Namibians hope for T20 cricket spot at 2026 Commonwealth Games

Namibia in action against the Netherlands
Namibia suffered a 3-2 loss in the T20 series against the Netherlands last week

Namibian women cricketers are targeting qualification for the 2026 Commonwealth Games in Australia as they seek to develop the sport in the country.

Women’s T20 cricket is makes his Games debut in the English city of Birmingham this month, but budgetary constraints and the strength of competition meant that Namibia decided not to try their luck this year.

However, Namibia have made it to Europe, with a number of games coming up in Germany after a six-game run against the Netherlands ended last week.

Coach Francois van der Merwe says a bid for Birmingham would have been a waste of resources given the current level of play in Namibia, but he is optimistic about their hopes for the years to come.

“The reason we didn’t go was a financial matter,” he told BBC Sport Africa during the break between back-to-back matches against the Netherlands at Voorburg Cricket Club in The Hague.

“We thought we weren’t ready for that yet. So the future is here and obviously we want to play in those kinds of tournaments.

“We just have to be very smart in our approach to this stuff.”

Namibian captain Irene van Zyl added: “It’s good to see the Commonwealth has now included women’s cricket so I’m pretty sure we’ll be there in the next qualifying rounds.”

Skyrocketing interest

Namibia captain Irene van Zyl (right) comes off against the Netherlands
Namibian captain Irene van Zyl (right) believes women’s football in her country is ‘on the rise’

The Capricorn Eagles, as the Namibian women’s team is called, narrowly missed out on a place in the global qualifier for the 2023 Women’s T20 World Cup, to be held next year in South Africa.

However, they are trying to capitalize on a wave of interest in cricket in Namibia to attract new players to their sport.

The men’s national team has reached successive T20 World Cups and the country will also be co-hosts the 2027 Men’s Cricket World Cup, the one-day global showpiece, featuring South Africa and Zimbabwe.

This World Cup will bring new infrastructures and new investments in a country short of pitches, but it is equally important to bring the players to cricket.

The national team has a core of experienced but young players, such as Sylvia Shihepo, Wilka Mwatile and Yasmeen Khan, but there are currently not enough active cricketers to host a fully functioning national game.

“We don’t really have a provincial organization at the moment, so what I do is pick strong teams and play against each other,” coach van der Merwe said.

“It’s about the numbers. If you don’t have the numbers, you can’t have this type of tournament, so we have to create it.”

The development of women’s football in Namibia has been boosted by the renewal of a sponsorship deal, and this support has helped the team travel, both within their region and across Europe.

This, in turn, generates greater interest from potential players.

“We are growing,” added van der Merwe. “Over the past 18 months, our pipeline has grown 300%, so the numbers are coming in.

“The better this national team will do, the youngsters will want to be part of it.”

Skipper van Zyl agrees that women’s football in her country is on the rise, with “hundreds of girls playing”.

“With us we travel and we’re doing well, it just goes to show there’s something for women’s cricket – it’s not just the men’s game,” said the 37-year-old.

“What we are doing is ultimately preparing the younger generation for the future ahead.”

As they aim for the next stage of their campaign to qualify for the Commonwealth Games, or even a World Cup, the mood within the camp is positive.

“There’s a hype in Namibia right now, so it’s a great place for cricket, both men and women,” van der Merwe said.

Unknown adversaries

Irene van Zyl appeals for a wicket against the Netherlands
Irene van Zyl scored 35 runs and two wickets in the series against the Netherlands

Namibia’s trip to Europe gives them another chance to play against teams from outside their region and learn from different oppositions.

The series opener against the Netherlands was abandoned, but the hosts won the series 3-2 after a narrow two-point win in Friday’s final match.

The Dutch, who are ranked one place behind Namibia in the Women’s T20 World Rankings, also benefited from the series.

“Neither of us play much,” local captain Heather Siegers told the BBC.

“We don’t have any streak, we can’t analyze – you just show up and do your best, and go based on that.

“We can learn a lot from the way they go about their business. It’s good to see what they are doing differently [in T20] with, for example, their game of skittles – they play stump to stump while we prefer to drag it a little more outside.

“I think their approach works better, so hopefully the girls pick it up and maybe change the way they bowl.”

The hope for both teams is to continue to play each other more regularly – perhaps every two years – in the Netherlands and Namibia.

The Namibians take on the Netherlands in The Hague
Voorburg Cricket Club The Hague could host more matches between the Netherlands and Namibia in the future

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