Jan Frylinck: The comedian and street fighter who helped Namibia beat Sri Lanka in the first excitement of World T20

Pierre de Bruyn, Namibia’s coach and catalyst for change, calls Jan Frylinck, the mastermind behind their 55-time win over Sri Lanka, a street fighter. “Put him in any situation, he would deliver. Be it a batting crisis, someone defending runs in the last over, or making a great catch to lift the spirits when the mood is down, he’s the man. I call him the Street Fighter,” he said in an ICC video last year.

All those street fighting instincts spilled out against Sri Lanka. At one point, Namibia was teetering at 93 for six, with spearhead batsman David Wiese also back in the dugout. But Frylinck exuded calm and, accompanied by JJ Smit, led her to a competitive 163/7. His twenty-eight-ball 44 was a mix of calculated risk-taking and smart run accumulation. He only held four boundaries, the rest of the runs being hoarded by nudges and deflections, taps and handlebars. “His greatest quality is his awareness of the game. He knows how to play when”, David Wiese. “Quite a small man but could throw the ball far. Lots of power,” he adds.

It’s his unassuming stature that hampered his growth as an aspiring renegade in South Africa’s Western Cape. “As a youngster you see all these quicks like Allan Donald and Dale Steyn and you want like bowling. But I didn’t have the body for it. Luckily I switched and didn’t make a comedy out of myself,” he reveals in this ICC video.

Speaking of comedy, he sees himself as a part-time comedian. He once founded a self-laughing club on Facebook, where he laughed at his own jokes. Wiese says he’s a laughing stock in the dressing room, often making self-deprecating jokes and mimicking most of his peers.

Though he’s not fast, he claims he has the mindset of one. “I bowl aggressively, always looking for wickets, breaking their bones and instilling fear in them,” he says, laughing. The last part is clearly self-sarcasm.

But Wiese says he makes up for his lack of pace with cleverness and variation. “He has all the variations in the book, yorkers, bouncers, cutters, slower balls, and he throws them with guts and accuracy. He rarely gets hit,” says Wiese.

The numbers are indeed brilliant. From 36 games he has picked 53 wickets with a saving rate of 6.61. Against Sri Lanka, he conceded 26 runs in four overs and also conceded goals from Dhananjaya de Silva and Dasun Shanaka. Neither of the wicket balls was exceptional – both were balls of mundane length – but as the Sri Lankan batsmen would attest, he’s difficult to hammer for runs.

The short, wobbly run-up is a throwback to the ’90s, when military-medium pacers were all the rage. The thinning crown is reminiscent of Chris Harris, albeit left-handed. The lack of pace is a ruse, as batmen, thinking they can hit it at their whims, might put it through the midwicket only to find the ball isn’t as slow as they think, nor as loose as it is they have assessed. He stitches the ball both ways, the moves are deceptively subtle, so amazing. He throws one or the other ball, gets extra bounce out of nowhere and explores suffocating lengths. It didn’t take long for Sri Lanka’s batsmen to realize this.

The surface also suited his style of bowling. “[The surface] it was a little double-dealing, a little hard to get away with. Otherwise it stayed pretty much true. [With the bowling] We just stuck to our plans, hit good lengths and let them make mistakes,” explains Frylinck.

The 28-year-old also has a sense for occasions. In Namibia’s run to the group stage in the previous edition of the T20 World Cup, he made the star turn and grabbed three wickets for 21 runs, which was Namibia’s first upset by a Test match nation. “It’s more fun than I thought when I moved to Namibia thanks to my father’s roots. The atmosphere in the dressing room is remarkable,” he says.

He appeared dazed as he spoke to broadcasters after the attack in Sri Lanka. “I’m a bit speechless at the moment. What we’ve just achieved is beyond what we thought possible and I’m just excited at this point,” he says, his face still wearing a stunned expression.

Before he made his move, his career was sluggish. After the initial promise fizzled – he had appeared several times for South Africa U-19s and made his first-class debut for Boland at 17, celebrating the opportunity with a 39-ball, 50-notout – his chances dried up. Eventually, like several cricketers in South Africa, he crossed the border to pursue the dream of playing cricket internationally. And in Frylinck’s case, he became a “street fighter.”

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