Cricket in Sharjah has a long and colourful past. Sachin Tendulkar's desert storm, Javed Miandad's six, Wasim Akram's hat-tricks are all famous parts of its cricket lineage. So Namibia's eight-wicket win over Ireland in Sharjah at the T20 World Cup on Friday was only befitting of a ground, which is bookmarked in the pages of cricketing history.
Gerhard Erasmus, the Namibia captain, struck an unbeaten half-century as his team reached the Super 12 stage at the T20 World Cup for the first time. Namibia had never been at a T20 World Cup until this edition and had not played in a major event since the 2003 50-over World Cup.
The International Cricket Council has 94 associate members, including countries such as Brazil, the Philippines and Russia. Namibia head coach Pierre de Bruyn feels Namibia's performance so far - it beat the Netherlands earlier for its first-ever World Cup victory - once again shows why the sport should encourage upcoming nations.
"It has boomed over the last three years. I am close to most of the associate coaches, and associate cricket is highly important for the global game," he tells Sportstar.
"The ICC should create even more opportunities for associates to play in World Cups. We have already seen in this World Cup what they are capable of. Scotland shocked Bangladesh and Namibia reached the Super 12s... so for me, associate cricket is growing at a rapid rate and it must be respected. We want to play more against full members. Associate cricket is a platform where players are developing, and a platform where teams are getting competitive - the likes of Netherlands and Scotland are great examples.. we want to ensure that we compete hard and be professional."
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The raging Covid-19 pandemic brought competitive cricket to a shuddering halt in 2020, but de Bruyn described it as an opportunity to develop. "We did not feature in any official T20 matches in 2020 but still managed to play inter-squad games. For Namibia, we managed to buy some time. I mean especially development time, upscaling the players. JJ Smit got time to recover from his knee injury. David Wiese and Ruben Trumpelmann got time to sort out their passports. 2020 was a development year - it was a year where we could take stock and upscale."
Wiese, a former South African allrounder, has been one of Namibia's most influential stars at this World Cup, with bat and ball. Namibia has a South African-heavy coaching staff led by de Bruyn, with former international Albie Morkel as an assistant and Eastern coach Richard das Neves as a consultant.
"In 2019, when I got the job, I approached Albie and asked him to join me. He brings fantastic balance to my coaching style - he is someone who was a match-winner for many years. Albie and I have come a long way - we have played together for many years and have been friends for 20-odd years. The knowledge that he brings to the table has made a big impact on how we operate as a team."
Namibia aspires to go toe to toe with the best in the game, but de Bruyn knows there is still work to be done."To develop as an associate, having your own facility with world-class resources and full-time staff is non-negotiable. If you want to be sustainable on the world stage, you need these things. It is called the foundation where you go and develop youngsters and bring them through the system, ensuring your youngsters have education both ways - stay in the system. Investing in players to make the pool bigger is a must."