Feature Image Credit: Sander Tholen
The Netherlands again came frustratingly close to an historic upset victory over Pakistan at Rotterdam’s Hazelaarweg ground on Sunday, dismissing the tourists for 206 and going on to lose by just nine runs in a tense conclusion.
The game was enjoyed by a capacity Sunday crowd, a sea of Pakistani flags punctuated by those of France, Germany, Palestine and even the Netherlands, and the relief was palpable on the field as well as in the stands as the final wickets fell and the Dutch chase declined from 172 for five to 197 all out.
It might have been even closer but for a dreadful piece of umpiring five overs from the end, when a head-high full toss from paceman Mohammad Wasim to Logan van Beek went uncalled as the no ball it undoubtedly should have been, denying the Dutch a potentially crucial free hit.
That said, the Pakistani pace attack of Naseem Shah, Shahnawaz Dahani and Wasim had generally exercised great control on a pitch which favoured the bowlers all day, and they were finally decisive in a tight, sometimes dour battle.
Pakistan made four changes to the side which had played in the first two matches of the series and the Netherlands two: Abdullah Shafique came in for Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Haris replaced Mohammad Rizwan behind the stumps, Dahani replaced Haris Rauf and Zahid Mahmood came in for Shadab Khan, while for the home side Wesley Barresi and Tim Pringle made way for the brothers Musa and Shariz Ahmad.
Viv Kingma struck early, bowling Shafique with his first delivery, but the Dutch were unable to press home that advantage, Scott Edwards dropping Babar Alam off Tom Cooper when he was on 20 and missing a chance of stumping Fakhar Zaman off Aryan Dutt when he was on the same score.
The latter lapse was not too costly, as Zaman swung across the line at Logan van Beek four overs later and saw his off stump knocked back, departing for 26, but Babar took full advantage of his good fortune, despatching anything even slightly loose to the boundary and reaching 91 from 125 deliveries before he fell to a superb return catch by Dutt, diving across to his right and gathering the ball one-handed centimetres from the ground.
The bowlers had maintained the pressure well in the favourable conditions, the three-man spin attack of Dutt, Cooper and Shariz largely restricting the scoring, Van Beek much more effective than he has been recently, and Kingma and Bas de Leede also playing their part, while the fielding showed a distinct improvement on that in the first two games.
Only Babar, and to a degree Agha Salman, looked comfortable at the crease, although Mohammad Nawaz weighed in with 27 in the later stages, helping to get the total past 200.
Nawaz eventually skied De Leede to mid-on, where Van Beek took the catch, and when the all-rounder had Wasim caught four deliveries later any prospect of a significant Pakistani recovery was effectively extinguished.
De Leede finished with three for 50 and Kingma two for 15, while Dutt was again outstanding with figures of one for 34 from his ten overs.
Even chasing a modest total the Dutch needed a good start, but Naseem soon delivered a double setback, Max O’Dowd edging an easy catch to Salman in the gully and Musa bowled four overs later.
De Leede was perhaps unfortunate to have a marginal review for caught behind off Wasim given out after the appeal had been turned down on-field, but that meant that the Netherlands were on 37 for three and Pakistan were on top.
Cooper now joined Vikramjit Singh, and the pair set about a partial repeat of their stand on Tuesday, adding 71 for the fourth wicket before Singh, soon after posting his third ODI half-century, edged Wasim to keeper Haris.
Edwards came and went and the Dutch were again in trouble at 116 for five, but Teja Nidamanuru, showing laudable intent, now supported Cooper in a sixth-wicket partnership of 56 before Naseem returned to bowl him for 24.
35 were still needed with five overs left and four wickets in hand, and with Cooper having reached 60 for the third time in as many innings it was clear that hopes of a Dutch victory rested firmly on his shoulders.
In the following over, however, no doubt conscious of the length of his side’s tail, he tried to loft Wasim over the leg side and Zaman, running in from deep midwicket, dived forward to take a great catch.
Cooper’s 62 had come from 105 deliveries and included four fours, bringing his aggregate for the series to 193, second only to Babar.
Now it was 174 for seven with Van Beek and Shariz at the crease, and now came that controversial failure to call a no-ball.
But Naseem was in charge, removing Dutt to claim his first five-wicket ODI haul and finishing with five for 33, and with 14 needed off the last over it was Wasim who claimed the final wicket and ended with four for 36 as Dutt made room to play him through the off side and was bowled.
The celebrations on the field and the tumult in the stands were testimony to just how close it had been, and the faces of the Dutch players and support team reflected the disappointment they felt at again having come so close only to fall in the finishing straight.
With a bit more conviction and a bit more luck they might have won the series 2-1, causing one of the greatest upsets in cricket history, but in truth Pakistan always seemed to have a little in reserve, and it is one of the hallmarks of a fine team that they can go on winning even when not playing at their best.
For the Dutch younger brigade, De Leede, Singh, Dutt and Shariz, lessons have been learned with they can carry forward to the challenges ahead, the remaining Super League fixtures and the T20 World Cup in Australia, but there are many questions as well, for policy-makers in the Netherlands and Dubai, if the progress which has been achieved this summer is not to dissipate with the demise of the Super League and the vacuum it threatens to create.
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