The underdog shows spirit

Five-wicket man Rudi van Vuuren has just dismissed Michael Vaughan, caught by Louis Burger.-— Pic. REUTERS

Unfancied, they might be, yet the spirited Namibians gave the fancied Englishmen a real scare.

WONDER what must have gone through Nasser Hussain's mind as he watched the proceedings from the dressing room. It must have been difficult.

On a bleak, murky day, when the sun hid behind the clouds, his side was on the verge of an embarrassing setback in a World Cup game. Yet skipper Hussain, down with a stiff neck that ruled him out of the contest, was helpless.

Indeed, the Namibian chase was very much on, and rather incredibly, the minnows, at one stage, appeared like pulling it off. Unfancied, they might be, yet the spirited Africans were giving the fancied Englishmen a real scare.

When Jan-Berry Burger, a 21-year-old student from Stellenbosch University and Danie Keulder, belting the ball around the park, raised 97 for the third wicket in just 108 balls, the victory target of 273 appeared well in sight of Namibia at Port Elizabeth.

To make matters more worrying for the Englishmen, dark clouds hovered around, and at this point Namibia were actually ahead on the Duckworth and Lewis method for rain-affected matches.

Having already forfeited four full points to Zimbabwe, a defeat at the hands of lowly Namibia would have spelt disaster for England, almost certainly ruling it out of the Super Six. It was crunch time.

England, led by Alec Stewart for this match, finally managed to wriggle out of a tight corner, mainly due to the inexperience in the Namibian line-up, winning the group `A' game by 55 runs, Namibia ending at 217 for nine.

Full marks to the World Cup debutant though for a lion-hearted display. And on this day, there were no bigger heroes for Namibia than opener and Man of the Match Jan Burger, whose 86-ball 85, included some fierce strokes, that rattled the England bowling and fielding, and paceman Rudi van Vuuren, whose persistent bowling had fetched him five wickets earlier in the day, putting the skids on England.

Burger struck 10 scorching boundaries, greeted seamer Craig White's introduction into the attack with a huge six, and a battle was on.

It was inspired batting, there was a goodly crowd on hand to cheer him, and he did expose the inadequacies in the English attack, especially in the middle overs, where the likes of Ronnie Irani surface.

A clean striker of the ball, Burger, whose methods with the willow are as refreshing as they are uncomplicated, handled the new-ball pair of Andrew Caddick and James Anderson comfortably, and although the pitch held no threat, it was a creditable effort.

A century beckoned for Burger, but he miscued a short ball from White into cover's hands. At this point, Namibia was 139 in the 29th over, and appeared well on course.

The big-built Keulder essayed some bold strokes and when he, after adding 35 for the fourth wicket with Gavin Murgatroyd, was dismissed going for a desperate second run with the score reading 174, Namibia's chances suffered another blow.

Gerrie Snyman was castled off the next delivery by White and England gradually, wrested the match away from Namibia. Andrew Flintoff and Irani, who castled Murgatroyd, picked up wickets towards the end.

Earlier, after Deon Kotze won the toss and inserted the opposition, the Namibians did manage to make the early inroads, with hefty paceman Rudi van Vuuren, who has represented the country in the rugby World Cup as well, packing off opener Nick Knight and No. 3. Michael Vaughan. He eventually finished with fine figures of five for 43 off 10 overs, coming back strongly towards the end of the English innings.

For England, Marcus Trescothick (58, 66b, eight fours one six) and stand-in captain Alec Stewart (60, 77b, six fours, one six), made valuable runs to put the innings back on track, while Paul Collingwood's 49-ball 38, Craig White's 35 off just 29 deliveries, and useful blows from Flintoff and Ian Blackwell, in the closing stages proved vital for their team.

However, Blackwell injured his back during the game, which meant Vaughan had to double up as the lone spinner in the English attack.

Enduring some uncomfortable moments, England eventually managed to win its second straight game, but it was Namibia that won the hearts on this day. It was a much closer duel than what the 55-run margin would suggest.

The scores:

England: M. Trescothick c L. Burger b A. Burger 58; N. Knight c L. Burger b Van Vuuren 6; M. Vaughan c L. Burger b Van Vuuren 14; A. Stewart c B. Kotze b D. Kotze 60; P. Collingwood c Keulder b Snyman 38; A. Flintoff c Keulder b Snyman 21; I. Blackwell c Van Schoor b Snyman 16; C. White c S. Burger b Van Vuuren 35; R. Irani c D. Kotze b Van Vuuren 12; A. Caddick b Van Vuuren 4; J. Anderson (not out) 0; Extras (lb-1, w-4, nb-3) 8; Total (in 50 overs) 272.

Fall of wickets: 1-26, 2-43, 3-121, 4-159, 5-202, 6-205, 7-242, 8-264, 9-268.

Namibia bowling: Snyman 10-0-69-3, Van Vuuren 10-2-43-5, L. Burger 9-0-45-0, B. Kotze 3-0-24-0, D. Kotze 10-0-35-1, A. Burg<147,2,1>er 2-0-23-1, S. Burger 6-0-32-0.

Namibia: S. Swanepoel c Vaughan b Anderson 8; Jan-Berry Burger c Collingwood b White 85; L. Burger c and b Flintoff 5; D. Keulder (run out) 46; G. Murgatroyd b Irani 24; G. Snyman b White 0; D. Kotze b Flintoff 7; S. Burger c Collingwood b Irani 5; M. Van Schoor (not out) 11; L. Kotze b Irani 0; Van Vuuren (not out) 12; Extras (lb-5, w-6, nb-3) 14; Total (for nine wickets in 50 overs) 217.

Fall of wickets: 1-12, 2-42, 3-139, 4-174, 5-174, 6-188, 7-190, 8-200, 9-200.

England bowling: Caddick 8-2-28-0, Anderson 8-0-44-1, Flintoff 10-2-33-2, White 10-0-46-2, Vaughan 6-0-31-0, Irani 8-0-30-3.