Imagine this scenario. You’re on strike with six runs to win off the final six balls of the match, with two wickets in hand. You’ve already been batting for just under two and a half hours trying to salvage a near hopeless situation. After the batting partner who was with you for much of that rescue mission gets out in the previous over, you decide singles aren’t an option with the No. 10 at the other end. You have to finish the job yourself.
But this is no ordinary match. No, there are far greater implications than just six runs and a win or loss at stake.
At 22, you are in your final year of university with an important life decision to make in the not too distant future. If your team wins this match, you and your team-mates maintain hope of more funding for professional contracts while pursuing a spot in the World Cup and ODI status. If you lose, the team might forego that funding, resulting in amateur or at best semi-pro status, and perhaps being forced to leave the game to get a job in the real world.
Oh, and your dad, who is an Associatedirector at the ICC, is watching from the boundary, among the few hundred hometown fans in attendance.
This is what it was like being in the shoes of Namibia batsman Gerhard Erasmus in the final moments of a tense finish on Sunday against Oman at World Cricket League Division Two in Windhoek. Which makes it all the more remarkable how clear-headed he actually was while coming up with a strategy for what to do before facing the first ball of that final over from Oman medium pacer Mohammad Nadeem.
“Needing six off six, I thought I had to do it myself,” Erasmus told ESPNcricinfo after his 63 not out saw his side to a two-wicket win. “I didn’t want to leave it up to the bowlers. I do have confidence in their ability but it’s my job to win it for us. The pitch was playing quite difficult from that end so it was tough to clear [the] straight [boundary]. Both men straight were back as well and the wind was blowing in from long-off side.”
With fine leg up in the ring, he decided the best course of action was utilising the stiff breeze and premeditating a scoop to clear him. Hit it right and it’s an automatic four. Hit it wrong and you end up like Misbah-ul-Haq in the 2007 World T20 final.
“The wind is going that way, so I just thought, well, why not back myself. If I get some wood on it, I’ll back myself against a medium pacer.”
Unlike Misbah, Erasmus didn’t get too far under it to the point of the ball popping straight up in the air. But he also didn’t get the ramp angle totally right either, nailing it firmly but a bit too flat, creating a chance for the man at fine leg to reach out with fingers pointed up.
“It wasn’t close, it was very close,” Erasmus said. “He dropped it and that’s the margins in cricket. The other day against Nepal, Sarel Burger bowled a ball and it just went over mid-off by [fingertips] and the left-hander from Nepal [Basant Regmi] finished the game [to win by one wicket]. So that’s the margins of cricket and in a tournament like this that’s so close, you just hope and pray that the luck goes your way on the day.”
For a brief moment, while the ball was headed toward the fine-leg fielder, Erasmus’ thoughts raced to what his dad would have said if the chance stuck.
“My dad doesn’t like me playing laps and sweeps like that, so I was thinking about my dad’s cross face to be honest,” Erasmus said with a grin. “And when it rattled through his hands, I was just like, ‘It’s my day and not Oman’s.’ So that’s probably a bit of luck. I think our team has been due a bit of luck. You probably create your own luck. We batted well. We probably deserved it to go for four. I still think I executed the shot correctly, so that’s that. It’s the nature of the game.”
Erasmus was equally calm and calculated in weathering the storm of left-arm quick Bilal Khan‘s searing spell earlier in the game. Coming around the wicket, Namibia’s right-hand batsmen struggled with the angle as well as the extra pace with the wind at his back. Bilal’s burst of 5 for 11 in 12 balls, including being on a hat-trick twice, wrecked Namibia’s start of 44 for 1 to leave them decimated at 65 for 7 in the 16th, chasing a target of 166.
“I think Bilal’s spell was phenomenal. Bowling around the wicket and straightening the ball, making the batsmen play all the time was absolutely phenomenal. I guess the key was then just to sort of absorb for a while, just play the ball kind of late and make the nicks go down to the ground. The pitch was moving all day. It was probably a bit of luck; some balls just passed the edge.
“The key was just to play the ball late, get in line, and hopefully it comes off and you can survive those two or three overs of Bilal’s spell, numb the attack a little bit. After the attack is numbed, 160 is probably not enough.”
That Erasmus analysed the situation quickly, realising that time was on Namibia’s side with 34 overs left if he and JJ Smit could see Bilal off, shows the maturity that has entered the 22-year-old’s game. On paper, that may sound young, but Erasmus has been heralded for close to a decade as Namibia’s next great batting hope. A former Under-19 national captain, he made his senior team debut as a 15-year-old against a touring MCC side in February 2011 before making a true international debut against Ireland later that year in the Intercontinental Cup.
“It wasn’t close, it was very close. He dropped it and that’s the margins in cricket.”
Erasmus on his premeditated scoop in the final over against Oman
But through his teenage years, he struggled to fulfil that promise. He finally started showing signs of being a dependable scoring option at WCL Division Two on home soil in 2015, with 241 runs at 48.20 including two half-centuries. Erasmus blossomed even more at the start of the southern summer in Dubai when he was Namibia’s standout batsman against WCL Championship winners Netherlands, scoring 52 and 81 while showcasing his impressive skills against spin.
Seven years after entering the senior team, Erasmus delivered when Namibia needed him to most. When asked if he could recall a tipping point in his coming-of-age as a batsman, Erasmus shrugged and said it was simply down to the third word in the expression.
“I guess it’s just age,” Erasmus said. “I’ve been around the senior set-up for quite a few years. I guess 16 or 17 was probably a bit too young for me. I still actually had to grow out of my shoes. It was probably too early for me. In the set-up around here, I got chances quite early which in other countries I probably wouldn’t have. But I’m maturing as a batsman and rounding my own game. That’s probably the key to now getting scores that are substantial and winning matches.
“The previous Division Two tournament, I made my first sort of telling [contributions]. That might be seen as a turnaround event in my batting career. But I just put it down to age and becoming a bit older, broadening my shoulders and actually being confident now in myself.”
But just as Erasmus may be approaching his prime years, his cricket career might be closer to nearing its end. Making small talk before the cameras started rolling on his post-match interviews with various outlets in attendance, Erasmus mentioned that he’s currently a fourth-year law student at Stellenbosch University just east of Cape Town.
“What does that mean for your cricket career?” he was asked.
Erasmus let out a nervous laugh, and said: “What happens at this tournament might help decide that I guess.”
His father, Francois, is an Associate member representative on the ICC board and also a former president of Cricket Namibia, but his main trade is running a family law firm in Windhoek. If Namibia can’t advance to next month’s World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe, it might mean a professional pathway for Gerhard is no longer possible with reduced fixtures by virtue of no ODI status and possibly no place in the next edition of the WCL Championship anticipated to start in 2019.
These are the pressures Associate players are under practically every time they take the field. It’s not just win or lose a match on the day. It might be win or lose your career. That’s what makes the clear-headed composure of Erasmus in the final moments of his 151-minute knock so marvellous. It’s what makes the context-heavy environment of the World Cricket League the most entertaining cricket never seen on TV.
Recovering from the nail-biting opening day one-wicket loss to Nepal, Namibia are still very much alive in the promotion hunt at 1-1; three more matches await them at Division Two. For Erasmus, that successful scoop for four means he can also put off making a decision about continuing his career path in cricket instead of law for at least one more day.