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Last updated: Friday, 20 December, 2002, 12:07 GMT

Africa's surprise package
By Mike Burnett
BBC Sport Online

Helge Schutz photo: Deon Kotze in action
Namibia have raised a few eyebrows in the cricket world
When the Namibian national team returned home from the 2001 ICC Trophy tournament in Toronto, nothing could have prepared them for what lay in store at the airport.

More than 1,000 jubilant fans turned up to welcome the side back and celebrate a landmark in Namibia's cricketing history.

The small African country, which had only become an independent nation in 1990, had qualified for its first ever Cricket World Cup.

The Namibian team had gone to Canada as outsiders and had returned as national heroes.

"Since their passage to the final in Toronto, the Namibian cricketers have become the biggest thing in their country since (the Olympic sprinter) Frankie Fredericks," World Cup 2003 director Ali Bacher said at the time.

"The game is enjoying unprecedented popularity there. It's a tremendous boost for Africa and will put Namibia on the world stage."

Certainly their success in Canada was a clear indicator of how far cricket had come in such a relatively small time.

More than 10 years ago, the game was concentrated in a handful of clubs mainly around the capital Windhoek, played predominantly by the white, mostly Afrikaner, population.

But the authorities' concerted efforts to develop the game in schools and set up a multi-race base of talent have paid off.

The initial target for qualifying was 2007, but the team sprung a surprise
NCB president Laurie Pieters
"The boom of cricket is unbelievable," Namibia Cricket Board president Laurie Pieters told BBC Sport Online.

"We have cricket all over the country. There are now 17 clubs in Namibia, with 13 outside the capital.

"We have around 4,500 juniors involved in the sport and the national cricket office has just opened full-time."

One factor that has improved cricketing standards is the encouragement of South Africa, as well as funding and guidance from the International Cricket Council.

From 1996 the neighbouring nation allowed Namibia to take part in the United Cricket Board Bowl, a competition for the second XIs of South African provinces.

The national side also benefited from the advice and coaching of Bob Woolmer, who previously helped turn South Africa into a major force in world cricket with their victory in 1999.

The former England batsman cast his eye over the Namibians during the build-up to the ICC Trophy tournament, having coached there the year before and spending more time with his charges when they visited South Africa.

Their improvement was undeniable, qualifying for the World Cup on their third attempt.

Their performances in previous ICC Trophy tournaments had been less impressive, winning just two of their four pool matches in 1994 and two out of six games four years later.

Despite the rapid progress, Namibia's success in Canada surprised many, including the NCB.

"We're four years ahead," explained Pieters.

"The initial target for qualifying was 2007, but the team sprung a surprise."

No doubt, Namibia will be hoping to spring a few more surprises during the World Cup.

Links to more Namibia stories



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