Doctor Fantastic: The incredible tale of Namibia's van Vuuren

From mixing with Hollywood celebrities to attending United Nations meetings and representing his country at World Cups for two separate sports, Dr Rudie van Vuuren's true passion is for Namibian cricket

A passer-by happening upon Namibia's training session not far from the exclusive beachfront on Barbados' Platinum Coast would hardly take a second look at Doctor Rudie van Vuuren.

If they did, they might be impressed by the immaculate physique and seam position of the 51-year-old physician who is pitching in as a net bowler to the Associate nation's fast-improving batters.

But even a short conversation with van Vuuren, who is in the Caribbean in a more official capacity in his dual roles as Cricket Namibia's president and the team doctor, reveals a remarkable tale.

Van Vuuren might have batted at No.11 in his playing days but, having also represented his country in rugby union, he is the ultimate allrounder.

And on the cricket field, he is the sole link between the last Namibian team to face Australia in a cricket match, a record 256-run defeat at the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, and the one that will take on the Test and ODI champions on Tuesday night (Wednesday morning AEST) in Antigua.

"I was really having a good World Cup – until we encountered the Aussies in Potchefstroom," van Vuuren, reflecting on the 2003 tournament, told

Namibia had already been defeated by Zimbabwe, India, England and Pakistan heading into their game against a champion Australian team in the midst of a world record run of 21 consecutive ODI World Cup wins.

When Darren Lehmann (who would later take the final-winning catch against India) carted van Vuuren's right-arm seamers for 28 off the final over of the innings, the Aussie total had reached an imposing 6-301.

Rudie van Vuuren appeals for the wicket of Darren Lehmann during the 2003 World Cup // Getty

Last batter van Vuuren's nick behind off Andy Bichel for a first-ball duck sealed the biggest defeat in men's World Cup history to that point.

"As I walked into bat against Australia, Adam Gilchrist went to Andy Bichel, 'Come on, rev it up – he's a rugby player, he can take it'," said van Vuuren.

"So they had a hard go at me. But then afterwards, we were invited by Ricky Ponting to come and have a beer with them in the dressing room.

"Just seeing how humble they are, how egoless they are, and how keen now to share the experience and the knowledge with us as amateurs was just absolutely enlightening.

"As I walked into the dressing room, Darren Lehmann was sat next to the door, and I walked in and he said, 'Doc, sorry to spoil your World Cup mate'."

Even accounting for his rough encounter with the tournament's eventual champions, van Vuuren achieved more in the space of his three weeks at the first Africa-hosted World Cup than most international cricketers.

Rudie van Vuuren celebrates bowling Sachin Tendulkar at the 2003 World Cup // Getty

While Namibia lost all six of their matches, van Vuuren finished the tournament having bested the men who would become Test cricket's all-time leading run scorer (he clean bowled Sachin Tendulkar for 152) and wicket-taker (hitting Jimmy Anderson for a six over long-off).

The fact this might not have even been his most notable achievement that calendar year only adds to his story.

Van Vuuren, months after he had taken his country's first (and, still, only at a World Cup) five-wicket haul when Michael Vaughan was among his 5-43 against England in Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth), captained Namibia at the Rugby World Cup.

A calf injury spared the fly-half from being part of another Australia-inflicted record drubbing (Namibia lost 0-142 to George Gregan's men) but he was later told by a Guinness World Records representative he was the first person to play in two World Cups in the same year.

"After that game at a reception I was standing there with George Gregan and, lo and behold, there was 'Boof'," said van Vuuren of Lehmann. "He reminded me again of the 28 that I went for in that over in Potchefstroom!"

Rudie van Vuuren played fly-half for Namibia at the 2003 Rugby World Cup // Getty

In the ensuing years, the lack of professional opportunities for Namibian cricketers meant van Vuuren’s energy was poured into different kinds of deliveries; his medical career as an obstetrician.

His friendship with Namibia's founding Prime Minister, Dr Hage Geingob, saw him become the politician's personal physician when the anti-apartheid activist was elected as the country's third President, a role he remained in for the best part of a decade until Geingob's death earlier this year.

Between stints travelling to United Nations meetings in New York, van Vuuren, along with his wife Marlice, helps manage the Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary just outside Windhoek where the family live among leopards, springboks, impalas and many other endangered African species.

In 2011, the sanctuary received a US$2 million endorsement from Hollywood stars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt

"We have known Rudie and Marlice for many years and continue to be impressed by their hard work and dedication to the people and conservation of the land and wildlife of Namibia," Jolie, whose adopted daughter Shiloh was born in Namibia, said at the time.

Rudie van Vuuren, wife Marlice and Angelina Jolie at the wildlife sanctuary in 2015 // Naankuse Foundation

But cricket remained van Vuuren's enduring passion, leading him to take on the role as the country's governing body's top official in 2018.

Namibia has 650 registered senior players in a country of a 2.5 million people, but their national men's side's prioritisation of T20 cricket has paid off with encouraging results at the 2021 World Cup in the UAE (qualifying for the main draw) and the ensuing event in Australia the following year (beating Sri Lanka in the tournament opener).

They have a bright future too, with van Vuuran's son Zacheo representing Namibia at this year's U19 World Cup, taking a four-wicket haul against Sri Lanka and hitting 86 against Scotland.

The elder van Vuuren points to the leadership of senior captain Gerhard Erasmus for helping produce what he regards as Namibia's best ever cricket team.

"Our limitation of course is our numbers, our player pool is very, very small," said van Vuuren.

"But the one reason why Namibian cricket always punches above its weight is the fact that we are almost like family here in Namibia. Namibians are unbelievable people – I'm not working for the Namibian tourism board or anything – but I really, really love my country.

"Since 2003, cricket has gone through a bit of a slump, but in the last five, six years, things have started getting better.

"We have taken a long-term view on how to build our cricket. We're not we're not looking at five or 10 years, we're looking at 20-30 years to build Namibian cricket."

Dr van Vuuren is very hands-on in wildlife conservation // Supplied

Namibia got a rude awakening in a practice match against Australia in Trinidad late last month in a warm-up for this week’s main event this week in tropical Antigua, where van Vuuren has been assisting with the team's World Cup campaign.

A loss to Scotland was a bitter blow after scraping past Oman in a Super Over-decided clash. So could they surprise everyone and disrupt Australia's quest to unite the ICC's Test, ODI and T20 trophies?

"You never know," said van Vuuren. "Our team has surprised me so many times. We beat Sri Lanka in the last T20 World Cup and on any given day, the margins are so small.

"In 2003, we were starstruck and we were intimidated by real pace. Ten years ago, real pace still intimidated us. Now pace doesn't intimidate our players anymore. Actually, they like the pace, and our guys are professionals.

"Our guys play all over the world. They play against the best players. They know them, they're friends with them, they play in leagues with them, so that's not a factor anymore.

"So, on a given day, it can be done."

For the full list of fixtures click here. All matches live and exclusive on Prime Video. Sign up here for a 30-day free trial