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Junior cricketers return to hero’s welcome

Namibia’s u19 cricket team received a hero’s welcome after qualifying for the 2024 u19 Cricket World Cup when they arrived at Hosea Kutako International Airport on Monday.

Namibia won the African qualifying tournament in the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam, after remaining unbeaten in five matches to top the log on nine points, followed by Kenya on seven and Uganda on five points.

By winning the regional qualifier they have now qualified for the u19 Cricket World Cup which takes place in Sri Lanka in January next year, a mere five months away. 

They will be joined by two other regional qualifiers – New Zealand from the East Asia Pacific region and Nepal from Asia to join 11 other full member nations in Sri Lanka.

It is the first time in seven years that Namibia has qualified for the global showpiece after their last appearance in Bangladesh in 2016 when they stunned South Africa by two wickets to reach the Super League stage before eventually finishing seventh overall.

That squad included several current senior Eagles players like Zane Green, Lohan Louwrens, Michael van Lingen and Niko Davin, and the new squad’s achievements in Tanzania were put in perspective by Cricket Namibia CEO Johan Muller at their arrival. 

“No one understands how tough it is to tour Africa until you have done it, and I think you’ve got an idea about it now. You’ve made us at home and the parents next to the field so proud, and every young Namibian child who’s got aspirations to play high-level cricket, you have now become a hero for them,” he said.

Muller also praised the coaching staff, led by u19 national coach Oscar Nauhaus and senior men’s coach Pierre de Bruyn, who went along on the trip, as well as CN vice president Polly Negongo. 

“Compliments to the coaching staff, Oscar and Pierre, as well as Polly, it’s wonderful that you sacrifice so much of your time. Polly, you’ve got your own business and to tour with the team and play a significant father figure role, it’s critical and no one really understands how important it is. And our national coach Pierre, who didn’t even need to go with the u19s, but chose to do so, I hope the players appreciate them because they were exceptional – they are high quality people and that’s what guides you on and off the field,” he said. 

Muller said they had already started preparing for the world cup.

“We have already started planning some tours before the world cup, and I just want to tell the parents that they shouldn’t bargain too much on academics for the next couple of months. They also wont have much December holidays, because the pre-tournament preparation matches in Sri Lanka start on 6 January and the world cup starts a week later, so they need to be well prepared,” he said. 

National u19 coach Nauhaus said there was a great spirit amongst the squad. 

“There was just a feeling within our camp, there’s a unity there, there’s a hunger and a fighting spirit, and a commitment towards our goals. We had that feeling a few months ago already, so we just had to go and do it,” he said.

Nauhaus said he gained a lot of experience from De Bruyn’s presence. 

“They say you can’t buy experience and as a mentor to me at my first ICC tournament, that was massive. It’s amazing how these tours put you in unique situations, and it was great to have him there to discuss ideas. We spoke a lot of cricket, and there’s a lot of off-field things that happens that people aren’t always aware of. I think we worked together really well, so it was a really good combination and I’ve told him as much – I was really grateful to have him there and to be able to learn from him, and that’s what our organisation is about,” he said. 

Nauhaus recalled some of the special memories on the tour.

“One memory that sticks out, was probably Junior’s (Kariata’s) first ball to Tanzania, when we started bowling, that was a real catalyst moment for us, and we also had out Top Gun moment on the beach, playing a bit of team football two days before our first game. But each game had it’s moments, those little moments that swing it your way, where someone stands up and does something that changes the momentum of the game, so there’s probably quite a few,” he said. 

Nauhaus said a lot of hard work lay ahead.

“The players are going to work very hard now. We’ve got a number of challenges that we need to find solutions to, and then we will need to reach a new level in a number of aspects of the game. We are going to a compete in a completely different competition, it’s a different beast for a variety of reasons, so we need to ensure that we find an extra 10 percent in a number of different fields, that will allow us to go and be competitive. It’s just going to come down to a lot of hard work, over the next few months,” he said.