History as well as circumstances will mean that Ireland start as strong favourites when they take on the Netherlands at Utrecht’s Maarschalkerweerd ground in the ICC World Cup Super League this week.
Not only will the Dutch be without three key members of their first-choice batting line-up, due to certain English counties’ non-compliance with the ICC’s mandatory release policy, but it is 17 years since the Dutch beat Ireland in an ODI.
That was in the first edition of the World Cricket League Division 1 in Nairobi, a generally unhappy tournament for the Irish, but they went on to perform magnificently in the World Cup a few weeks later, and the rest is, as they say, history.
Since then, the sides have met nine times in ODIs and Ireland have won eight of them, the exception being a thrilling tie in Amstelveen in 2013.
Four members of the Irish team that day – William Porterfield, Paul Stirling, Kevin O’Brien and George Dockrell – are in their squad this week, while Stef Myburgh is the sole survivor for the Netherlands.
The big question as we look forward to the three Super League matches is whether the home side will be able to muster enough runs to trouble the Irish.
Without Colin Ackermann, Ryan ten Doeschate and Roelof van der Merwe the top and middle order looks thin, and coach Ryan Campbell will be hoping that his top six will perform better than they have managed to do against the Irish Wolves and Scotland in recent weeks.
Graeme McCarter was in splendid form for the Wolves last month, his six for 32 instrumental in his side’s demolition of the Dutch A team in the decisive match of that series, and he joins a quick battery which already includes Barry McCarthy, Mark Adair, Craig Young and left-armer Josh Little.
Key factors for the Dutch will be how opener Max O’Dowd copes with that new-ball attack, and whether he can receive sufficient support from his initial partner – presumably either Myburgh or debutant Musa Nadeem, Ben Cooper and whoever is at four.
There the choice seems to lie between Bas de Leede, who has struggled in his most recent appearances in orange, after his fine 81 not out against Nepal in Kathmandu in April, and Saqib Zulfiqar, who was unavailable for Nepal or Ireland but who is now back in the reckoning.
Captain Pieter Seelaar has consolidated his position in the middle order, along with wicketkeeper Scott Edwards, but the potential wild card is Tobias Visée, whose literal hit-or-miss style can transform a tottering innings if he comes off.
Campbell and Seelaar also have a significant trump card in the recruitment of the talismanic Gary Kirsten as assistant coach for this series, and one has the feeling that if anyone can extract the best from this talented but underperforming Dutch batting line-up it will be the former South African Test player.
Kirsten is no stranger to the Netherlands, having played a season at HCC in 1992, having scored a memorable 123 not out for South Africa against the Dutch in Amstelveen in 1998, and more recently having worked with the Flamingo’s touring club and the KNCB in supporting the development of young Dutch players through his cricket academy.
In addition to the challenge of Ireland’s pace attack, of course, the Dutch batters will have to cope with the vast experience of left-arm spinner George Dockrell, the off-breaks of Simi Singh and/or Andrew McBrine, and perhaps the leg-spin of 22-year-old Ben White, called up into the squad after Gareth Delany dropped out with a knee injury.
Then there’s the contest between Ireland’s top order and the Netherlands’ quick men.
All released by their respective counties, Brandon Glover, Timm van der Gugten and Fred Klaassen join Viv Kingma in the pace unit, and with allrounder Logan van Beek also likely to figure in the starting eleven it will be intriguing to see which combination Campbell chooses for the opening match on Wednesday.
Equally, the return of William Porterfield presents Ireland coach Graham Ford with an interesting question: should Porterfield partner Paul Stirling at the top of the innings (it’s hard to see any other answer than yes), which means that Kevin O’Brien, who opened in Ireland’s previous series against Afghanistan, will drop back into the middle order, where he exudes game-transforming menace.
Captain Andrew Balbirnie and Harry Tector are likely to precede O’Brien at three and four respectively, with keeper Lorcan Tucker and the greatly-improved Dockrell providing solidity in the middle order.
The Dutch pacemen will need to cut through this impressive line-up if they are to give their side a fighting chance, while variety will come from Seelaar’s own left-arm spin and the leg-breaks of Philippe Boissevain and/or Zulfiqar.
With the series being shown on Dutch television, an historic breakthrough for a sport which struggles for domestic attention, it must be hoped that this will prove an intensely competitive contest, and that the Dutch underdogs give a good account of themselves. Dutch cricket needs that and so, for that matter, does the Super League.
Details in regards to overseas streaming rights for the Super League matches are yet to be finalised.
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