In 30 years of following sport, there are few things that have brought me as much joy as the current Netherlands cricket team. Scott Edwards and his men have exceeded the expectations of everyone but themselves in these last few weeks in India. When Edwards stated before the tournament that the Dutch aim was to make the semi finals he was laughed at. After two victories against Full Member nations, including one of the tournament favourites, South Africa, no one is laughing now.
While the Netherlands reaching the next stage is, admittedly, a significant longshot, the fact that it is still possible after two thirds of this World Cup round robin is a remarkable achievement and a testament to the spirit of Edwards’ men.
It would have been very easy for the Dutch to let their heads go down after the shellacking meted out them by Australia last Thursday. The record World Cup defeat to Pat Cummins’ side would have broken more seasoned international teams than the men in orange. Yet led by 68 from Edwards himself and four wickets from the excellent fast bowler Paul Van Meekeren, the Dutch somehow bounced back to achieve a comprehensive 87 run victory against Bangladesh on Saturday. If only England could show such resilience.
The true joy of the Netherlands cricket team, though, lies in the fact that everyone knows they should not be here. The Cricket World Cup is not a broad church like its’ football and rugby counterparts, currently being expanded to 48 and 24 teams respectively. Instead, it is an exclusive members club that only the richest and best are allowed entry to. The BCCI, through their proxies at the ICC, guard the door in the manner of a black tie clad bouncer, refusing entry to anyone not deemed fit to dine at the top table. So dispiriting is the scene that World Cups have started to feel less like global celebrations of the game we love and more akin to simple revenue generating exercises for the BCCI. Consider the current format, a 10 team round robin created to maximise the broadcasting deal by guaranteeing 9 India games as well as a money spinning clash between India and Pakistan. No one and nothing else matters.
The four yearly World Cup qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe often provides more compelling cricket than the competition itself. However, it is marred by the fact that it resembles a cricketing version of the Hunger Games with the Zimbabweans, Irish, Scots and Dutch, among others, cast as the inhabitants of District 12, battling it out for the right to be chosen to compete in the Capitol with the privileged and wealthy.
Yet despite having the odds completely stacked against them, the Netherlands have somehow managed to not only reach the World Cup but, even more extraordinarily, to thrive there, taking the fight to the ICC’s capitol in the manner of a cricketing Katniss Everdeen. (I promise that’s the last of the Hunger Games references)
Let’s be honest, the ICC did not want them there. Despite the complete disregard they have shown for Caribbean cricket in the last 30 years, the West Indies would have been far more preferable. That way, the ICC could have trotted out the old footage of Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd putting England to the sword in the 1970’s during those cringe worthy “Magic Moments” they play in between overs, all the while completely ignoring their own responsibility for helping to destroy cricket in the region with the disastrous 2007 World Cup.
No, the last thing they wanted was a small European nation where cricket isn’t even broadcast on national television.
Even the manner in which the Dutch qualified is remarkable. Shorn of many of their best players due to the qualifying tournament being played during the English county season, the Netherlands managed to chase down 374 to take the West Indies to a Super Over, before Logan Van Beek blasted 30 runs off the six balls of the shootout to take his side to victory. In the final Super Six game, a virtual eliminator against Scotland, Bas de Leede took 5-52 before blasting 123 off 92 balls to take the Dutch to India in a run chase made even more nerve shredding by the need to reach the target of 277 within 44 overs to achieve a superior net run rate to their opponents.
This Netherlands side is full of all-rounders, none more redoubtable than 38 year old Roelof Van De Merwe, who last played for his native South Africa in 2011, before turning the tables on them with a superb all-round performance as the Dutch achieved one of the greatest shocks of any World Cup by toppling one of the tournament front runners. South Africa’s performance either side of their comprehensive defeat to the men in orange have served to make the Netherlands victory all the more remarkable.
The presence of Van der Merwe and other non-Dutch born players has become a stick for the Netherlands’ detractors to beat them with since qualification for the World Cup was achieved, ignoring the propensity of England, in particular, to cherry pick players from other nations. After all, it took an Irishman to bring the World Cup home to Lords in 2019.
There is also significant Dutch-born talent in the squad, including De Leede himself and the outstanding Van Meekeren. What is yet to be seen, however, is whether the Netherlands heroics in India will inspire the next generation of Dutch cricketers. De Leede spoke before the tournament about cricket being a sport “you only play if your parents played” in Holland. Logan Van Beek drew attention this week to a Dutch chat show laughing about how cricket resembled a “9 to 5” office job.
The sport has a long way to go if it is to become mainstream back home. Football still dominates the conversation in the Netherlands with Formula One motor racing increasingly challenging it for supremacy since the arrival of Dutch World Champion Max Verstappen. Volleyball, hockey, tennis and golf are all still significantly ahead of cricket in the public consciousness.
Anything other than a 10th place finish at the World Cup would be seen as a huge achievement for the nation’s cricketers. However, victory over Afghanistan today would give Scott Edwards’ men a mathematical chance of qualifying for the semi finals with only two fixtures left to play.
Perhaps they might even have to put that game on TV.