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Jan Frylinck: The comic and street-fighter who helped Namibia beat Sri Lanka in World T20’s first upset


Pierre de Bruyn, Namibia’s coach and catalyst of change, calls Jan Frylinck, the schemer-chief of their 55-run win over Sri Lanka, a street-fighter. “Put him in any situation, he would deliver. Be it a batting crisis, someone to defend the runs in the last over or take a magnificent catch to lift the spirits when the mood is down, he is the man. I call him the street fighter,” he said in an ICC video last year.

All those street-fighting instincts outpoured against Sri Lanka. At one juncture, Namibia were teetering at 93 for six, with the spearhead batsman David Wiese too back in the dug-out. But Frylinck exuded calm, and in the company of JJ Smit, shepherded them to a competitive 163/7. His twenty-eight ball 44 was a blend of calculated risk-taking as well as shrewd run- accumulation. He stuck just four boundaries, the rest of the runs were hoarded through nudges and deflection, taps and steers. “His greatest quality is his game awareness. He knows how to play when,” David Wiese. “Pretty small man, but could throw the ball a long way. Lots of power,” he adds.

It’s his un-imposing frame that hampered his growth as an aspiring tearaway growing up in South Africa’s Western Cape. “As youngsters, you see all these quicks like Allan Donald and Dale Steyn, and you want to bowl like. But I did not have the body for it. Thankfully, I switched over and didn’t make a comedy of myself,” he reveals in that ICC video.

Speaking of comedy, he considers himself a part-time comedian. Once he started a self-laughing club on Facebook, in which he would laugh at his own jokes. Wiese says he is a laugh-ball in the dressing room, often cracking self-deprecatory jokes and imitates most of his colleagues.

Though he is not quick, he claims, he has the mindset of one. “I bowl aggressively, always looking for wickets, breaking their bones, generating fear in them,” he says chuckling. The last part is clearly self-sarcasm.

But Wiese says he makes up for his lack of pace with his cleverness and variations. “He has every variety in the book, yorkers, bouncers, cutters, slower balls, and he bowls them with courage and accuracy. He seldom gets hit,” Wiese says.

The numbers, indeed, are glittering. From 36 games, he has plucked 53 wickets at an economy rate of 6.61. Against Sri Lanka, he conceded 26 runs in four overs, besides grabbing the wickets of Dhananjaya de Silva and Dasun Shanaka. None of the wicket-taking balls were exceptional—both were mundane length balls—but as the Sri Lanka batsmen would testify, he is difficult to pound for runs.

The short, wiggly run-up is a throwback to the 90s, when military-medium pacers were in vogue. The thinning crown reminds you of Chris Harris, albeit left-handed. The lack of pace is a ruse, for batmen thinking they could hit him to their whims, could line him up through midwicket, only to find that the ball is neither as slow as they think nor as loose as they had judged. He seams the ball both ways, the movements deceptively subtle that prodigious. He makes the odd ball skid, extracts extra bounce from nowhere and probes suffocating lengths. It did not take too long for Sri Lanka’s batsmen to realise this.

The surface, too, suited his brand of bowling. “[The surface] it was a little bit two-faced, a little hard to get away. Other than that it stayed rather true. [With the bowling] just stuck to our plans, hit good lengths and let them make the mistakes,” Frylinck details.

The twenty-eight-year-old has a sense of occasion too. In Namibia’s run to the group-stage in the previous edition of the T20 World Cup, he did the star turn, nabbing three wickets for 21 runs, in what was Namibia’s first upset of a Test-playing nation. “It’s more fun than I had thought when I switched to Namibia, thanks to my father’s roots. The atmosphere in the dressing room is remarkable,” he says.

He seemed dazed when he spoke to the broadcasters after the Sri Lanka heist. “I’m a little bit speechless at the moment. What we’ve just achieved is above what we thought we could do and I’m very just excited at this point in time,” he says, his face still wearing a stunned expression.

Before he made his switch, his career was languishing. After the initial promise fizzled out—he had turned up for South Africa U-19 several times and made his first-class debut at 17 for Boland, marking the occasion with a 39-ball 50 not out—his opportunities dried out. Eventually, like several sidelined cricketers in South Africa, he crossed the border to live the dream of playing international cricket. And in Frylinck’s case, he became a “street-fighter.”





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