A long way to go
The Dutch experiment of playing their ‘home’ Intercontinental Cup matches on neutral grounds in South Africa can be regarded as a qualified success.
The big disappointment, of course, was the failure to qualify for the final of that competition, though the seven-wicket victory over the group winners, Canada, was some compensation, and winning the tri-series of ODIs was a definite bonus.
In both the first-class games, the first-class experience and undoubted talent of Ryan ten Doeschate stood out, and if his performances (three centuries and an aggregate of 528 runs in four innings, two of them not-out, and 12 wickets at 19.42) are removed from the record, the efforts of the rest of the squad are somewhat disappointing.
Ten Doeschate was also the leading run-scorer in the ODI series, making 164 in four innings; on the one occasion on which he failed, in the final match against Bermuda, the Dutch were all out for 91.
The problem is particularly evident at the top of the batting order, where the leading players have yet to find the kind of consistency that would give the side a reliable start. All the principal figures contributed at least one significant innings, but no-one was able to string together a run of big scores, and too often players would get themselves settled, only to be undone by carelessness or over-ambition.
Not that this was a uniquely Dutch phenomenon: over the six ODIs, for example, the average opening partnership for all three participants was only 23.25, while the average stand over the next three wickets was only 28.53.
Among the established players, Bas Zuiderent started the ODI series well, making 44 and 63 not out – the latter a particularly fine innings, since he was suffering from the stomach problems which struck several members of the side – but he was out cheaply twice in Benoni, and made 1 and 6 in the first innings of the two four-day games (though he compensated with 56 not out and 41 in the second).
Daan van Bunge and Alexei Kervezee each played one significant innings on the tour, both in the ODI series. Of the three contenders for an opening slot, Tom de Grooth made 61 and 82 in the Intercontinental Cup matches – widely contrasting innings in very different situations – but did not look comfortable in the ODIs. Eric Szwarczynski and Maurits van Nierop both played positively when they got the opportunity, and van Nierop, back from injury, will have done his chances of a World Cup place no harm.
One of the really positive features of the tour was the advance made by Mark Jonkman, who frequently bowled with real life and fire. The seam attack was already weakened by the injuries to Edgar Schiferli and Darron Reekers, and it did not help that Billy Stelling was often unavailable through illness and injury and only bowled 31 overs on the entire tour. Stelling’s most significant contribution, in fact, was with the bat, with his match-winning innings at Benoni which ensured that The Netherlands took the ODI series.
Ten Doeschate worked manfully in taking the new ball, and his six for 20 on the first day of the Canada match was a fitting reward. But he can’t be expected to do everything, and the balance of the bowling will be greatly improved if Schiferli and/or Reekers are able to reclaim their place in time for the World Cricket League at the end of January.
Valuable support was provided by the medium pace of Peter Borren, and of Tim de Leede, the pick of the Dutch bowlers in the ODIs with 7 wickets at 16.00. Both struggled with the bat, although Borren’s 49 against Canada was a crucial innings which helped to settle the match in The Netherlands’ favour.
Skipper Luuk van Troost had a strange tour, generally under-bowling himself and making little impact with the bat, but his 34 when he pushed himself up the order against Canada in the Benoni ODI was a courageous knock which set up the eventual win. Jeroen Smits was efficient behind the stumps, and his captaincy in the final four-day game was deservedly rewarded with a comfortable win.
The spin department also raised some questions for coach Peter Cantrell. Pieter Seelaar had to fly home with a shoulder injury, and before his departure he had not taken a wicket in either of the games he played.
Daan van Bunge, indeed, looked the best of the three spinners in the Intercontinental Cup match against Bermuda, extracting considerable turn and bounce, and went on to take four wickets in the ODIs; although he claimed three more in the second four-day game, however, he did not bowl with nearly as much control as he had earlier.
Muhammad Kashif had one remarkable spell, including the hat-trick, in the first innings against Canada, but in the second he tended to bowl too flat and came in for some punishment. It may be time for Adeel Raja, who has not played in the full side since the 2005 ICC Trophy, to be given another chance, at least for the World Cricket League in Nairobi.
Other features of the tour were less than entirely satisfactory. The umpiring was, frankly, sometimes below the level one might expect in first-class cricket and ODIs: not only were some of the decisions over dismissals difficult to understand, but there were too many instances of five- and seven-ball overs.
And organisationally, the large number of bodies involved – the UCBSA, three of its constituent unions, the ICC, and the three participating countries – undoubtedly created problems. The hosts worked hard to make it all work, and the North-West Union in Potchefstroom did a particularly fine job, but it was often unclear with whom the final responsibility lay. And the decision in Benoni to play all three ODIs on the same strip was simply inexplicable.
These are still early days for the ICC’s development policies, and in part these matches confirmed how far the countries in the High Performance Program still have to go in both the one-day and longer forms of the game. We shall no doubt see in Nairobi what, if anything, the Dutch have learned from their South African experience.