So Michael Swart's international career has come to an end, exactly five years after it didn't quite start. Given that his introduction to Dutch cricket was a comically mishandled abortive call-up on the eve of the 2011 World Cup, offered by then-coach Peter Drinnen only to be swiftly rescinded by the selectors, the manner of his recent dismissal at least has a sort of symmetry going for it, if precious little else.
The unceremonious end came last month, at the conclusion of the Netherlands' tour to the UAE. Despite a decent showing on the trip - finishing 2nd in the run aggregates and taking 2-19 in the three overs he bowled - some ten minutes before he was due to leave for the airport Swart was told that he did not fit in with future plans, his services were no longer required, and was duly sent on his way. With that, the Netherlands said goodbye to their leading run scorer in T20 internationals.
In the admittedly questionable ICC rankings, Swart is the Netherlands' highest-rated T20 batsman. Though something of a part-time bowler, Swart's darting off-spin in the opening overs goes at an economy rate well under 7. His T20I batting average of 27 is better than any potential replacement opener, and from what information can be gleaned about the team's warm-up matches in Bangalore without the benefit of any published scorecards, his absence in the top order would already appear to be keenly felt. In short then, in purely cricketing terms, dropping Swart is an utterly baffling decision.
In the absence of any plausible on-field reason for his omission, and in the face of the KNCB's customary silence on all matters of any interest to anyone, we are forced to look elsewhere for explanation. What follows is of course, by necessity, speculation.
First then to politics. Now the Netherlands has no official equivalent to the transformation policies of Namibia or South Africa, but there is a standing objective to transition toward a majority of Dutch-produced players by 2018. And Swart has long been the bÍte noire of the more xenophobia-inclined in Dutch cricket; of all the foreign-born or diaspora players to feature in the national side, Swart has habitually been singled out for largely baseless vilification as a carpet-bagging mercenary.
Certainly there are a few who would hold up Swart as an example of all that is wrong with Dutch selection policy, and are not shy about saying it, but the truth is this does not look like a political decision. Even if the selectors were in the habit of taking account of the twittering malcontents, and there's nothing to suggest they ever have, dropping Swart is hardly the best way to appease them. Likewise we are assured there's been no direct instruction from the Board on selection questions, beyond the above-mentioned objective.
Such considerations are in any case somewhat moot, as there is no direct Dutch-produced equivalent for Swart waiting in the wings. Sikander Zulfiqar's place-holder call-up seemed as much an afterthought as anything, nobody having thought to arrange a visa for the youngster until a fortnight before departure for India. Few expected him to get a game and fewer still were surprised when he subsequently made way for the newly-available Tom Cooper - on which more another time.
Swart's real replacement in the squad, Canterbury's seam bowling all-rounder Logan van Beek, is far more likely to keep a domestically produced player out of the starting XI than Swart himself was. Van Beek is without doubt a better player than his record for the Dutch would suggest, but given a disappointing season in New Zealand and a two-year absence from the Dutch set-up, it's difficult to build a plausible case for the swap on either cricketing or political grounds.
Whatever his background, Swart has been a member of the Dutch squad and a regular fixture on the domestic scene for some time. He has been a key part of the qualification campaign leading up to the WT20, which could hardly be said of Cooper or van Beek, neither of whom have played in or for the Netherlands since the last edition of the tournament. He is unpopular with a few, but those few are themselves hardly popular with the KNCB. The idea that Swart's omission was a bid to win them as friends, or to appease the Board, can both be safely dismissed.
If not from outside pressure then, the answer must presumably lie within the Dutch camp itself. Swart would hardly be the first international cricketer to fall afoul of dressing room politics, and for followers of English cricket the story of a team's leading run-scorer being sacrificed to ensure the team is, as the saying goes, "all pulling in the same direction" will seem all too familiar.
It's well known that there has been a transformation in team culture, fitness standards and work ethic under head coach Anton Roux, and indeed it has undeniably borne fruit. Roux assumed the role of head coach immediately before the World Cup Qualifier in New Zealand in 2013, but can scarcely be blamed for that disaster given how how short he had been in the role. Since then the Dutch have won WCL Division 2, shared the trophy for the World T20 Qualifier, currently sit atop the WCL Championship table and second in the Intercontinental Cup.
It could be imagined that Swart's free-and-easy temperament might be a poor fit in this new atmosphere of drill and discipline; his fitness has been questioned in the past, and his unavailability during WCL Division 2 was reportedly ill-received. Yet if Swart has been dropped on grounds of fitness or commitment then there has been no such indication from the Dutch camp, neither publicly nor to Swart himself. In his own words,
"I've done everything the coach asked of me. He was apparently 'very happy'. Then this happens."
That Swart seems to have been caught unawares by his sacking speaks yet again to poor man management at the least, regardless of the reasoning. If his place were in jeopardy due to questions of fitness, commitment or attitude it simply beggars belief that he was not warned of it, unless of course there was simply no desire to retain him.
The only reasonable conclusion that is left to us then, having ruled out cricketing, political and professional reasons, is the one that Swart himself has drawn - his sacking was essentially personal.
The alternative of course is that there's something we're not being told, which admittedly is a possibility that cannot be ruled out as despite repeated enquiries the Dutch camp has remained entirely silent on the issue. The KNCB, it appears, do not even consider such questions worthy of a "no comment" - showing the Dutch cricket public no more courtesy than they showed Swart himself.
The new KNCB Board was elected in December promising to bring a new culture of transparency and accountability to Dutch cricket. If they are indeed doing so it has not yet filtered through to the team management, who seem to regard the running of the national side as nobody's business but their own.