Meeting for five T20Is in Bulawayo next week, Namibia aim to roll over African Full Member rivals Zimbabwe.
In the Associate world, seldom is there a safety blanket.
One of cricket’s Cinderella stories of 2021, the Eagles of Namibia travel to Bulawayo to take on Zimbabwe in a five-match T20I series, beginning May 17.
Already qualified for the 2022 edition off the back of their heroics in UAE last year, the series provides a strong examination ahead of the tournament in Australia, but it comes with a catch.
With T20I rankings likely to dictate who will seal an automatic spot for 2024 and who will be forced to enter through continental qualification, a strong performance could also go a long way to securing a ticket for USA and the West Indies as early as November 2022.
No one lived the rollercoaster of the 2021 campaign more than skipper Gerhard Erasmus. In spite of breaking a finger during the warm-up phase of the tournament, the 27-year-old led his side through a tough First Round group in the field and with the bat.
Again though, the fickle and cut-throat nature of the game under Full Membership proved the ups are matched by downs. Running into strong UAE and Oman outfits in Cricket World Cup League 2, and admittedly not at their best in the T20 format against Uganda albeit with a rotated squad, Namibia are eager to find the winning formula once more.
Erasmus too hasn’t had the happiest 2022 either. Breaking bones in his hand a second and third time after the freak incident in UAE, the right-hander admits the last five months have been rocky, just to ensure he can take the field again.
“We always knew that a big tournament like that (the 2021 T20 World Cup) would take a bit of its toll on us, and it's quite mentally draining physically, lots of pressure cricket, especially in the group stage.
“You've got a long way to come back either by training or having to get out on the park to get to the level again of cricket that you’re required to be at. It is quite a journey and it’s quite mentally telling.
“It's not really a place you want to be too often to come back. It’s mentally draining.”
There’s a sense that next week’s series with Zimbabwe is Namibia’s chance to start moving through the gears again.
Erasmus is available for the series in a boost to the team, as is wicket-keeper Zane Green, though the loss of Stephen Baard to injury means another shuffle at the top of the batting order. Ruben Trumpelmann and No.4 MRF Tyres ICC T20I all-rounder JJ Smit have also had their bowling workloads managed, a theme that may continue in the series.
The hosts are going through changes of their own, entering global tournament qualification paths after being readmitted as an ICC member in late 2019.
Losing both the one day and T20 series against South Africa A and now under a new white ball skipper of Craig Ervine, the men in red must hit their straps, with 2022 T20 World Cup qualification far from guaranteed. Hosting Qualifier ‘B’ for the tournament in July, Zimbabwe are one of eight teams vying to clinch one of the final two tickets for Australia.
The Namibians may just be underdogs, though the gap between the two sides has narrowed in the eyes of followers of the emerging game. For Erasmus, the tour will deliver benefits irrespective of the result.
“I think we have a great opportunity. I think we will gain a lot of confidence from the series if we play well. If we don't play well, we’ll gain a lot of information. So I think there's only really positives that can come from a tour like that, playing at a level higher than yours.”
“Like we saw last year at the World Cup, you only really get better against the bigger nations by playing against them, by matching your skills and by actually physically doing it.”
1st T20I: May 17
2nd T20I: May 19
3rd T20I: May 21
4th T20I: May 22
5th T20I May 24
All matches at the Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo at 13:00 local time.