Life or death battle for Dutch cricket’s soul

In five brutal days between 18 and 22 October, the Dutch men’s national cricket team, who had reached the First Round of the ICC World T20 Cup by winning the global qualifier less than two years earlier, was unceremoniously ejected from the tournament.

Dismissed by Ireland for 106 and beaten by seven wickets, the Netherlands went on to lose to Namibia by six wickets despite a much improved performance with the bat, and ended their involvement in the competition by collapsing to 44 all out against Sri Lanka.

In any self-respecting governing body, this dismal effort would occasion some serious heart-searching: Ireland, who lost two out of three and finished third in the group, have announced a far-reaching review which will look at all the underlying circumstances which led to the Irish side’s ‘disappointing’ exit.

The KNCB Board, by contrast, some of whose members were frequently visible on television happily chatting in the stands during the debacle, has not made any comment at all on the events in the UAE or the background to them, and has instead embarked upon the dismissal of its CEO, in office for barely ten months.

No-one can doubt the commitment of the Dutch players or the coaching staff, who were visibly gutted by the team’s failure, or indeed the talent within the squad or the expertise of the coaches.

After all, there were few differences between this party and the one that had beaten all-comers on the same grounds in 2019.

What is beyond question is that the Dutch were much less well prepared than their immediate competitors, not only because the latter played more matches in Emirati conditions in the immediate run-up to the tournament, but because they have had a consistent development strategy over a much longer period which ensured that they had a settled side with plenty of recent experience of playing together.

Some of the causes of this difference are admittedly beyond the KNCB’s control: five of the squad are frequently unavailable because of their county commitments, and the Netherlands has found it extremely difficult, even without the influence of the pandemic, to arrange fixtures against challenging opponents.

But behind these factors lie deeper questions, about the number of leading players who have been given KNCB contracts, about the commitment to secure the release of county-contracted players for major events like the Super League, and about the historic lack of sponsorship which would give the Bond scope to pursue more imaginative high performance strategies.

All of this might reasonably form part of an in-depth, independent review of where the Dutch men’s high performance programme really stands, especially in view of the Board’s stated ambition for the Netherlands to become an ICC Full member by 2024/25.

But rather than engaging with such serious policy questions, it seems that the Board is more intent on asserting its right – or at least, the right of certain members – to interfere with the day-to-day running of the organisation, in clear contravention of its own governance model.

And lurking behind that immediate challenge lies something more fundamental: a proposal to turn the whole of the high performance area, and with it the lion’s share of the KNCB budget, over to a limited liability company (Cricket Nederland BV). And that is a body into to whose finances the KNCB’s member clubs have only the most limited insight and over whose operations they have no effective control.

It is no exaggeration to say that the KNCB is facing an existential crisis, perhaps the gravest in its 138-year history.

The architects of the BV scheme, who supported the creation of two rival CEOs and who, faced with resistance to their plans, have indicated that they intend to bring back at an opportune moment the more radical proposals to increase its scope and powers, are at least to some degree the same people who are now behind the sacking of one of those CEOs because she has tried to strengthen the organisation she was employed to lead.

If they were to succeed in this attempt and were to replace the ejected CEO with someone more compliant with their demands, the KNCB’s staff would be left exposed to bullying and intimidation, the member clubs would find that they were ever more marginalised, and the fundamental problems which led to the debacle in the desert would never be addressed.

It simply cannot be allowed to happen, if the KNCB is to continue to be regarded as a governing body worthy of the name.

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