#NoMatterWhat - Rudie van Vuuren: the man who played for Namibia in both Cricket and Rugby World Cups
Rudie van Vuuren is a Namibian physician and devoted environmentalist. A resident of Windhoek, the capital of the African country, has initiated a number of programs which aim at preserving the environment and the betterment of some indigenous African communities and animals.
All that sounds good, but what make his achievements even more admirable is when you consider the fact that Van Vuuren is a renowned sportsman in his country and the only athlete in the world to represent his country at a Cricket World Cup and a Rugby Union World Cup in the same year. The then 31-year old played in both the tournaments within a span of 8 months in 2003.
Just a month before his participation in the World Cup, Rudie was busy saving patients from HIV/AIDS.
"I lost one of my patients to HIV last night; it never gets any easier," Van Vuuren told The Herald, a month before the cricket World Cup. "If it wasn't for sports I would be a very agitated person."
Namibia qualified for their first ever Cricket World Cup in 2003, and Van Vuuren was included in the team travelling for the World Cup hosted in the African sub-continent with South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe being the hosts.
The right-handed bowler was not included in Namibia’s first match against Zimbabwe but was handed his debut in the second group stage match against mighty Pakistan.
Things did not go well as the Asian giants after posting a total of 255, restricted the Namibians to just 84 runs. Van Vuuren managed bowling figures of 0/47 and was the joint second highest scorer for his team with 14 runs.
“I don't have a perfect bowling action, it's a bit round arm, but on the ‘right day’ things come together," Rudie had said after he helped his country qualify for the 2003 edition of the World Cup.
Ironically, the ‘right day’ was just his second match at the World Cup, where the pacer picked a fifer against another cricketing giant, England. The figures of 5/43 are still the country’s best ODI bowling returns.
Though England won the match by 55 runs, they never truly were able to find an answer to Van Vuuren’s bowling in the match. Sachin Tendulkar’s wicket was every bowler’s dream in the cricketing world, and the Namibian was one of the few who were actually able to fulfill that wish.
In his third and Namibia’s fourth match of the tournament, he managed to dismiss Tendulkar after the Indian had scored 152 runs in a match which saw Sourav Ganguly too score a century. Van Vuuren eventually finished with figures of 2/53 but Namibia lost the match.
"I nearly got him with an absolute beauty when he was on six, it missed by this much," the Namibian told the Telegraph about his encounter with the Master Blaster. "I got him in the end, though. Only trouble was he had 150 on the board at the time."
In the next match, things definitely did not go to plan for him as defending World Champions Australia crushed the Namibians by a massive 256 runs. Van Vuuren was not able to take a wicket and was smashed for 92 runs in 10 overs, including an over in which he gave away 28 runs.
Rudie picked up another wicket in the last match he played for his country, against fellow associate nation Netherlands. He finished with a total of 8 wickets and is Namibia’s highest wicket-taker till date.
During the 8 months he got in between the Cricket World Cup and the Rugby World Cup, the doctor-by-profession helped deliver 70 babies at his clinic in Windhoek. He was a part of the 30-man squad for the 1999 edition of the Rugby World Cup as well but never got a chance to play in the three matches Namibia were part of.
His chances in the 2003 tournament were looking doubtful as well after he picked up a leg injury and was out of the team for first three matches.
However, the fly-half made history in the 70th minute of Namibia's last group stage match against Romania when he came on as a substitute and became the first player to represent his country in both a Cricket and a Rugby World Cup in the same calendar year.
The year 2003 was without a doubt one of the most exciting and yet tiring ones for the Namibian, and not something he would ever be able to forget.
“It’s been a fantastic year. There is nothing in life so rewarding as to walk onto the field and know you are playing against the best in the world. Cricket’s always been my second love, rugby is what I really prefer. I’m more of a natural rugby player than a cricket player”, he said in an interview after the tournament ended.
“One day I can tell my grandchildren I took Sachin Tendulkar’s wicket and played rugby at the World Cup. Those are memories that I will never forget,” Van Vuuren added.
Naturally, he was often asked about how he was able to balance sports and his career as a doctor and conservationist. This is what he had to say:
"There are times when you don't manage too well. That's why I love sports. When I'm on the field playing against a big opponent, I don't think of the practice. And when I'm at the practice, treating so many patients, I don't think of sport. It has been a nice way to balance things out."
What Van Vuuren managed to accomplish is definitely worth admiring and tells you about the strength of character shown by the Namibian to fight against all odds and give it his all for his country.