New look for 2007 Hoofdklasse
Next season’s Hoofdklasse competition in The Netherlands will have a number of new features, although the KNCB and its participating clubs have stopped short of really radical change.
The review of the structure of the competition was triggered by a busy international season, which will see the Dutch side playing Canada in June, in Ireland the following month, and in Scotland at the beginning of August. The results of a consultative process involving the KNCB board and Hoofdklasse clubs were presented to a general meeting last week.
The international programme means that players in the national squad could miss up to six of their clubs’ Hoofdklasse fixtures, and one suggestion was that the competition could be suspended during this period.
But the month-long lay-off during the ICC Trophy in 2005 was unpopular with most clubs, and it quickly became clear during consultations that there was strong support for continuing the Hoofdklasse throughout the summer, with clubs drawing on their reserve players where necessary.
In order to ensure that the absences do not have too great an effect on the championship, however, the title will be decided for the first time by play-offs. The top four sides after the two rounds of round-robin matches will meet in semi-finals and a final in the first half of September.
The KNCB hopes that these competition deciders will also create a higher public profile for the final stages of the Hoofdklasse.
Another far-reaching change will be the introduction of the Duckworth/Lewis system for rain-affected matches, with the implication that the minimum number of overs bowled for a game to be completed will be reduced from 35 to 20.
This should mean that a much smaller number of matches will be left unfinished, and the practice of rescheduling rained-off games will now be abandoned. Any games which do not reach the D/L minimum will simply be left out of the league table calculation.
The introduction of Duckworth/Lewis will be a challenge for administrators and umpires alike, who will need to develop the necessary skills and infrastructure, but it will bring the Hoofdklasse closer to the playing conditions for official ODIs.
Further changes in this direction, such as the use of white balls and black sightscreens, are still under discussion.
2007 will also see for the first time a national 20-overs-a-side competition. Over the past two years, there have been successful experiments at regional level, with 20-over competitions in the Rotterdam-Schiedam area, Den Haag and Amsterdam.
Next year there will be national finals for the winners of these regional competitions, to be played in mid-August. The competition will be extended to include Hoofdklasse and Eerste Klasse clubs from all over the country.
KNCB director Maarten Westermann is confident that the new set-up will help to raise media awareness of Dutch cricket.
‘Knowing that the competition will be settled on the first two weekends of September enables the media to plan their coverage in advance,’ he says, ‘and we hope that the Hoofdklasse final, like the finals of the 20-over competition, will attract a good deal of public interest.
‘We are optimistic that there will be television coverage of these events, which should attract the support of the whole Dutch cricketing community.’
It is likely that the changes for next season will be just the beginning of a transformation of the Dutch cricket scene.
Clubs are not yet ready to agree to give up playing on coconut matting, but with the KNCB board supporting the use of astroturf where grass pitches are not available, this can only be a matter of time.
And it seems unlikely that the debates over the reduction in the number of Hoofdklasse clubs and the introduction of two- or three-day cricket at some level of the domestic game will quietly die away.