Bilingual schools make Dutch cricket history
History was made in Voorburg and Utrecht this week as pupils from thirteen Dutch secondary schools contested the first two tournaments in the inaugural Bilingual Schools Cricket Challenge.
Nearly 150 thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds took part in the two events, which will be followed by further regional tournaments in Nijmegen and Deventer on 22 and 23 May and a national finals day on 27 September.
Two teams from each of the four regional qualifiers will proceed to the national finals, with Alfrink College, Zoetermeer and the Nassau Scholengemeenschap, Breda the first to qualify from the West Zone tournament on Thursday, being joined by ORS Lek en Linge, Culemborg and Cals College, Nieuwegein from the Central Zone on Friday.
The teams took part in a series of eight-over matches, preceded by clinics led by KNCB coaches. The participants were therefore able to work with members of current and past national squads, such as Tim de Leede, Peter Borren, Tom de Grooth, Mudassar Bukhari, Tim Gruijters, Esther de Lange and Hannah Hofman.
The enthusiasm of both the pupils and their teachers was clearly evident, and Thursday’s tournament in particular was a remarkable achievement, since heavy rain early in the day threatened to force its cancellation. But the weather cleared sufficiently to allow the clinics and games to go ahead on an artificial football pitch, and although it remained cold all day the rain stayed away almost until the completion of the final.
For many of the pupils, the adverse weather conditions of recent weeks, school holidays, and a packed school curriculum meant that they had had only a couple of cricket lessons before being thrown into the tournaments, but the learning curve was steep as they rapidly came to terms with the intricacies of the sport.
If the running between wickets was sometimes hazardous, and some of the bowling actions were more reminiscent of the Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park than of Lord’s or the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the fielding was never less than fully committed, some outstanding catches were taken, and some of the players evidently learned from experience that pushing a quick single could be more productive than a violent swing and miss, or hitting a catch which cost their team five runs.
On both days the coaches gave a short demonstration of the some of the variety of strokes which are possible in a 360-degree sport, in contrast with the straight hitting which is typical of baseball and its Suriname-developed derivative slagbal. Tim Gruijters even produced a very fine Dilscoop on Thursday, although it was perhaps fortunate that none of the pupils tried to copy him.
In each tournament, the teams were divided into two groups, playing two or three round-robin matches to determine who would meet in the cross-over finals.
At Voorburg on Thursday, Alfrink College won both their group games, beating Walburg College, Zwijndrecht and De Ring van Putten, Spijkenisse to face the Nassau SG, who recovered from narrowly losing their opening match against Jan Tinbergen College, Roosendaal by inflicting a heavy defeat on the Scala College, Alphen aan den Rijn in their second game.
Alfrink College then completed a trio of victories by beating Nassau SG 236-190 in the final, in which Cherees Klint achieved the notable feat of claiming a hat-trick for the winning side. Scala College beat De Ring van Putten to take third place.
In Friday’s competition at Kampong’s Maarschalkerweerd complex in Utrecht, ORS Lek en Linge went through their four-team group schedule undefeated, beating their Culemborg neighbours Koningin Wilhelmina College in their opening game and then adding the scalps of the two Amersfoort schools, ‘t Atrium and Farel College.
Farel College finished second in the group, thanks to a remarkable last-ball finish against KWC Culemborg, who lost two wickets off the last two balls of their innings to go down by just 4 runs.
In the other group, Cals College beat Hermann Wesselink College, Amstelveen and De Goudse Waarden from Gouda to move into the final, where they lost to Lek en Linge 250-234. De Goudse Waarden claimed third place with a narrow victory over Farel College, who this time were on the receiving end of a tight match, losing by 5 runs.
For the KNCB and its constituent clubs, the challenge of the Cricket Challenge is now to convert the enthusiasm and excitement generated by these tournaments into a more permanent involvement in the game. Many of the pupils are already committed to another sport, such as hockey or baseball, and it will take some inventive strategies and a good deal of effort to win some over to this newly-discovered sport.
But the enjoyment was unmistakable, even among some pupils who might have had their reservations at the start of the day.
‘When we had cricket lessons in the gym at school I thought it was boring,’ said one girl after the Voorburg tournament. ‘But when we started playing matches today it was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed it.’
And who knows what Tim de Leedes, Peter Borrens or Hannah Hofmans of the future may one day look back on an eight-a-side tournament somewhere in the Netherlands as their first real experience of what cricket has to offer?