Dutch women’s cricket needs urgent measures – now!
On 21 July 1999 the Danish women’s team beat the Netherlands by 3 wickets in what would prove to be the last encounter between the two sides for more than a decade.
Within a very few years both the national side and the Danish domestic competition were defunct, and women’s cricket in Denmark effectively ceased to exist. Slowly, the game is being revived there, but it has been a long, hard battle.
The question now facing Dutch cricket is whether the condition of the women’s game, which has been chronic for years and has suddenly gone critical, can be prevented from becoming terminal – and if so, how.
The immediate symptom of the crisis is the withdrawal in mid-season of two of the eleven teams which signed up for the women’s competition, but that is only the most acute of the indications that the game is in serious danger.
Other clubs are also finding it increasingly difficult to field eleven players each week, and it seems unlikely that the KNCB’s Youth Plan can, as it stands, take effect quickly enough to make up the shortfall in new young players.
It is a problem which has been quietly building for years, as the following graph illustrates:
Women’s Cricket in the Netherlands, 1993-2012
The signs were clearly visible, but until recently little or nothing had been done to confront it.
The causes of the decline are diverse: clubs have treated the women’s game with benign neglect at best, and sometimes with open contempt, while the women players themselves have often been content to go on playing themselves without any thought for the future of the game.
There are structural issues as well: while girls have been able to take part in mixed teams up to the age of 14 or so, thereafter the absence of a senior girls’ league has meant that they have had to graduate straight into a women’s competition for which they were not ready technically, physically, or indeed socially. And most of them have simply stopped.
No doubt other factors have played a part, such as a competition structure which produces far too many mismatches. Few players are going to find it much fun turning out week after week knowing that they are doomed to a heavy defeat, their side struggling to make fewer than 100 runs in 45 overs.
Many of these problems are not the preserve of women’s cricket alone: poor administration, poor umpiring – or indeed the absence of umpires – declining numbers and a high dropout rate from youth cricket into the senior ranks all affect the men’s game as well.
But they are greatly magnified when the numbers were so small to begin with; and there is an additional complication into the bargain, since the compensating influx of players from the Subcontinent, which has partly masked the decline in numbers among indigenous Dutch cricketers, has not, for deeply-rooted cultural reasons, applied in the women’s game.
It is true that the KNCB has, however belatedly, begun to take steps to meet the threat, with a comprehensive Youth Plan and with a system of national girls’ squads and development teams aimed at keeping young female players in the game. Welcome as these measures are, they will take time to bear fruit, and there is a real danger that by the time these young players are ready to graduate into the senior ranks, there will be no competition for them to take part in.
It’s true that there are some positive signs, such as the prospect of new teams at Excelsior ’20 Schiedam, Voorburg, and perhaps Punjab Rotterdam, and the determination of Rood en Wit Haarlem to rebuild their women’s section. But these are vulnerable green shoots, and in themselves they are not enough.
This is, therefore, the moment for the KNCB – which is to say, the entire Dutch cricket community – to be galvanised into action, including, I suggest, at least the following:
The number of active women cricketers in the Netherlands has now declined to fewer than two hundred, and if we subtract from that those who are nearing the end of their careers and/or play only occasionally, the future of the sport is in the hands of an even smaller group. One priority must surely be to increase the numbers of players aged 18-25.
As the Rood en Wit club clearly recognises, a point has been reached where everyone who cares about the future of women’s cricket in the Netherlands, including club administrators and especially former players, must join the effort to reverse the game’s decline. The alternative is to go the way of Denmark.