Just seconds into radio my interview with Burton van Rooi at the Wanderers ground in Windhoek on Thursday, it began to rain. A minute or two later the rain turned to hail and we had to stop. The noise was impossible.
Burton and I chatted for another ten minutes until the storm blew over and the Namibian team returned to the field to complete their morale-boosting victory over Holland.
The 19-year-old van Rooi wasn’t playing because of a back injury but that didn’t stop him living every ball with his teammates. If it wasn’t for Burton van Rooi, the world still wouldn’t be aware that Namibians even played cricket. Not that the country has what one might call a high profile at the moment!
About a year ago Namibia was playing it’s most important match ever. The third-place play-off against Scotland at the ICC Trophy in Canada. The winner qualified for the World Cup. The loser returned to obscurity.
“Scotland were going well,” Burton recalled with a glint in both eyes. “Then their wicket keeper, who was about 70 not out, played across the line and was lbw. The guys gathered around and said ‘it’s now or never. We must do it now.’ And we did,” van Rooi said.
Actually, it was almost single-handedly the pace of the diminutive all rounder that turned a losing situation into a winning one, but the furthest his modesty will extend is for him to admit “It was my proudest moment.”
“When I trapped the last man lbw I went straight down on my knees, with my arms in the air, and let out the loudest scream of my life. Then the whole team dived on top of me and all I can remember was the tears and the laughter. We were very proud. We were going to the World Cup.”
Burton was the hero with his six-wicket haul but, to him, cricket was the hero. His painful, broken-home background and life of neglect was over.
Namibian cricket’s heroic drive to give meaning and a way of life to its indigenous population had struck gold, finally.
There are many similar stories up here in Windhoek this week, stories told by Canadian and Dutch cricketers who keep referring to something called “the love of the game.” It may worth remembering that there is such a thing after the summer South African cricket has just endured.
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