The Groundhog Day effect in Dutch cricket
The recent spring general meeting of the KNCB brought to an end the chairmanship of Marc Asselbergs, but it remains unclear who will ultimately succeed him: since the ad hoc committee chaired by Maarten Fontein, set up in December, is not yet in a position to report, vice-chairman and secretary Jacques Mulders has taken over as acting chairman.
There is, inevitably, a good deal of déjà vu inherent in this: very much the same thing happened when Asselbergs’ predecessor, René van Ierschot, came to the end of his term in 2006, and the two committees even have a member in common, in the person of Flamingo’s chairman Michiel Muller.
The two remits, too, are similar, since the Fontein group is charged not only with finding successors to Asselbergs and outgoing treasurer Peter van Wel – a task which is evidently proving much harder than one might have hoped – but also with reviewing the function and structure of the Board, just as in 2006.
And equally inevitably, the 2006 report, entitled Meer Handen aan het Bat [More Hands on the Bat], serves as a benchmark of what has been achieved in the six years since then – and what has not.
In some respects, as the KNCB was keen to emphasise in its announcement of Asselbergs’ departure, there has been real progress under his chairmanship: an expanded office is now headed by a full-time Chief Executive and includes several other energetic and dedicated staff members; new Twenty20 and indoor youth competitions have been introduced and the men’s domestic leagues restructured; and in recent months we have seen the launch of an ambitious Youth Plan and the signing-up of a new major sponsor in ABN AMRO.
Most important, perhaps, the overall financial position has been steadily improved, enabling the reserves to be built up to levels demanded by the Dutch Olympic Committee, although the Bond’s dependence on ICC income for its core budget remains unacceptably high.
On the playing side, too, there have been notable successes: the men qualified for the 2011 World Cup and did reasonably well there, famously beat England at Lord’s in the 2009 World Twenty20 championship, have had some notable successes after returning to English domestic competition in the Clydesdale Bank 40 League, and have earned their place on the ICC’s ODI rankings table by beating Bangladesh, while the women, despite losing their ODI status, have risen steadily through the divisions of the ECB women’s county championship.
Yet, when all is said and done, rereading Meer Handen aan het Bat from the perspective of 2012 is a far from exhilarating experience.
That document calls for a root-and-branch cultural change in Dutch cricket, and it has to be said that in the past six years that has to a large degree failed to take place.
A key priority, the 2006 committee argued, should be a significant growth in playing numbers – a minimum of 20% over the following three years was the figure proposed. This simply didn’t happen, and the momentum which would have been created has therefore been absent.
Not until 2009, indeed, was anything approximating the action plan which the committee recommended actually drawn up, and even then, although the then CEO André van Troost adopted a three-year planning horizon, the main emphasis was on the current year, and the plan has not been updated, or progress towards its targets monitored, as systematically as the committee originally envisaged.
Only with the Bond’s adoption of its Youth Plan at the end of last year have specific growth targets and the instruments to achieve them been effectively brought together, and then only for junior cricket.
The past year, it is true, has seen progress in a number of areas: initiatives like the Durant Sports North-South series, the development of national girls’ squads, and a more coherent A team programme are aimed at improving the production of home-grown internationals, and the recently-signed contract with ABN AMRO offers real possibilities for further professionalisation of the top level of the men’s game.
Welcome as all this undoubtedly is, it comes after several years of stagnation and muddle.
Too many Board members under Asselbergs’ chairmanship contributed little to the process the 2006 committee sought to initiate and left without achieving anything of significance, and the fact that the KNCB had four CEOs in a sixteen-month period in 2008-09, culminating in the sadly mismanaged business of finding a successor to Van Troost, while it can in part be attributed to bad luck, unquestionably had a seriously disruptive effect.
The appointment of Richard Cox has brought both a much-needed stability and a degree of momentum to the Bond’s administration, and the recent addition of two Regional Development Officers gives the Bond an enlarged staff which is well placed to drive forward a major development of the game in the Netherlands.
The fundamental problems, however, were and remain structural. Meer Handen aan het Bat envisaged a smaller Board which set broad policy directions, monitored their progress, but otherwise left the day to day management to the Bond’s expanded staff.
It also recommended the creation of several new key committees, notably a Media and Marketing Committee to raise the sport’s profile and find the resources to underpin the strategy of growth, and a Cricket Committee to drive the development of the game itself.
This, too, didn’t happen, with the new Board failing completely to grapple with the problem of selling cricket to the Dutch public, and opting for the establishment of two new instruments, Top Cricket Nederland and Recreatief Cricket Nederland, which began promisingly, achieving some valuable changes, but were then allowed to die.
So the core of the 2006 committee’s analysis remains as valid now as it was six years ago, and there is still a crying need for that cultural change which it called for then.
The new Board, once it is finally appointed, will need to do both more and less: to approve an agenda for the next five years which builds on the Youth Plan and extends its reach across the whole of Dutch cricket, and to leave its implementation to its staff and to a set of really effective committees, monitoring progress regularly and effectively, and reporting back to the Bond’s constituent clubs.
By doing this it could finally end the Us-and-Them mentality which leads too many club administrators to talk about ‘the KNCB’ without understanding that they are the KNCB, and that they, too, must bear a share of the blame for the years of drift. Meer Handen aan het Bat also implied a genuinely shared responsibility for the game’s future, and that, too, has been lacking – and sorely needed.