Progress on the field, but uncertainties remain in Dutch cricket
Once again Dutch cricket comes to the end of a year with some notable successes on the field to look back upon with satisfaction, some big questions about the direction the game is taking, and some reasons for feeling positive despite the uncertainties.
The Orange Lions went into the World Cup in February knowing that it was going to be tough, and even before the tournament started there were problems over a nagging injury to skipper Peter Borren. The preparation wasn’t helped by an untidy squabble over his reported replacement by Western Australia’s Michael Swart, but eventually the batsmen did themselves proud by taking 292 off an ill-disciplined England attack, with a century from Ryan ten Doeschate and a swashbuckling 35 not out from a half-fit Borren.
Unfortunately the Dutch bowlers turned out to be even more wayward, and for the next four games the batting, too, struggled, unable to post competitive totals against Full member opposition. Ten Doeschate made his second hundred in the final match, helping the Netherlands to reach 306 against Ireland, but again the attack was unable to rise to the challenge, and Ireland won by 6 wickets.
The inadequacies of the bowling were, if anything, underlined by the recruitment of the Australian Shane Mott as overseas player for the Clydesdale Bank 40 campaign: his left-arm pace added incisiveness to the attack, and contributed a good deal to a much improved performance, with five games won and another – against Derbyshire in Deventer – ending in a tie.
Borren’s increasingly authoritative leadership made the uncertainty over his position in India all the more inexplicable, and he was well supported by a close-knit squad which usually showed plenty of fighting spirit, not least when they came within two runs of chasing down a target of 287 against Middlesex at Lord’s, thanks in large measure to a magnificent 126 not out by Tom Cooper.
Cooper’s presence for most of the season was again significant, especially with Ten Doeschate and Alexei Kervezee unavailable, but the balance of the side between Dutch-produced and imported players became, if anything, a more controversial question: of the 25 players used in 2011, eleven learned their cricket elsewhere, and even though this included Mott and his deputy Mark Cleary, the selection at various times of Swart, Brad Kruger and Neil Kruger, none of whom is based in the Netherlands, raised many eyebrows.
The selectors and coaching staff insisted, however, that the priority must be results on the field, and asked where the home-produced talents were that were being kept out of the side by the imports. And they did show signs of developing a youth policy, with Rotterdam-born Ashan (Malik) Jamil emerging as a new-ball partner for Mudassar Bukhari, Tim Gruijters returning as an off-spinning allrounder, and teenagers Vinoo Tewarie and Matthijs Luten on the fringes of the side.
Tewarie, indeed, made his international debut in the second ODI against Scotland in Aberdeen in June, part of the ICC’s new One-Day League which turned out to be an element of the qualifying process for the 2015 World Cup. The Dutch lost both ODIs and just failed to claim first-innings points in a rain-affected Intercontinental Cup match; even more frustratingly, not a ball was bowled in the home game against Kenya in September after a torrential downpour and poor overnight covering in Deventer led to the pitch being thoroughly soaked.
There was some compensation in the two ODIs in Voorburg, both of which were won, although there was some evidence, especially in the second, that the new Westvliet square remains far from satisfactory. Although there were improvements in the turf pitches elsewhere, it is clear that the KNCB’s new Groundcare Association still has a good deal of work to do raising standards to true international level.
One of the biggest disappointments of the year was undoubtedly the inability of the women’s international side to hold on to the ODI status which the Dutch had enjoyed for 25 years. It marred an otherwise highly successful season in which they again earned promotion in the ECB county champion ship, won their section of the English Twenty20 Cup, and claimed two European championships.
But the Irish squad which came to Utrecht for the European tournament was well below full strength, as was underlined when the senior players flew in for two additional T20 matches, and they reasserted their superiority when it really mattered in Bangladesh, with the final ODI berth at stake.
The truth is that the gap between most of the Full members and the leading Associates is, if anything, even greater among the women than in the men’s game, and even the advent of New Zealander Kerryanne Tomlinson was unable to make a sufficient difference, although she did have a splendid tournament in Dhaka.
She also played her part in what was a controversial national title for Kampong Utrecht, whose restructured first team, reinforced by several internationals, was allocated a place in the Hoofdklasse despite not having won promotion the previous season.
Whether Kampong’s subsequent domination of the competition justified their elevation or proved how unfair the whole process was depended rather on one’s point of view, but the fact was that they were the strongest side by a distance. That Ajax Oegstgeest reached the final was due almost entirely to the presence in their team of New Zealand international Rachel Priest, and they were no match for Kampong in the decider.
Defending champions Quick Haag had a mixed Hoofdklasse campaign, but gained some compensation by beating Kampong on their way to winning the SGS Twenty20 Cup on a rain-ruined finals day.
The Topklasse was dominated by two clubs, 2010 double winners VRA Amsterdam, who eventually repeated their feat by taking both the championship and the Twenty20 Cup, and local rivals ACC, whose emergence under the guidance of club coach Anton Roux was the most striking feature of the season.
ACC’s success was built around two other South Africans, player-coach Heino Kuhn and the enormously promising Graeme van Buuren, and their challenge in the newly-introduced best-of-three finals series was undoubtedly hampered by the absence of both, Kuhn because of international commitments and van Buuren through injury.
Even so, they pushed the champions all the way, winning the opening game of the series and taking the last to a pulsating and highly controversial final over which saw VRA stagger across the line by just one wicket despite two massive appeals against last man Berend Westdijk.
That said, VRA were once again an outstanding outfit, with Peter Borren, Eric Szwarczynski and Tom Cooper all averaging over 40 and Wesley Barresi making more than 500 runs into the bargain. With Westdijk, Sohail Bhatti and latterly Umal Prasad the new ball attack could be lethal, while Vinoo Tewarie continued to make progress with both bat and ball, and if Emile van den Burg was less influential this season, there was compensation in the emergence of 17-year-old left-arm spinner Victor Lubbers, who played no small part in the side’s victory over HCC in the Three Horses Twenty20 Cup final.
Lubbers’ success extended to the national under-17 side, where he took a hat-trick in a T20 match against Jersey in a generally much-improved series of performances by Dutch Lions teams in the ICC Europe challenge series at under-17 and under-19 level, with the under-15 squad taking the European Division 1 title in a rain-affected tournament in Stirling.
All in all, things seemed to be looking up on the youth front, with an extended system of national girls’ squads including an under-17 tour to Essex, a group of promising young male players spending the winter at Ben Williams’ academy in New Zealand, and, by the year’s end, a Youth Plan in place which incorporates some extremely promising schools initiatives and welcome evidence of joined-up thinking on the part of the KNCB and its member-clubs.
Even there, though, controversy over possible adjustments to the senior programme to improve retention of young players indicated that not everyone is yet singing from the same song-sheet, while the fact that eight months have passed without the Board finding either a new chairman or a new treasurer, or taking decisive action to remedy the situation, betrays a lack of urgency which contrasts starkly with the progress which is being made in some key areas.
The Youth Plan would be even more impressive if it formed part of an overall strategy for rebuilding the game in the Netherlands, and that must surely be the off-field priority for 2012. Whatever the ad hoc review committee chaired by Maarten Fontein comes up with, the greater professionalization of Dutch cricket which has been achieved on the field must be matched in organisational structures and committee rooms if the precious momentum is not to be lost.