The Bertus de Jong Column
Namibia Diary 2
So having boldly, and in hindsight perhaps rashly, labeled my last column "Namibia Diary 1" I now find myself obliged to interrupt my holiday to belatedly make good on an ordinally implied promise, and provide a retrospective on the final few days of World Cricket League Division 2, now nearly a week past.
The five-day delay can be attributed to combination of laziness, lack of internet, and a prolonged blackout in Mariental brought about, I later surmised, by the same storm that grounded the triumphant Dutch team in Botswana on their Odyssean journey back North. But now I finally find myself online and at a loose end, sat at the bar of the Fish River Canyon Lodge minding the World's second-largest gap, it's about time to get caught up.
"All life" as Marvin Cohen reminds us "is but an elaborate metaphor for Cricket" and staring idly out at the dumbfounding expanse of this barren Buzz Aldrin of canyons, one of course cannot help but be put in mind of cricket - more specifically the 50-over fixture lists of the unfortunate four who failed to make the cut at last week's tournament.
Whilst grander affairs like the World Cup or the World T20 are contested for country, glory or financial reward; a richly populated cricket calendar was the main prize on offer last week. Only the finalists, we were told, could look forward to the regular international cricket afforded by the World Cricket League Championship and the Intercontinental Cup over the next four years, whilst the bottom four would have to get by on whatever bilateral tours they could arrange. So whilst a shiny dish and a few thousand Namibian dollars would be nice, in the scrabble for a top two finish the six teams were, quite literally, playing for the sake of playing.
By the second rest day, things weren't looking great for the Netherlands. After delivering a rather inhospitable 188 run thrashing to the boys in Orange on Wednesday, our Namibian hosts turned a Myburgh and Malik-inspired win over Kenya into a hollow victory by proceeding to collapse against Nepal the next day, leaving the Dutch trailing Nepal by two points and 0.9 net run rate deficit with one meaningful game to go. With the Dutch looking dead-and-buried and my schedule for the next four years looking sparse, I retired to the Hilton's rooftop sky bar for some liquid consolation in the company of couple of umpiring acquaintances up from Cape Town.
There we ran into Ed van Nierop and Roland Lefebvre, and a convoy to Joe's Beerhouse for dinner was arranged. Shop-talk was expertly (and in the circumstances understandably) kept to a minimum, sticking to such safer subjects as comparative hotel laundry services and what exactly an Oryx looks like when not served medium-rare with chips. Van Nierop and Lefebvre departed promptly after dinner, pleading early morning training duties the following day, so the officials and I headed back to the Hilton for a nightcap - only to be confounded yet again by the bafflingly conservative hours apparently kept by hotel bars in the Namibian capital. Back to Chameleon then to dash off an overdue match report and head to bed, a Nepali friend request century small succour in the circumstances.
Friday was marked as a "rest day" in the programme, but events dictate that it be spent slaving over a hot spreadsheet someplace where an approximation of a decent espresso can be provided. Off to the Safari then, to run through the various improbable results that could still prevent a Namibia-Nepal final. A 0.9 net run rate deficit is not easily overcome, but eventually I was satisfied that the Dutch trouncing Uganda by 200-odd runs or inside about 10 overs would do it, assuming the Kenyans obliged by beating Nepal.
My poolside afternoon at the Safari provided little further actionable intelligence, beyond confirming the trans-cultural ubiquity of "Frozen"-obsessed daughters and the persistence of rumours about a mooted four-team promotion to the WCLC. Hedged denials from the ICC spared me having to write up the latter, whilst the former's cricketing relevance was questionable.
The following morning saw Fernando failing me for the first time, so it was the delightfully world-weary Australian manageress of Chameleon who delivered me to Wanderers, in time for what promised at least to be an entertaining day. With both the Netherlands and Kenya needing to perform improbable run rate adjustments some caution-to-the-wind cricket could be expected.
Sure enough, the Dutch stayed true to form and smashed in the backdoor to the final by steamrolling Uganda - Ahsan Malik taking a faintly ridiculous five for seven and the top order racking up the requisite 80 runs in 39 balls to finish up in time for elevenses - so all that was left was to hope Kenya would act the gracious groom and carry them over the threshold.
All my meticulous NRR calculations of the previous day were now irrelevant of course - as any Kenya win would see the Dutch through - so I wandered, via the bar, over to Affies where Nepal were doing their best to spoil the party. The Nepalis had already bagged a couple of early wickets after Gyanendra Malla's unbeaten 91 had hoisted them to their tournament-best total of 194. But by the time I'd settled in on the clubhouse balcony Alex Obanda and Irfan Karim had steadied the ship, and together with Rakep Patel they were to ensure a pleasant afternoon's watching for the Dutch fans drifting over from the main ground.
In contrast, Nepal coach Pubudu Dassanayake cut a disconsolate figure sat alone under the shade of a solitary tree along the boundary, watching Karim bat his side out of I-Cup contention. A bright smile flashed at passers by swiftly melted back into a look of deep consternation and his occasional shouts of encouragement were overmatched by the cheers erupting from the stands at the north end, where an increasingly relaxed-looking group of Dutch players and partisans had gathered to watch the Kenyans secure them a spot in the final. Dassanayake could take comfort at least in his avowed and certain confidence that fully four teams would be elected to the World Cricket League Championship, as Karim and Patel's century partnership made it increasingly plain that the Nepalis were not to achieve salvation by their own hand.
Having watched the Kenyans mete out deliverance and reprobation to the Netherlands and Nepal respectively, I summoned an apologetic Fernando to convey me to the Safari - where the obviously relieved remainder of the Dutch squad had nervously followed their particular redemption unfold from the pool bar. Smiles and handshakes all-round as various KNCB dignitaries made an appearance, but the warmest welcome was reserved for the Kenya squad when they arrived en-masse for an aquatic warm-down, to raucous cheers and applause. Peter Borren plainly felt this did not go far enough, further showing his appreciation by bombing into the centre of the Kenyan exercises and delivering further acclaim from the middle of the pool.
The ensuing celebrations were cut short in deference to the fact that technically there was still a final to play the next day, though of course the serious business of the tournament was already seemingly settled. The game itself played out as a comfortable win for the Dutch, remarkable mostly for the swarm of bees that interrupted the Namibian innings - sending players and umpires alike diving for the deck. Silverware aside of course, both teams seemed happy enough after the game, having secured the only two WCLC spots on offer.
Or so we thought, as of course on arrival here this morning I found all my poolside spreadsheet labours had been made doubly redundant by a retroactive declaration vindicating the faith of the Nepal coach. On the basis of the ICC's entirely free, most just, irreproachable, and eminently changeable good pleasure four teams would indeed progress to the WCLC. Thus at the last instant Nepal and Kenya had been pulled back from the precipice of scheduling perdition and welcomed to the elysian uplands of regular 50-over cricket, while Ireland and Afghanistan have been kicked Upstairs to join the now rather diaphanous Future Tours Programme, where they can presumably expect to fill their calendars with ODIs against no-one in their right mind.
On strange wheels indeed turn the stars of Associates cricket - I am left to muse, as the Irish and the Afghans survey their own Fish River Canyon, and I'm checking tickets for Kathmandu.