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Meet the “Doc” who competed at two World Cups in sports, according to Rudie van Vuuren

“You know, sometimes rugby players on cricket fields are not good things.”

Rudie van Vuuren is an expert since he is the only man to have ever participated in both a Rugby World Cup and a Cricket World Cup.

Rugby players are known for their machismo, but in 2003, Van Vuuren showed it at the Cricket World Cup as well by suggesting to Pakistan’s Waqar Younis that Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar, two of his fellow fast bowlers, might lack a little bit of pace.

That is Shoaib, who against England six days later will throw the fastest ball ever measured at 100.2 mph (161.3 km/h).

And now, in their first World Cup, he was up against a little-known tailender making his one-day debut on cricket’s biggest platform. Van Vuuren was facing steep disadvantages.

We scored 42-9. The lowest total in a World Cup at the time, when I entered as number 11, was 45 all out, recalls Van Vuuren.

“I remember our team manager saying to me just before I walked out: ‘Doc, just keep us out of the record books.'”

However, it appears that the team management made no mention of insulting some of the game’s legends.

I told Younis, “Waqar, you’re never going to get me out with these seamers,” during the break for refreshments. Shoaib is not quick enough, therefore you must bring in the spinners. He suddenly lost it and became really irate with me.


Within minutes, Shoaib had Van Vuuren under such pressure that he bowled the World Cup’s fastest ball at 98.5 mph (158.5 km/h).

However, Namibia’s final man not only managed to survive the five balls from Shoaib and the 11 from Wasim, he also scored four on both occasions.

And his valiant batting performance—14 runs from 19 balls, which could not win the game but enabled Namibia to reach 84—came to an end when he was bowled by spinner Saqlain Mushtaq rather than a speed merchant.

According to Van Vuuren, who like all of his teammates was an amateur, “it was a great experience playing against the top of the world’s best players.”

“At that level, sport is a mental game. You don’t belong if you’re going to be scared off by a ball traveling at 160 km/h.

Fairytales about cricket
Van Vuuren was addressed as “Doc” by Namibia’s squad manager because he was already a licensed doctor.

Because the tournaments were being played at different times of the year than they were today, Van Vuuren had other things on his mind as they neared.

“I was a full-time doctor in private practice so that made it very difficult,” adds the doctor. “I didn’t get paid when I played rugby and cricket; instead, I lost money, but I understood back then that the sport would eventually cease.

We had a pretty talented cricket squad, but we were merely amateurs. We could not defeat one or two well-known opponents, though it would have been preferable.

Even though Van Vuuren and his teammates lost all 10 of the games they played in both championships, he nevertheless made an impression, especially in cricket.

It was the first time an African tournament had been held, and Namibia faced heavyweight competition. They first faced Zimbabwe, the tournament’s co-hosts, before facing Pakistan, England, India, Australia, and the Netherlands.

Even though he went on to take five wickets, Van Vuuren describes striking England veteran James Anderson for six as “the best thing of that game” with a smile. “Pretty amazing,” he remarks, “against the nation that invented cricket.”

It still stands as the only instance in which a Namibian took five wickets in a Cricket World Cup game and has further slurs from “Doc,” this time directed at future England captain Michael Vaughan.

Van Vuuren reports that “he was not impressed.” “He gave me a look and I thought, ‘maybe that’s not the right guy to chirp.'”

Against England, Rudie van Vuuren celebrates a wicket.
After capturing his fifth wicket against England, Van Vuuren is praised.
India was the next team in line to defeat Namibia, however Van Vuuren did have the distinction of taking his team’s sole two wickets, including removing the renowned Sachin Tendulkar’s stumps.

“When he had eight runs or so, I bowled him an absolute screamer and he played, missed, looked at me and nodded his head,” Van Vuuren recounts with a grin. “After more than a hundred runs, I finally caught him!

When I asked him to pose for a picture, he sat down next to me and we had a lengthy conversation. What a wonderful guy he is—so modest, so successful, never in the news, and yet here he is sitting down with a Namibian player when he doesn’t need to. It was a humiliating situation.

Another quickly followed, but in a different style, when Darren Lehmann destroyed Van Vuuren for 28 off his team’s final over to defeat them soundly. This was against eventual champions Australia.

“I passed Darren at lunchtime, and he apologized for sabotaging your World Cup, pal. I accepted it with a smile. Although terrible, it does happen. My son still makes fun of me for that.

Van Vuuren was then dismissed for a duck, just as he would be in the decisive game versus the Netherlands, finishing with figures of 0-92 from his 10 overs.

figuring out the codes
Van Vuuren was raised in Windhoek, the capital of a big country with a population 30 times lower than that of Germany but an area more than twice as large.

He cannot recall a period when he did not play rugby and cricket, but the oval ball was his first passion. However, he played for his country’s cricket team first, earning his maiden cap in 1997, three weeks before he did the same for rugby.

It marked the beginning of a way of life that would see him alternate between the sports frequently, figure out how to balance his professional and sporting commitments, and become used to gaining or losing weight.

“It was difficult being a very busy medical doctor and playing sport, especially two codes,” he recalls. There was just time for work and sports; there was no time for relaxing or watching TV.

