Dutch cricket under review 2
Although they are less fully worked out than the proposals for the top levels of Dutch cricket, the ideas for the development of Recreatief Cricket Nederland (RCN) are no less important for the long-term future of the game.
Furthermore, some of the most fundamental issues are inextricably linked to the decisions which need to be taken by Top Cricket Nederland.
Take the question of who plays when.
At present, the main competition (involving up to 55 matches each week) takes place on Sundays, while the women’s competition (6 matches), the Zami (10), the veterans’ league (5) and junior cricket are played on Saturdays. The top youth competition, under-18, which is played on Saturday afternoons, involves another six fixtures each week at present, while the younger age-groups play on Saturday mornings.
There are, however, arguments for moving junior cricket to Sundays, not least because in the ever-longer periods of overlap between the cricket season and those for football and hockey, many young players opt to stay with their winter sport and abandon cricket. This would be less of a problem, it is claimed, if youth cricket took place on Sundays, although the number of hockey matches played in May and August while the Hoofdklasse is in progress makes one wonder how true this actually is.
Whatever conclusion one reaches on this point, it is obvious that shifting one element of the programme has implications for the rest, especially on Sunday when the demand for grounds is at its highest and where finding suitable venues is already a problem. Even some of the leading clubs are already unable to meet their fundamental obligation under KNCB rules, which is to have the necessary grounds available from the beginning of May to the end of August.
It may be that the proposal to introduce a ‘Zomi’ competition (recreational cricket played on Sundays) will simply split the existing lower divisions into two strands, one playing for the fun of it and the other looking towards promotion and the eventual chance to play in the TCN leagues.
But if the KNCB is successful in its ambition to broaden cricket’s base substantially over the next few years, then it will need both a much more proactive policy to obtain and secure suitable grounds, and a coherent programme to ensure their use as intensively and effectively as possible.
Projects aimed at attracting new players to the game rightly loom large in RCN’s thinking.
There have already been some small successes in this area – there was a round of applause at last week’s meeting for the representatives of Friesland’s first cricket club – but much more needs to be done, both by the KNCB and by its member clubs.
RCN spokesman Willem Winckel is in no doubt that the existing clubs are the key, although he acknowledged that the KNCB board can help by producing suitable propaganda materials and providing frameworks within which the clubs can work.
An ‘adoption’ scheme, whereby larger, long-established clubs take responsibility for helping the development of smaller, newer neighbours, is something that might help, although it would be necessary to overcome the smaller clubs’ suspicion that they are welcoming poachers onto their territory.
Another potentially fruitful area is co-operation with the Dutch Rugby Bond, since there are many affinities between the two sports and their seasons don’t overlap.
Furthermore, rugby is comparatively strong in some regions where cricket has virtually no foothold at present, such as the area northwest of Amsterdam where several of the strongest rugby clubs are based (Castricum, Alkmaar, Purmerend, Den Helder) and in towns like Apeldoorn and Zwolle.
The concentration of cricket in the ‘Randstad’, the urban region which takes in Rotterdam, Den Haag, Amsterdam and Utrecht, is one of the major problems facing the KNCB, and RCN’s ambition to breathe new life into the sport in the eastern Netherlands is vital for its health and for giving it a truly national profile.
So, too, is the drive to extend the contacts between the clubs and the schools in their area; as Winckel acknowledges, while there have been some successes in this regard, such as the schools tournaments organised in Schiedam, efforts so far have been sporadic, and a more integrated and consistent approach is required.
One of the scandals of Dutch cricket is how few clubs have a proper junior programme – only 18 of the KNCB’s 70-plus member clubs entered teams in this season’s competitions – and TCN’s emphasis on youth in its proposed ‘club charter’ is another place where the two wings of the new structure meet and are mutually dependent.
There was criticism at last week’s meeting of the virtual absence of attention for women’s cricket in the RCN/TCN, and there is no doubt that the debilitation of the women’s game – in which, ironically, the national side currently enjoys a higher ranking than the men – is a real cause for concern.
There were 36 women’s teams from thirty clubs a couple of decades ago, and now there are twelve from eleven. That is by any standards an alarming fact, and it’s hardly surprising that the national side, starved of reasonably challenging cricket at home, are looking into the possibility of playing in the English competition.
That might be a good thing in itself, but the improvement of domestic women’s cricket remains an urgent priority, and it is to be hoped that RCN’s future plans include some specific ideas for increasing both the quantity and the quality of the women’s game.
Accused of having given too little attention to the needs of social cricket and the lesser clubs, the KNCB spokesmen reply quite reasonably that below the top echelon, it is for the clubs and the players themselves to determine what forms of cricket they want to play, and to make their preferences clear.
That’s what this consultative process is all about, but there’s no disguising the fact that unless the historical pattern of contraction can be reversed the long-term future of cricket in The Netherlands is bleak indeed.