Orange Lions in a CB40 campaign of two halves
Looking back on the Netherlands’ third season in the Clydesdale Bank 40 League, one obvious question arises: how was it possible for the Orange Lions to win five of their first six games, and yet lose all of the remaining five?
In early June the Dutch were top of the Group A table, and appeared to be serious contenders for one of the semi-final spots. Now that the group phase is complete we can see that even three wins in their remaining five games might not have been enough – Warwickshire finished as the highest-ranked runners-up with 17 points in Group C and an extremely healthy net run rate – whereas in fact the season tailed off with a series of resounding defeats.
Five wins against the counties in two successive seasons is no mean achievement, contrasting strongly with Scotland’s three wins over the same period, and disappointment over the eventual outcome should not be allowed devalue what coach Peter Drinnen, captain Peter Borren and their team have accomplished.
It is, however, worth considering what went so right in the first half of the season, and what went so wrong thereafter.
It’s also worth remembering that two of those five victories might very easily have gone the other way: Gloucestershire fell just one run short of a Dutch total of 239 for six in the opening game, while the Netherlands held on to beat Lancashire by a single wicket in Schiedam.
That the Orange Lions won both matches says a lot about their growing ability to cope with pressure, which only comes with experience in such situations and the welding of a powerful team spirit which has been one of Drinnen and Borren’s largely-unheralded achievements.
But the most significant element of those early successes was undoubtedly the form of the top order, and of Stephan Myburgh in particular. He not only began with innings of 74, 74 not out, 66 and 34, but he scored those runs at a rate of 102.87, taking on the bowlers from the very first over and setting the tone for the innings.
He shared opening partnerships of 84 against Gloucestershire and 83 against Lancashire, and when his partner Michael Swart went early against Worcestershire Myburgh and Cameron Borgas saw the Dutch home with an unbroken second-wicket stand of 132.
Myburgh’s batting was the highlight of a top four who consistently put the Dutch into winning – or at least, winnable – situations: in the first six matches, Myburgh’s 292 runs at 58.40 were backed up by Swart’s 233 at 38.83, Borgas’s 215 at 53.75, and Tom Cooper’s 150 at 30.00. The climax came at Leicester, where a splendid hundred by Swart and half-centuries from Cooper and Borgas took the Netherlands to a record 304 for three.
But there were already signs of problems to come. In the middle order, only Mudassar Bukhari showed any degree of consistency, continuing to produce quick runs in the closing overs, and Wesley Barresi played a couple of rapid-fire cameos, but in general the later batsmen were unable to build on what the first four had done.
The bowling, too, gave some cause for concern. Apart from the demolition of Essex, dismissed for 112 on a bowler-friendly pitch in Schiedam, the Dutch attack often found it difficult to get on top of their county opponents, although Pieter Seelaar bowled a series of excellent spells and with ten wickets at 23.20 Swart was the leading wicket-taker.
Of the seamers, Timm van der Gugten took time to adjust to European conditions, his three for 29 against Essex his best effort, Jamil did well when he played, Tom Heggelman bowled well against Worcestershire at Kidderminster, and Bukhari was successful on occasion.
But of the front-line bowlers only Jamil and Seelaar had economy rates below 5.5 an over, and that was an issue that would return with a vengeance in the latter part of the season. With the benefit of hindsight, the eight-wicket victory by Middlesex in Voorburg on 14 May was a clear warning sign.
Four days after setting that record 304 total, the Dutch were bowled out for 57 by Worcestershire, again in Voorburg, only Cooper and Borren reaching double figures. It wasn’t a great pitch, but it was humiliating nonetheless.
Then things really started to go wrong. The turning-point may well have been the injury to Myburgh, who had smacked 21 from twelve deliveries as the Netherlands set out after a Leicestershire total of 208 for seven in Amstelveen when he was struck on the hand by Nathan Buck. Without him the side could only manage 175 for nine, recovering from 122 for seven, but his absence for the next two matches was an even bigger blow.
The next to fall was Timm van der Gugten, who turned his ankle early in the following match against Gloucestershire, although the decisive factor in that defeat was probably an error of judgement by Borgas, who threw his wicket away just as he and Cooper had got their side’s noses in front in a game which was obviously going to be dominated by Messrs Duckworth and Lewis.
Borgas, in fact, should not have been playing in that match, since he had been scheduled to leave for the Sri Lankan Premier League, and this was a development which pointed up how different the Dutch situation remains from that of their county opponents.
Getting a replacement for the overseas player became a nightmare: no-one other than Borgas was available for the Gloucestershire match, while visa problems meant that the first-choice candidate for the last two away games could not travel, and in the end two different players – Werner Coetsee and Logan van Beek – filled in instead.
The results of such disruptions to the preparation were all too predictable: put in to bat at Old Trafford in a match severely curtailed by rain, the Dutch collapsed to 68 all out against Lancashire, while in Colchester Essex ran up 314 for eight to win by a thumping 117 runs.
It is easy to blame the loss of key players – in addition to the problems already mentioned, Cooper was unavailable for the Lancashire match and Borren missed the Essex encounter through injury – but in truth other factors also contributed to the decline. One was no doubt the frenetic schedule in late July, which had the side playing eleven days of cricket in four different formats in the space of 18 days and which left the players exhausted.
Without Myburgh, Cooper and Borgas the batting had a threadbare look, the eight batsmen apart from Swart and Bukhari who figured in the top eight averaging just 9.81 between them over the season. County sides depend on key players too, but the difference here was dramatic.
The bowlers also found life even harder in the second half of the season. Bukhari emerged as the leading wicket-taker with 13, but both his average of 32.77 and his economy rate of 6.41 compared unfavourably with 2011, when they were 20.63 and 4.72 respectively. He undoubtedly missed the benefit of Shane Mott’s sharpness at the other end.
Seelaar, with 12 wickets at 24.83 with an economy rate of 4.66, emerged from the campaign with enormous credit, while Jamil played less but also did well, taking 7 wickets at 16.57 and a cost of 4.22 per over.
Participation in the CB40 competition comes at a price, in scheduling difficulties for the domestic competition, in heavy demands upon the players and support staff, in effort from clubs hosting the home games, and financially upon the KNCB’s budget.
But the value to Dutch cricket, not only in the experience gained by home-produced players but also in its international reputation, continues to outweigh those problems. Ten victories over English counties in the space of two seasons are, after all, not to be sneezed at.