At last, the Dutch are coming
Interviewed during last year’s World Cup, Dutch captain Peter Borren responded to a question about his side’s dependence on foreign-produced players with the argument that the selectors were buying time until a new generation of Dutch-produced players was ready for international cricket.
At the time, it may have seemed like a fairly forlorn hope: Dutch youth teams had had a rough couple of seasons, finishing fourth in the 2010 European Under-19 championship and fifth at Under-15 level, and apart from a second place in the 2009 Under-19 tournament that season has also been disappointing, with a fifth place for the Under-17s and fourth for the Under-15s.
With youth cricket in the Netherlands losing out in the numbers game the future seemed bleak, and the national senior side has, if anything, become more overseas-based in the fifteen months since the World Cup.
Suddenly, however, change is in the air, with Dutch age-group teams producing their most outstanding series of results in living memory.
This season’s campaign began quietly enough with the Under-17s sharing an away series with Guernsey, but after that the picture changed dramatically: the Under-19s went through a six-match tour of Guernsey and Jersey undefeated, the Under-17s beat Ireland 2-1 in Utrecht, and the Under-15s retained their European championship, going through the tournament undefeated and beating Ireland in the process.
It must be emphasised just how great a turnaround this actually is: the Netherlands had not beaten Ireland in an age-group match since 2004, and here they were, doing it three times at two different levels in the space of a week!
It is true that these Dutch sides, too, have their share of players who have learned their cricket elsewhere. They have included Max O’Dowd and Julian Bradley (New Zealand), Ejaz Din (England) and the two boys from Sint Maarten, Shaquille Martina and the 14-year-old spin bowling prodigy Daniel Doram.
But they have also featured an overwhelming majority of home-produced players, several of whom have played a significant part in this string of successes. They include Quick Haag batsman James Gruijters and Rood en Wit Haarlem allrounder Paul van Meekeren, both of whom averaged better than 50.00 with the bat during the Under-19s’ Channel Islands tour – with Van Meekeren also taking 10 wickets at 9.50 – and their team-mates, Sebastiaan Braat (Hermes-DVS Schiedam) and Dirk van Baren (VOC Rotterdam).
It cannot be a coincidence that all four spent last winter at Ben Williams’ academy in the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand and playing in the local competition there, or that all four have become regulars in their clubs’ first teams in Dutch domestic cricket, where they have had a modest degree of success.
Among the Under-17s, the victory over Ireland was largely achieved with the ball, with HBS Den Haag’s Wessel Coster, Voorburg’s Vivian Kingma and Punjab Rotterdam’s Asad Saleemi all doing well. Coster came back from a shaky start to bowl hostile spells in the last two games, while Kingma has the potential to become an effective new-ball bowler if he can curb a temperament which earned him a suspension after the first match of the series.
The stars for the Netherlands in the Under-15 tournament were, of course, the Zulfiqar triplets, and not only because of their claim to a place in cricket history. Asad was the leading wicket-taker in the competition with 12 at 7.42, while Saqib and Sikander did well with bat and ball respectively. Again, all three have played regularly for their ACC club in this season’s Topklasse, gaining valuable experience.
Taken in its totality, this marked improvement suggests that a corner may have been turned. Initiatives like sending a group to the Williams academy are beginning to pay off, and the introduction of domestic competitions like the Under-19 Regional League and the Durant Sports North-South series, although they continue to have problems of scheduling, venues and player availability, provide a level of experience which should help the development of the most talented young players.
Formidable difficulties remain. Youth cricket in the Netherlands still has a disturbingly narrow base, and while the adoption of the Youth Plan and the appointment of the KNCB’s first Regional Development Officers point in the right direction, such initiatives inevitably take time to bear fruit.
And at the top, there is still an absence of systematic co-ordination between the coaching system for the national Dutch Lions squads and whatever youth coaching takes place in the clubs. If the players named above, and others like VRA Amsterdam’s trio of spinners, Vinoo Tewarie, Victor Lubbers and Leon Turmaine, Excelsior ‘20’s Joost Kroesen, Tim Etman and Rens van Troost – to name just half a dozen – are to make further progress, then there is a need for a substantial investment of commitment and time by all concerned.
Look back fifteen years, and there was a cohort of established Dutch-produced players who were capable of holding their own against the foreign professionals, making runs and taking wickets at the top domestic level: Tim de Leede, Carel Schewe, Maurits Houben, David Bakker, Denis and Eric Gouka, Robert van Oosterom, Feiko Kloppenburg, Klaas-Jan van Noortwijk, Roland Lefebvre, Eric Dulfer . . . the list goes on and on.
Lefebvre apart, they had all made their first-team debut in the 1980s, and they formed the nucleus of a national side which enjoyed considerable success over the next decade and a half.
There are signs that another Golden Generation may be in the making, but the demands upon young cricketers have, if anything, become greater over the past thirty years, and it will take a concentrated effort to ensure that the current crop of youngsters achieve their full potential.