The Bertus de Jong Column
Namibia Diary 1
The early flight from Amsterdam to Windhoek via Frankfurt landed me at Windhoek International at half past eight Thursday evening, local time. I'd not slept the night before, partly from excitement but mostly due to the fact that I'd spent it at de Doos, the Amsterdam bar where I moonlight as a bartender when not busy with international cricket journalism.
After changing some cash at what I suspect was a usurious rate, I grabbed a taxi to my new home for the duration of World Cricket League Division 2: the Chameleon Backpacker's Hostel in town. Checked-in and settled, I headed off laptop-in-hand to finish my last team profile at the bar, where I was met with my first disappointment of the tour - arriving just in time to hear last orders being called at a quarter to ten. On reflection though the enforced early night was probably something of a blessing, as I still had sundry errands to run on Friday ahead of the 4pm press conference.
Local power adaptor, backup internet and groceries taken care of, I ordered at taxi to press conference venue, the Safari Hotel, and in the absence of CricketEurope NL's long-suffering photographer/chauffeur Sander Tholen, I took the opportunity to negotiate what I'd like to imagine is a competitive rate to be ferried to and from the grounds daily with the cabby, Fernando of Fernando's Prime Taxis.
Fernando delivered me to the Safari with an hour to spare before the scheduled start, so I tracked down some players to the sun deck, hoping to discover something of note. All talk was of laundry. The laundry services, it seems, are limited to a manifestly insufficient total of four prescribed pieces of laundry per player per day, with the only mercy being that socks are not counted individually. Word is at the World Cup you get ten pieces.
The press conference itself yielded nothing really worth a headline, those questions not posed by the ICC's media manager for the tournament, Mary Godbeer, ranged from the banal to the comically ill-informed - the highlight being Nepal skipper Paras Khadka fielding queries about the climate in Nepal, explaining with admirable forbearance that Nepalis do not all in fact live up mountains - to a questioner who seemed under the impression that a well-timed square cut in Kathmandu might roll all the way down to India.
With no further questions forthcoming the conference drew to a natural close, and I managed to catch up with Pete Borren for an informal chat variously taking in his shoulder, bowling options and laundry before he was called away to the captains meeting, leaving me to watch the hotel staff struggle to erect the ICC banners in a stiffening breeze ahead of the poolside opening ceremony.
The ceremony itself held few surprises - welcoming speeches from various dignitaries international and local, each struggling to pronounce each others names. Guest of honour was ms Vivienne Katjiuongua, Chair of the Namibia Sports Commission, who took the podium to extol the inherent value of sport and specifically the benefits of such tournaments to the Namibian tourist industry, (thinking myself likely the only tourist in Windhoek drawn specifically by the cricket, I must say I found the special mention rather touching), and proceedings were capped off by a pair of traditional dances performed by some schoolchildren entirely obscured from my view by the Kenyan contingent.
Having taken full advantage of the complementary food and refreshments generously provided by Cricket Namibia, I took myself back to the hostel to obsessively check up on social media reactions to the previews. Seventeen new friend requests: sixteen Nepalis and someone called Ya Boi RZR. Deeply odd.
Saturday morning and it's off to the United Cricket Ground in Suiderhof for Netherlands vs Canada. My arrangement with Fernando mandated a 7am start, which I figured would give me a couple of hours to get a coffee and a look at the pitch, and to overcome the usual technical snafus which accompany live cricket coverage. I needn't have worried. All had been wonderfully taken care of by the ever-efficient Ms Godbeer; power, shelter, drinks, a seat next to the scorers and a wifi connection stable enough for a proverbial wise man to build a house on.
The match passed largely without incident, a whirlwind 83 not out from Wes Barresi and quality opening spell of 4 for 32 in 10 from Viv Kingma winning it for Oranje, further entertainment being provided by an actual whirlwind - which sent papers flying in the media tent, traversed the outfield, and demolished the gazebo sheltering the Canadian team.
Much the same the next day, back to United to watch the Netherlands make something of a pig's ear of their match against Nepal. Having endured the spectacle of the Dutch line-up crumbling around the lonely figure of Michael Rippon, I headed into the adjoining Dros restaurant and bar at the interval - on the hunt for a decent mid-match quote and some lunch - only to find everyone transfixed by a widescreen TV showing AB de Villiers carting the West Indies about in implausible fashion.
Needless to say I went back to the media tent quoteless and hungry and feeling I might be watching the wrong game. Nepal nonetheless managed to make a thriller of a modest chase, and with the defeated Dutch heading swiftly for the buses I was left to write my post-match post-mortem on the Dros terrace.
There I quickly attracted the attention of a pair of locals, the more vocal of whom, having established my business there, proceeded to quiz me at length on such subjects as the highest ODI total ever posted (Sri-Lanka's 443 vs the Netherlands in 2006), most runs in at test match (Gooch against India in 1990) reigning Olympic cricket silver medalists (France), and the like. Satisfied that I was, in his words, "a goeie kaaskop" he rewarded me with a photo he took of the gazebo incident the day before and a valiant attempt to set me up with a pair of ladies at the next table.
After a long day in the heat though, I preferred to make my excuses and call Fernando to take me back to the hostel. The Nepali friend request count has climbed to 53. Fairly satisfied with my own half century, it's off to bed - with a rest day tomorrow, and nothing to do but write a self-indulgent diary piece.
Note: some names have been changed to protect the anonymity of Fernando and Ya Boi RZR.