Namibia celebrate a memorable victory over South Africa © ICC
The manual scoreboard still had Namibia on 135 but the Namibian players, by now counting the runs on their fingers, knew the truth. They that Fritz Coetzee’s quick single in the 40th over was the 137th: the winning run. Their sprint towards the two unbeaten batsmen came suddenly, given how still and nervous they had been as they sat expectantly outside the dressing-room.
The outcome at the Sheikh Kamal International Cricket Stadium Academy Ground in Cox’s Bazar was humungous for Namibia, and earth-shattering for South Africa. The defending champions were knocked out after their second group stage match – and that, too, to a lightweight neighbour.
Even at the Under-19 level where teams go through rapid changes, roughly every two years, this is a shock result. A crowd of about 80 had witnessed a fine underdog story.
Their manager Andre Schmidlin said that Namibia’s qualification for the quarter-finals of the U-19 World Cup, for the first time in history, ranks as one of their greatest sporting triumphs.
“As a country we have never had a side qualify for the quarter-finals on any world stage in any sport,” Schmidlin said. “For us as a country, this is massive. The implication back home is massive. It means more numbers coming in to play cricket and hopefully more funding.
“We have football, rugby and field hockey as our main sports. So cricket is at third or fourth. This win will help. A small nation like us should not beat the world champions.”
According to Schmidlin, a majority of the current Namibia Under-19 squad have been playing together since the age of 13. They had a very small pool of players to choose from for this squad, which made the win sweeter, apart from the fact that they had defeated mighty neighbours South Africa.
“This is a phenomenal group of kids together. We only had a group of 28 boys to pick this side from. We go down to South Africa twice a year to play competitions in state provinces. We usually do well over there,” he said.
“Reigning champs under the pump, eh! Under pressure?”
After they had South Africa six down for 37, someone chirped this towards the South African batsmen. Much of the talk within the Namibian players was in Afrikaans but sometimes, they would break into a bit of English. Perhaps just to remind the world what was going on.
The Namibia batsmen were thoroughly challenged in the 137-run chase but they had done the hard part at the start of the day, reducing South Africa to 60 for 8 in the 26th over. Michael van Lingen had taken four of those wickets, the fourth the most spectacular when he broke through Tony de Zorzi’s defences to knock over his off-stump.
Van Lingen bowled at medium-pace but whenever he had the batsman, both left-handers and right-handers, leaving a few outside off-stump, he would crank up the pace and tighten his line. He said that the plan was to bring it into the left-handers and de Zorzi’s dismissal was stunning for its late movement.
“It was nice to see the wickets fly,” van Lingen said. “I first tried to build pressure; consistency and patience brings wickets. Everyone around me kept up my spirits. I try to bring the ball into the left-hander and take it out for the right-handers. I think I succeeded today.”
Van Lingen, whose father is South African, said that they were keen to show that Namibia are not in Bangladesh just to make up the numbers. He moved to Paarl three years ago, and studies at Paarl Boys High School, although he is originally from Walvis Bay in Namibia.
“With all the support of my teammates, I really wanted to show South Africa that we are Namibia and we are here to play. I have been asked to play for Namibia’s senior side but I want to take my chances in South Africa. I wanted to show them that I am here,” he said.
At the end of the game, the Namibian players piled on to Lohan Louwrens, their slightly-built middle-order batsman whose unbeaten 58 guided them through the nervous chase. Louwrens looked dazed by having all his teammates on top of him. To give him some air, they hoisted him on their shoulders, as they sang and cheered on their way to the dressing-room where their manager Schmidlin gathered them around for a prayer.
There was a team song after which the ICC held the prize-giving ceremony. When they were asked to take a selfie with the scoreboard in the background, they readily agreed and then walked all the way to the other end of the ground. They kept slapping each other in the back, having supported each other all day.
They larked about as they did their cool-down stretches. There was laughter, a few whistles and the odd joke about going to Dhaka. They are most likely to take on India in the quarter-final on February 6.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo’s Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo