ABN AMRO deal offers Dutch cricket a quantum leap forward
There can be little doubt that the KNCB’s new four-year agreement with ABN AMRO has the capacity to transform the development of Dutch cricket.
First of all, it will enable the Bond to fulfil its long-held ambition to – and indeed, the expectation of the ICC that it will – create a meaningful system of player contracts, with the core of the national side contracted full-time and a number of emerging players awarded bursaries to enable them to continue their studies while playing more regularly for their country.
This is one of the areas where the Dutch have lagged behind their main rivals over the past few years, and it will introduce a much greater level of professionalism and stability into the full squad.
It will also change the balance between the leading players’ responsibilities to the national set-up and their clubs; one of the outcomes of the discussions which have taken place between the Bond and the leading clubs over the past few months has reportedly been that many of the latter are keen for these boundaries to be more clearly defined, and the ABN AMRO deal will provide the resources to enable this to happen.
Obviously, the implications of this for the domestic competitions will need to be thought through, but careful scheduling of the kind which seems to be operating for 2012 should ensure that conflicts are kept to a minimum, and that the internationals are able to balance their commitments.
The move to a much more solid professional contractual system will also underwrite the more extensive touring programme which is another key element of the deal. Fortunately, many of the countries in which ABN AMRO wishes to see the Dutch side playing have their season, or large parts of it, between September and April, offering the prospect of something approaching year-round cricket.
Difficulty in arranging fixtures against Full member opposition has been a widely-recognised constraint on the further development of the leading Associates, and the Netherlands has again been much less effective than many of its rivals in finding opponents to lay down a challenge to move to the next level.
The experience of the CB 40 League, where a disappointing first season nevertheless laid the foundation for a much more successful second one, illustrates what such exposure can achieve, and this new agreement should make possible tours like the one Ireland were able to make to the Caribbean as preparation for the 2010 World Twenty20 tournament, where they played a first-class match against Jamaica, an ODI against the West Indies and a List A match against Jamaica, and T20 games against the West Indies, Jamaica and Trinidad.
The Dutch have visited India in recent years, but their matches have tended to be against club sides or somewhat makeshift composite elevens. With ABN AMRO’s support, it should now be possible to construct much more demanding and attractive tours, with higher-profile matches in a variety of formats against first-class teams, or perhaps even a Full member A side.
That is the kind of environment in which Dutch players could really hone their skills, at the same time giving the sponsors the kind of visibility which is evidently their primary commercial goal, and the consequences for the Orange Lions’ performances in competitions like the Intercontinental Cup, the ICC One-Day League and World Twenty20 qualifiers could only be positive.
It is clear, however, that both the Bond and its new sponsor see their co-operation as delivering positive results in the Netherlands as well. They speak specifically of the development of ‘high quality training and playing facilities’ in the country, and ABN AMRO’s initial €15,000 contribution to the implementation of the KNCB’s Youth Plan underlines their recognition that if change is to be made permanent, then an infrastructure must be created which will ensure the production of a steady stream of young players coming into contention for the national side.
And CEO Richard Cox is absolutely right to stress the importance of the career pathway which it is now possible to create for talented youngsters: in the past there were few incentives to work hard at the game beyond the sheer pleasure of playing better, but now there will be tangible rewards for anyone prepared to make the most of their ability and claim a place in the international set-up.
It’s already an encouraging sign that a group of young Dutch players is spending the southern summer at Ben Williams’ academy in New Zealand, and such initiatives will no doubt be facilitated by the additional resources provided by the agreement with ABN AMRO.
A proper system of player contracts, an expanded touring programme, a career pathway for the most promising young players, and enhanced facilities in the Netherlands: taken together, this is a package which lays the foundation for a quantum leap in Dutch cricket.
Add to this the fertilisation of the grassroots which is called for in the Youth Plan, and one may fairly say that the prospects for the development of the game in the Netherlands have never been better.