As the once-only and never-to-be-repeated ICC Super League draws to a close, KNCB High Performance Manager Roland Lefebvre is looking to a future with few certainties and many challenges, to achieve the ambitions that he and the KNCB stand for.
He faces a busy year ahead, with the men’s national side’s tour to Zimbabwe and South Africa now starting, the global World Cup qualifier scheduled for the summer, and the women playing a European Qualifier at season’s end.
But it was the longer-term perspectives we mostly discussed last week, as the Dutch head into a new ICC cycle in which they will be hoping to cement their place just outside the magic circle of the twelve Full members.
Lefebvre sees similarities between the position of the men’s and women’s teams, with the development of young, home-produced players a priority in both cases.
‘With the men,’ he says, ‘we’re working very hard to create a bigger group of international players, and we showed last season that even without our county-contracted group we could be competitive against the Full members.
‘If things had gone even a little differently, for instance, we might have beaten Pakistan 2-1 in Rotterdam.
‘A very busy A team and Academy program is part if this development and we are grateful for the continuing support of our sponsor Fairtree to make this happen.’
The Dutch squad will head to Zimbabwe in June knowing that they are guaranteed a place in the next edition of the World Cup League 2, which will most likely become an eight-team competition with each side playing 36 matches over three-and-a-half years.
Lefebvre is realistic, however, about the challenge Scott Edwards’s men will face in Zimbabwe: ‘with ten teams competing for two World Cup places,’ he admits, ‘and five or six of those ten currently ranked above us, the qualifier will undoubtedly be tough.
‘But we know we can do well, and you have to start out aiming to qualify, as well as to give valuable experience to our group of younger players.’
As far as the national women’s side is concerned, Lefebvre believes that more time will be needed.
‘We’ve started a process,’ he declares, ‘with national women’s coach Shane Deitz, and it’s not going to take just two, or even three years. With the help of HCLTech and headsponsor women’s cricket SISAR, we have started the process to also professionalise the women’s team.
‘We have a young, developing squad, and they will need lots of experience on the international stage in order to compete with the leading women’s sides. It’s a work in progress. There is a lot of potential and commitment in this group and we are excited about the future.’
Beyond the all-Associates League 2 program – Lefebvre, incidentally, reckons it’s time for the ICC to ditch the ‘Associates’ category and join rugby union and other international bodies in regarding all its members as simply members – there is obviously the thorny question of how the Netherlands can secure much-needed fixtures against the Test-playing countries.
Lefebvre admits that that’s a difficult question, although he’s quick to point out that Pakistan have committed to a visit for three T20Is in 2024.
‘Organising ODIs and T20Is against the Full members is an expensive business,’ he points out. ‘By the time you create the infrastructure of stands and other facilities, pay for the match officials, four-star hotel accommodation for them and the visiting team, arrange transport and the necessary TV coverage, you’re lucky if you have any change out of a quarter of a million euros.
‘The Full members are able to manage bilateral series on a home-board-pays basis, but we don’t have that luxury.’
It is, he believes, a problem for all the leading Associates, and one which the ICC needs to take greater responsibility in resolving.
‘Operational costs for international cricket have spiraled out of control,’ he says, ‘and an adequate match program needs much more funding.
‘With ICC revenue increasing in the next cycle, we have to hope that there will be a willingness to understand what we need if cricket is to go on growing globally, and to provide the resources to make it happen.’
A recurring issue for the KNCB is how the men’s side can become less dependent on its overseas-produced players, and Lefebvre is keen to stress the busy A-team program which is planned for the coming summer.
‘We have Austria, Denmark, Germany, Guernsey, Jersey and Italy all scheduled to visit, plus a tour to Northamptonshire in May’ he observes, ‘and that means we can do two things at once: provide our players who are on the edge of the national side with some valuable competition, and at the same time meet our responsibility as one of the leading Associates to our European neighbours.
‘It’s unfortunate that we don’t get the same level of practical help from the ECB.’
Lefebvre believes, controversially, that the T10 format can contribute to the development of younger players.
‘Coaches have understandably worried about the impact of T20, and now of T10,’ he acknowledges, ‘but if you think about all the innovations introduced in the shorter format of the game, outcomes become more important.
‘The longer format still provides the foundation for a player’s technical development and therefore ODI cricket continues to play a pivotal part in our HP development program. The success of the shorter format has allowed us to view these formats in a different light.
‘There are advantages in a shorter format too. With the continues pressure on ground availability it allows us you to play more games in a shorter time.
‘The T10 is not a recogniszed format, so it’s not driving our strategy; rather it’s giving players more opportunities to perform internationally.’
He points to the A team’s success in a European tournament in Spain last year, and notes that players who had withdrawn from the national squads are now attracted back by the new format.
‘There’s understandable frustration if you’re training hard and not getting selected,’ he says, ‘but with these new opportunities we’re seeing some returning to the system.’
The gap between the top level of domestic club cricket and the national side has been all too obvious, but Lefebvre gives only qualified support to the idea of an expanded regional tier between the two.
‘The question is: how do you make regional cricket like the Pro Series worthwhile?’ he asks. ‘We have had persistent issues of player availability for such midweek games, and the bottom line is that you really need to fund such a competition properly if it’s going to succeed.
‘It really needs an event sponsor so players can be paid for taking part.’
For that reason, Lefebvre admits he’s ‘a little bit disappointed’ by last week’s news that the Euro Slam, scheduled for September this year, has again been postponed.
‘Ideally,’ he says, ‘we’d like to have more contracted players, but the Euro Slam, which would pay 18 Dutch players a substantial figure for a three-week tournament, would make a big difference.’
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