And it was challenging to switch in a matter of weeks from a rugby body to a cricket body. I would play cricket, put on five pounds, switch to rugby, then back to cricket after I had shed the weight.

“I became very, very disciplined at managing my time and my diet, and that is one of the greatest things I’ve learned from sport – how to be disciplined.”

Between the World Cups, Van Vuuren returned to work, demonstrating his discipline.

He delivered 70 infants as one of the few obstetricians in Windhoek at the time. And it was at that moment that he realized he had entered sporting history.

“I didn’t even know it was something special,” he continues. Then a reporter called me and said, “Did you know that no one else has ever played in a rugby and cricket World Cup, or even in two World Cups in different sports codes, in one year?’

“I said I didn’t, and then all of a sudden it became something.”

The opportunity to make history loomed, but just before Namibia’s Rugby World Cup opener against Argentina, tragedy hit the team as they were practicing in Australia.

“It was the last sprint,” Van Vuuren recalls, “and when I heard my calf go, I just knew.”

Rugby ball is thrown by Rudie van Vuuren.
Van Vuuren played 15 times of rugby union for Namibia. “Can we not play a little more?” he asked.
Knowing the significance made the anguish considerably worse for Van Vuuren, especially after the test results were revealed.

“The scan just showed everything was torn,” he explains. “It was just utter, utter disappointment because physically I was in incredible shape, and I was so ready for that World Cup.”

Given that he had missed the 1999 tournament due to an argument with Namibia’s previous coach, it was especially cruel.

His calf needed between six and eight weeks to recover due to the type of the rupture, but Namibia’s group matches all happened within a three-week window.

“You can only control the controllables so I tried to just stay as positive as possible and rehab,” Van Vuuren explains. “But I was sitting on the side, really wanting to play – and really wanting to fulfil the prophecy.”

Van Vuuren sat out three humiliating losses, as the Welwitschias were crushed 67-14 by Argentina and 64-7 by Ireland before being thrashed 142-0 by the hosts Australia.

That victory still stands as a Rugby World Cup match with the largest winning margin, and Van Vuuren’s agony increased when the specter reappeared as he chatted to two Australian players following the game.

“I was in reception talking to George Gregan and Joe Roff when I heard somebody whistle,” he recalls. “I turned around to see Darren Lehmann, who was pointing to the number ’28’ with his fingers. I realized then that I would never be able to get rid of this item.

Van Vuuren was in a grave situation as Namibia just had one game remaining, against Romania. Although his calf was far from healed, the burning desire inside of him was to just enter the pitch.

“The pain was there, but I could actually make it onto the pitch,” the player said. I told the personnel that I had to enter the field regardless of what they did.

“Luckily Dave Waterston, our coach, backed me and said: ‘Just go on.'”

With his body stuffed full of painkillers, Van Vuuren knew he had just under 10 minutes to make a difference and was determined not to lose any time.

“I still recall my first interaction. My first thought as I received the ball from the line-out was, “Even if I break my leg now, I’m going to make it count.”

“I recall making a significant tackle. I recall that even though the contact was really painful, I managed to play.

Van Vuuren was responsible. However, there was no reason to celebrate his achievement after a 37-7 loss at the final siren.

“I distinctly recall asking, ‘Can we not play a little bit more?'” Although it was disappointing, I had to accept it.

“I was just relieved I got the opportunity, and thankful for the grace to get on to the pitch.”

Mr. Renaissance
Along with all of his sporting accomplishments, Van Vuuren has also socialized with Hollywood royalty and taken care of his country’s most significant figure’s health.

“Namibia’s president, Hage Geingob, became my patient a little over 10 years ago – before he was president,” according to him. “When he became president, I travelled with him a bit and saw how other countries take care of their presidents so I helped develop the team that looks after his health.”

Van Vuuren and Geingob went to New York for the UN General Assembly just last month.

His employment as a doctor has greatly decreased recently as a result of the opening of N/a’an ku se, an animal sanctuary 30 minutes outside of Windhoek that he has been “good friends” with.

Actress Angelina Jolie and her then-husband Brad Pitt contributed £1.3 million to the sanctuary in the early months of 2011 shortly after spending Christmas there, giving it a large financial boost and a significant PR boost.

According to Van Vuuren, Angelina and his wife have been friends for around 20 years. “They met on a film set here in Namibia, and Angelina just became involved with what we do.”

Van Vuuren, who is not one to lead a quiet life, has also served as Cricket Namibia’s president since 2018.

The prospects did not appear promising because they were low on the rankings, had little money in the bank, and had no women’s team when he took over.

But in addition to winning the T20 World Cup in 2021, where they defeated Scotland and Ireland among others, they also earned the right to co-host the Cricket World Cup in 2027 with South Africa.

“For our economy and cricket, it’s going to be a massive injection,” Van Vuuren states. “And just for us, a nation, it’s one of the biggest things that will ever happen to us.”

Van Vuuren does not spend much time thinking back on his accomplishment from 2003 since he is focused on uplifting the next generation, which includes his son who plays both rugby and cricket.

“You must put it into perspective,” he continues. “The country barely has 20–30 good cricket players. Only 100–200 of our rugby players are good. So, it was practically a given.

“I believe that it was simpler then than it is now. Although it was a success in the eyes of the rest of the world, it was never a huge deal to me. I was just fortunate.


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