Is Dutch cricket a hopeless case?
The debate about the selection policy for the Dutch national team continues, with many arguing that it is an injustice to talented young Dutch-produced players that so many qualified foreigners – including one or two who do not play in domestic cricket in the Netherlands – are included in the national side.
There is a good deal to be said on both sides of this discussion, and there is no easy solution which balances a realistic chance of continued success in the international arena against the universal desire to see as many Dutch-born, home-produced players as possible in the team.
Part of the problem has long been the apparent inability of the Dutch system to produce a sufficient flow of players of sufficient ability and skill – that has been evident both in the Netherlands’ record in European age-group tournaments, and in the comparatively few young Dutch players who have made a significant impact in senior domestic cricket.
There are no doubt many reasons for this, but one has arguably been the large void between the upper levels of the Dutch Lions programme and the national squad. For young players battling to make their way in a domestic competition which is all too often dominated by the professionals, the gap has simply been too great.
So one of the most encouraging developments of recent years has been the KNCB’s introduction this season of a North-South series, designed to give the best young players an opportunity to test their mettle at a domestic representative level.And that’s why it is so bitterly disappointing to see that that series is now in serious trouble, due to the large number of last-minute call-offs by players who had been selected for the two teams, leading to the embarrassing cancellation of next Saturday’s scheduled second match in Utrecht.
Details of the series, for which the Bond has secured sponsorship from Durant Cricket Supplies, were announced in late April, and the players have known the dates of the three matches since that time.
It’s always understandable, of course, if a player has to withdraw through injury, and it could be argued that putting the second match in the middle of a twelve-day period in which there are five club games was not the most far-sighted piece of planning. And we all know that for most Dutch cricketers, it’s essentially an amateur game.
But you can’t have it both ways: either the players need to be given every opportunity to develop their cricket – in which case they should grasp those opportunities with both hands – or it should be accepted that the sport is basically a bit of fun, somewhere lower in players’ priorities than drinking and socialising.
With half the 26 players originally selected – who were informed of their selection several weeks ago – withdrawing from Saturday’s second match of the series, many of them within days of its taking place, it is entirely understandable that coaches Roland Lefebvre and Peter Drinnen are throwing up their hands in despair.
What is the effect of the cancellation of the game on those who were willing to play? What are the implications for the KNCB and host club Kampong, who had planned to use it as a major PR occasion? How is the sponsor supposed to react? And what message does it send to the ICC on the eve of their decision about participation of the leading Associates in the World Cup? No doubt the players weighed these considerations carefully before giving priority to their own preferences.
Played under the same rules as the CB40 League and with Orange Lions like Peter Borren, Wesley Barresi, Eric Szwarczynski and Tom de Grooth taking part, the North-South series could give players on the fringe of the national side the opportunity to state their case for inclusion in the side for the remaining six matches of the CB40 campaign.
But when half those initially chosen pull out, in some cases reportedly complaining of ‘too much cricket’, it risks reducing the game to a farce, and leads one to ask just how serious some young Dutch players are about reaching the top.
It also confronts Lefebvre and Drinnen with a dilemma: with a full programme of Under-18 competition matches scheduled for this Saturday, the gaps in the North and South sides could only have been filled with younger players at the price of completely disrupting that competition.
And it is hard to see where the national selectors are to look for the core of their side if it is not from among players who have grown up in countries where youth development is taken more seriously – and not least by the players themselves – than it apparently is in the Netherlands.
Perhaps the time has come to confront the possibility that the Netherlands really has no business being in the ICC’s High Performance Program at all. If young players are not seriously interested in taking the opportunities they are given, if they are not prepared to train hard and play every game they can, then really, what is the point of the ICC investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in the country’s cricket?
The honourable course would then be for the KNCB to withdraw from the High Performance Program, give up its ODI status, and pull out of the CB40 competition and the four-day Intercontinental Cup.
There would, of course, be consequences: the Bond’s income would shrink to a fraction of its present level, there would be little or no money to pay staff and players or to pay the clubs with turf pitches for the use of their facilities. Attractive youth tours to places like India or Dubai would disappear from the programme.
And the national side, deprived of most of its stars, would find its own level, probably on a par with, say, Denmark. With many other countries developing fast, the Netherlands would soon drop from eleventh or twelfth in the world to twentieth or lower, and occasions like the T20 victory over England at Lord’s would seem like a distant dream.
This may all sound a little apocalyptic: after all, all that has happened is that a handful of players have chosen not to take part in one game.
But the calling-off of Saturday’s North-South match is part of a much larger pattern: there was a desperate battle to find a squad for last season’s European A tournament in Jersey, administrators have frequently been reduced to phoning around on the eve of a home Intercontinental Cup match to fill the last places in their side, the national coaches frequently complain of poor attendances at national squad training sessions, and there is a widespread rumbling around the land that too much attention is given to international cricket and not enough to the needs of the clubs.
Once again, you can’t have it both ways. The Netherlands’ current position in international cricket can only be maintained through a steady stream of dedicated, hard-working Dutch-produced young players, whose ambitions and commitment are wholeheartedly supported by the clubs, or by pulling in qualified cricketers from Full member countries.
If the first is impossible and the second unacceptable, then the Dutch have no business to be where they are. And we can all go back to a gentlemanly, amateur world of striped blazers and cucumber sandwiches. Always provided the cucumbers aren’t dangerous, of course . . .