Dutch achievement teaches world cricket some crucial lessons

West Indies v Netherlands
HARARE, ZIMBABWE - JUNE 26: Scott Edwards of Netherlands celebrates winning in the Super Over of the ICC World Cup Qualifier Zimbabwe 2023 match between the West Indies and Netherlands at Takashinga Cricket Club on June 26, 2023 in Harare, Zimbabwe. (Photo by Johan Rynners-ICC/ICC via Getty Images)

Fourteen years ago, on the morning after the Netherlands’ historic T20 World Cup victory over England at Lord’s, I wrote, in an article entitled ‘Defiant Dutch turn dream into reality’, about the ‘triumph of passion, commitment and belief’ which had seen Jeroen Smits’s side come back from an initial pummeling and pull off an almost unbelievable win.

There are many similarities between that rainy evening in North London and what happened at the Takashinga Sports Club on Monday: then, as now, the bowlers were subjected to some devastating hitting; then, as now, a Dutch batting line-up was called upon to venture into previously-unknown territory; then, as now, a hero emerged to make it happen (Tom de Grooth at Lord’s, Logan van Beek in Harare); then, as now, the Dutch dugout erupted in orange celebration as the final moments were played out.

In terms of scale, Monday’s achievement was arguably even greater than that of 2009, although a tree-lined ground in suburban Harare lacks some of the historical resonance of the game’s hallowed temple in St John’s Wood.

Having to make 163 against England when your best score in a T20 International is 153 against Kenya is one thing, but even that pales into insignificance when the target is 375 and you’ve only reached 300 five times in your ODI history, your highest 315 for six.

But what both experiences shared was a dauntless conviction on the part of the Dutch squad that boldness was the only available strategy, that if you were brave enough and determined enough you could achieve what De Grooth called ‘a day we could only dream of’.

They shared something else as well: they didn’t just happen, but were the result of long planning and preparation.

Smits and then national coach Peter Drinnen had recently brought their side through a testing World Cup qualifying campaign in South Africa, while Ryan Cook’s squad have had a prolonged baptism of fire in the Super League, and several of them were also together for last year’s ultimately-successful T20 World Cup adventure in Australia.

That, of course, leads to the reflection that whereas the 2009 team was at full strength, the hollowness of the ICC’s ‘mandatory release system’ has meant that this Dutch side has been missing almost an entire pace attack and at least one first-choice batter.

But Takashinga on Monday was a bowlers’ nightmare whoever you were, and the difficulties under which a depleted Dutch squad has laboured simply made the magnificence of the way in which the whole side responded even more satisfying.

While we may be in danger of becoming accustomed to the freedom of Vikram Singh and Max O’Dowd’s approach to the powerplay, that should not blind us to its audacity against seasoned new-ball attacks, while the resourcefulness and sheer bloody-mindedness of Teja Nidamanuru and Scott Edwards in the middle order, literally running the opposition ragged and despatching any less than perfect delivery into the far distance, will live long in the memory.

Which brings us to Logan van Beek, whose Trinidad-born grandfather Sam Guillen, a Test player for both the West Indies and New Zealand – and to whom his grandson bears a more than passing resemblance in features if not in batting style – might have had mixed feelings about the manner in which his sometime countrymen were knocked all over the park but could only have basked in pride at the skill and courage that his grandson displayed.

> More on Logan van Beek’s exploits yesterday

Now 32, Van Beek has, as he observed after the game, played a lot of cricket since he made his debut for Canterbury in 2010, but he can never have made a greater contribution to an outcome than he did on Monday, his 14-ball 28 gaining the tie in the first place before he dominated the Super Over with both bat and ball.

It was an extraordinary feat and, ironically, one which would never have happened but for the ICC’s absurd belief that you can’t allow a tie to sit undisturbed in the record books, even in a round-robin competition.

But that is not the end of the absurdities which surround this epic day.

As we noted earlier, the steeliness of this Dutch performance was forged in the tough crucible of the Super League, 24 matches against Full member opposition which yielded little in terms of results but which gave the entire squad unprecedented exposure to one-day cricket at the highest level.

That that competition, like the High Performance Program and the Intercontinental Cup before it, has fallen victim to the short-sightedness and greed of the game’s oligarchs is merely the latest in the list of the ICC’s appalling decisions, but it is one which will make it less likely that the Dutch, or any other Associate, will in future gain the sort of experience which made this achievement possible.

Then, of course, there is the fact that this game, like Scotland’s thrilling last-ball, one-wicket victory over Ireland a week ago, would in any rational universe have been a highlight of the World Cup proper, rather than taking place in the shadows of a qualifying tournament.

And that would have meant that they could have been enjoyed, as they should have been, by a global television audience, not hidden away behind a paywall of stupdity, obscurantism and greed and invisible to most of those who might conceivably have been inspired by such feats to grow the game in its far-flung outposts.

Belatedly, the ICC has decided that from 2027 the World Cup will revert to being a 14-team tournament, but even that overdue reversal of an historic wrong will mean little if more fundamental inequities in global cricket are not properly addressed.

The abolition of the Super League means that the Associates who qualify in 2027 will have had only the most limited exposure to the highest level of ODI cricket if measures are not taken to ensure that the leading Associates play regularly against the Full members, and we all know that that is very unlikely to happen.

In the end, it all comes back to money and politics, and we also know that next month’s ICC annual meeting will be asked to approve a distribution model which pumps even more wealth into the seemingly bottomless pockets of cricket’s oligarchs at the expense of those who need it most.

Somehow, the game’s administrators must summon up the passion, commitment and belief the Dutch showed at Lord’s in 2009 and in Harare on Monday, venture into previously-unknown territory, and show the proponents of this smash-and-grab raid on cricket’s future that their self-aggrandising schemes can be hammered into the trees like Logan van Beek despatching a Jason Holder slot ball.

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