away, and were affected deeply by his passing. He was a hard worker and an inspiration, a friend to all of them.
Lohan Louwrens, whose heroic half-century helped Namibia see off South Africa, had van Schoor’s shirt number – 27 – on the back of his bat.
“They all played with him. They all compete in the premier league with each other. They are all friends with him,” says Andre Schmidlin, the Namibia team manager. “Raymond made his debut, I think, at the age of 16 for the national side. He was a very, very big inspirational figure for these lads. His work ethic on and off the field – he was probably the hardest worker in cricket in Namibia.
“For these lads, he was a massive inspiration. He still inspired them today, even though he is not with them here.”
On the morning of the match, in the team bus, Niko Davin, the opening batsman, stood up and said: “Boys … one chance. We have one chance to be legends. Grab it.”
They were confident, pumped up. They were also nervous. Namibia had lost its two warm-ups to England and Zimbabwe, but it believed there were many positives to take out of those games. When it beat Scotland in its tournament opener, the belief grew. And when it stepped out on to the field against South Africa, it found that everything was falling in to place. It was asked to field, but it had South Africa dancing to its tunes, keeping it to just 136 for 9.
“We were nervous from the start. It was a big game. It was always going to be a very big game,” says Michael van Lingen, who returned 4 for 24. “Being an associate country, playing a Test nation and defending champions, the guys had to be nervous about the game. But we’re all glad we pulled through.”
Namibia had played the first innings knowing it had little to lose. By the second innings, it had everything to lose. It caused nerves and anxiety. It lost a wicket off the first ball, and was reduced to 10 for 2 within four overs. The captain, Zane Taylor, was sent back soon and the total was 29 for 3. And the wickets just kept falling. Louwrens, however, was batting with maturity far more than a 16 year old is expected to have. He was composed and assured, and quietly notched up a half-century.
But, at the other end, the mayhem continued. Back in the dugout, Schmidlin was on the verge of tearing his hair out. “This is huge, man,” he says with his deep voice in his South African accent. “Today was possibly the best and the worst day of my life. Worst because I had to sit through the batting. The bowling was fantastic, but I had to sit through that.
“You know you see two down for ten, two runs, two wickets. Still 135 to chase. 135 becomes the biggest total in the world. Then all of a sudden we’re down to 11 runs, and we’re dropping wickets. Then we’re down to two runs, and we drop another wicket. You know how big a total ‘two’ becomes? Ohh!”
But Namibia crossed the line. And Louwrens had pulled it off, somehow. “I’ve got to really give it to the youngsters,” Schmidlin goes on. “Louwrens is just 16 years old. He hit a fifty. I don’t know where he got it from to bat like that today. On the world stage, he dug in. In any World Cup you get a moment … something just says something special is happening. Louwrens was that moment today.”
“It. Is. Insane,” says Schmidlin when asked of the reaction in Namibia. “It is crazy,” is how Louwrens puts it. Taylor just grins widely when the question is put to him.
“Getting back home, I had 626 WhatsApp messages. My Facebook page is just going out of hand, I switched it off,” says Schmidlin. “Back home, the newspapers are running articles. People are phoning. It’s absolutely going crazy. It’s a small nation, so the word spreads fast. We don’t beat big sides like South Africa. This is massive. Two wins in a row, Super League phase, possibly facing cricket giants like India. This is the biggest achievement in Namibian sports in history. No Namibian side has ever gone through to a quarterfinal on a world stage. Ever. In any sport. The biggest achievement we had in sport was somebody like Frankie Fredericks in athletics – as a team sport, we haven’t shown like this in the world stage.”
The first things the kids do afterwards is call their families. “They’re very proud. Very proud. We’re proud to be Namibian,” says Van Lingen. Louwrens makes it a point to thank his parents. “They are our biggest supporters.”
There is a strong bond within the team. Schmidlin has known a lot of these boys from their Under-13 days, and says, “I’m basically their second dad.” The kids agree. It comes at a price for Schmidlin, though.
“You can’t keep them quiet for one second,” he says, faking exasperation. “My self-esteem is so low because of that. I’ve got a bit of a belly, I’m 40 years old, and I’ve to hear everyday from them that I’m the fattest team manager in the competition. I’ve seen worse (paunches). But that’s alright, I’ll take it, if it helps them take us to the quarterfinals.”
The team is multi-cultural. There are those who speak English, others who speak Afrikaans. There are those of German decent, and they all converse in what is called ‘Namlish’. It is all cause for some light-hearted banter. “If you’re Namibian, you’re Namibian. If you’re English, you’re English. If you’re Afrikaans, you’re Afrikaans. We are a very jovial nation,” says Schmidlin. “If you’re English, we’ll give you some stick for being English. And the English will give the Afrikaans bunch some stick … and everyone gives the Germans some stick. And that’s just how it goes.”
The Land God Made in Anger – that’s one of the more creative descriptions of Namibia. Harsher, less diplomatic versions state that it’s like the Gates of Hell. These don’t have anything to do with the people, mind you. Namibians are positively lovely folk, personable and charming. And that’s reflected in the fact that they enjoy high political, economic and social stability. No, those descriptions have everything to do with the desert-dominated landscape of the country.
Geographically, the country is reasonably sized, but a lot of the space is extreme in conditions. Namibia is therefore the least densely population country in the world – their population is just 2.1 million.
It is one of the biggest challenges facing Namibia Cricket. Cricket isn’t as popular as rugby or football in the country. Most of the kids currently in the Under-19 team juggled cricket with rugby and studies, before dropping rugby. Not everyone does that.
Norbert Manyande, the coach, explains the troubles of a stretched structure. “We struggle for facilities, big time. And it’s one of the biggest challenges for cricket Namibia,” he says. “Most of the cricket is played in Windhoek. It is the capital, but it only has like five cricket clubs. And from other towns, you only get one club playing in the national league. They play their mini leagues there as well, but there is only one team from there.”
It is in view of this that the victory should be looked at. The hope is that the nation will take note of the achievement, and that will eventually lead to some improvement in the overall structure.
Manyande believes it is likely. “It definitely will do that,” he says. “Even the following that we, the Namibian Under-19 side, have got now for winning the first two games, it’s massive. Everybody is following. Even the guys who don’t understand it are following it now. Because we’re representing the country. It’s a massive thing. Just by that, we’ve already drawn a lot more numbers in terms of support, and in terms of people who would love to play cricket.”
And the hope is that sponsors will now line up. “Cricket Namibia is slowly investing in grassroots, into the communities. There are fantastic age-group prospects coming through now,” says Schmidlin. “There are boys with a lot of talent. The profile of cricket is increasing steadily. Obviously, this win will have a big impact, will hopefully help attract a couple of sponsors, invest the money. The biggest issue is always to get a solid sponsor. Our premier league isn’t massive – some six sides competing against each other. This will help.”
Perspectives. Namibia’s victory isn’t just about an associate side beating a Test nation. The ripples go well beyond. Watch that video again. It will have new meaning.
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