The Dosti dilemma: a matter of trust
I read the article submitted by Mark Reeves on CricketEurope with interest. The examples he gives and the points that he makes are telling and quite realistic. As a club administrator and member of a KNCB committee, I recognise the frank stories that he tells us. Indeed, I believe that many a tourist has found himself on a Dutch cricket pitch after a fun night in town in Amsterdam. The matter of the ‘phantom members’ is another, albeit less sociable, matter that we have encountered in the past few years. Both examples are (far) beyond the point of ‘bending the rules’ and, in my humble opinion, certainly not in the spirit of the Dutch game.
Lets face it: Dutch cricket is in a precarious state. Not only do we struggle to keep the number of active players, especially the juniors, up to any acceptable level, but we see a rapid decline of the number of active players that are willing to actually play. The first is partly caused by competition with other sports (especially hockey and football), the latter is – amongst others – probably caused by a change in the social landscape (the pressures of a career and joint responsibilities at home). We are a cricketing nation in decline at club level. Every week the clubs struggle to field reasonably competitive teams; every week you seem to fall short. The main casualties of these problems are not the first teams, but the lower teams. They get plundered from above.
Mark painted us a colourful picture of the practical handling of a player ID system. Most entertaining and in essence a valid point. Who will check the ID and what would its real value be in ‘lower cricket’? I think that the real value of the ID will be in the higher regions and will, at all levels, promote an element of trust between the teams. Who are we playing?
I guess that the annually recurrent frustration regarding the unclear identities and the ever-present grapevine-talk of foul play have created an atmosphere of mistrust between clubs and teams. Strangely enough, the biggest source of accusations of foul play with identities and even fake names are the ‘new clubs’ themselves and the associated Sub-continental and Surinamese communities. Informal tip-offs are very common: ‘Player X that played on Y is not X but A’.
What can you do with that kind of information, other than shrug it off or make a fuss about it?
The main sin involved is generally the falsification of the match form and you can only prove that by finding the right guy and looking at his passport. This should be a matter for the Disciplinary Committee of the KNCB. For the teams in the field, the lack of any certainty regarding the identity of their opponents works as a corrosive chemical on the foundations of trust. Trust slowly disappears.
Let’s be honest, in the lower regions of the KNCB leagues you are allowed to play anyone you like, as long as they did not play more than X matches in a higher team. If you pick up a jolly Aussie from the Leidscheplein, he can play! Just make him a member in e-cricket and no-one will give a hoot (apart from a few administrators at the KNCB). Your opponents might question the fun behind a hard-hitting-fast-bowling Aussie in 4A, but that is another matter that might be a topic of discussion during after match drinks.
The real frustration is felt in the higher divisions. How must you feel when a player, who you remember as a slow left arm bowler who couldn’t bat to save his life in one match, turns into a hard hitting, fast-bowling right hander the next match? Same name, same person according to the scorebook and match form. You will probably feel slightly angry. Not so much annoyed about the result, but more about the dishonesty. When the result of the game is important, the frustration is even greater. I would argue that the crucial element of this discussion is not the truth, but trust.
The KNCB and its members (the clubs) have clearly decided that only members of clubs can participate in league matches. You can become a member on the day (that is how I started). There are only restrictions for non-Dutch from the Overgangsklasse upwards. This means that the rules on eligibility will only be a real issue in those divisions. In 2A and lower, the only issue could be in-eligibility when a player played too many matches at a higher level.
The player ID / card would offer a solution at all levels of the game.
The Pakistani players from Amsterdam or Rotterdam described by Mark would pitch up at Polderboys ’37 cricket club and receive the traditional cup of coffee. The captains would exchange pleasantries and present the cards of their teams. This would solve a lot of nonsense with e-cricket as well (only first names of the opposition’s team is a real headache when you have to fill in the form). If some of the players didn’t have a card, the captains would just have to discuss this as they probably play in the lower divisions. It would be a matter of trust to begin with. If they wanted to rig the system, they could. It would be up to them and their own decency. If a captain wanted to field the very talented (twin) brother of his real team member, it would be upon his conscience. I would say that his club should take action against him when they find out.
In the higher classes matters become more complicated. Not only are the stakes (allegedly) higher, but the rules are more complex. This is not helped by a clear lack of policing potential on the side of the KNCB. There is simply no real on-field enforcement of the rules. Nobody checks anything because there is no other method than: ‘do I know this guy’? Umpires don’t have the means or will to intervene. Nobody on the day can check who has been granted dispensation and, if this is the case, check if this is the player who received such dispensation. There is a lot of chat going on, but nobody either dares to address the matter directly or feels that it is his/her place to do so. Who is responsible?
We are in no-mans land at the moment as far as this problem is concerned. On the one hand we can read that the Disciplinary Committee, rightly, points out that the KNCB has been singled out by the member as the body that is responsible for the correct application of the rules on eligibility. On the other hand, we can safely say that the KNCB does not do this due to a lack of resources. The rules on eligibility are a paper tiger until we all recognise the need for player identification cards.
Would this change the quaint Dutch cricket community into a police state? I do not think so. What it would do is offer some deterrent to those persons who want to rig the system, as they would have one more obstacle to conquer. We could all see who is who and double check it against, hopefully accessible, dispensation records. It would probably not be a perfect system, but I say that it is more about restoring trust by providing accountability. I can just hope that the KNCB and the general meeting will agree to this as soon as possible. We all know that it might cost a bit of money and we all realise that it will not solve all problems, but the current situation is unacceptable and frankly quite damaging to us all.
Mark made a point regarding removing all restrictions on foreign players. This would effectively only change matters in the higher leagues. I’m afraid that this would even further damage the (friendly) amateur nature of the Dutch game. Let’s face it, every half-decent foreign player will outplay the local specimen. Importing outsiders at any time of the season, would mostly benefit those clubs with a lot of money (that they are willing to invest in single players in order to win) and will ultimately cause more and more clubs to invest in the present instead of long term continuity. It is an arms race that we already have in the Topklasse. We are not the counties in the UK, we are small and endangered. We need all our combined efforts and financial means to survive.
As far as the Dosti situation is concerned, I do not know all the facts. I am saddened by the whole situation, especially because it involves two clubs that I sympathise with. I have the highest regard for the Dosti chairman, who I consider to be an honest man. It is a painful matter for all concerned. A comedy of omissions and practical impossibilities one could say.
The Dosti matter has the potential of becoming the pink elephant in the room for 2011. If the Appeals Committee agrees with the Disciplinary Committee, the matter will not have its day in court and neither party will have the chance to officially prove their point or defend themselves. The recriminations, accusations and tensions will remain without any chance of relief or redemption. It will take a lot of wisdom, hopefully from the clubs involved in conjunction with the KNCB, to chase away the elephant. A boycott of Dosti cannot be a realistic solution for the (near) future, especially if it involves clubs that are hardly in a position to throw the first stone.
I would suggest that we give the people on the field some way to check out who they are facing. This would force all involved to be more open and honest. This might just restore that most unique element of team sport, especially cricket: trust.
I feel it necessary to stress that this article contains my private opinion.