Dutch report card 2021: Could do better

SHARJAH, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - OCTOBER 22: Pieter Seelaar of Netherlands cuts a dejected figure following the ICC Men's T20 World Cup match between Sri Lanka and Netherlands at Sharjah Cricket Stadium on October 22, 2021 in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Matthew Lewis-ICC/ICC via Getty Images)

In a year which began and ended with the shadow of the global Covid-19 pandemic hanging grimly over world sport, it’s proper that every small success should be celebrated to the full.

For Dutch cricket in 2021 a 2-1 victory for the national men’s team on their first outing in the Super League must therefore count as a very considerable achievement, while the mere fact of having started the top divisions of the men’s and women’s domestic competitions under special regulations while the pandemic was at its height was pretty notable as well.

On the other side of the balance sheet, though, the failure of the men in the World T20 Cup in the UAE in October, followed by the termination of the CEO’s contract and a collapse into internecine conflict, mean that the KNCB ends the year with a lot more questions than answers.

After a 17-month lay-off, the men’s side returned to the field in Nepal in April, where a somewhat makeshift and understandably rusty squad produced a mixed bag of performances in a tri-series, losing to and beating the hosts and winning against and tying with Malaysia before collapsing to 96 all out against Nepal in the final.

There were a few notable performances: Max O’Dowd’s unbeaten 133 from 73 deliveries against Malaysia and Bas de Leede’s match-winning 81 not out against Nepal stood out, but the bowling was generally disappointing.

Netherlands Max O'Dowd celebrates his century
Max O’Dowd celebrates his century against Malaysia in Nepal (Photo: CAN)

Back on home soil, Seelaar’s side warmed up for their Ireland encounter with two ODIs against Scotland; the first, cut to 33 overs a side after rain, gave a 14-run victory, O’Dowd again outstanding with 82 and Viv Kingma taking three for 21, but the second ended in a six-wicket defeat, only Steph Myburgh (40) and Scott Edwards (56) showing any real form with the bat.

The Dutch went into the Ireland series in Utrecht with a strong seam attack, Fred Klaassen, Timm van der Gugten and Brandon Glover all having been released by their respective counties, but without the Essex pair of Ryan ten Doeschate and Shane Snater, Leicestershire’s Colin Ackermann and Roelof van der Merwe of Somerset; there were divergent stories about who was responsible for this, but the upshot was that the batting line-up was markedly weakened.

That showed in the opening game, when the Netherlands were dismissed for 195 after Van der Gugten hauled them back from 102 for seven with a lusty 49 which included four sixes, but the pace quartet ripped the top off Ireland’s batting and with Seelaar taking three for 27 the Irish were jut one run short at the end of their fifty overs.

Seelar’s side managed only 157 second time out and lost by eight wickets, but fortunes were again reversed in the decider: batting first for the first time in the series Ireland were all out for 163, Klaassen taking three for 23 and Logan van Beek three for 29, and Myburgh’s 74 anchored the Netherlands’ four-wicket victory.

The national women’s side had mixed fortunes at the European T20 World Cup Qualifier in La Manga, Spain, losing to Scotland and Ireland but proving much too strong for France and Germany; Frédérique Overdijk produced one of the performances of the year against France, claiming seven wickets for three runs (all of them wides) in her four overs.

On the domestic front there were new champions in both the men’s Topklasse and the women’s Hoofdklasse after both competitions had been able to run with a special Covid testing regime: Punjab Rotterdam took the former and Voorburg the latter.

VOC Rotterdam regained the men’s T20 Cup, beating HBS Craeyenhout in the final, while Quick Haag won the women’s T20 championship.

There was no relegation from the Topklasse this year, but Salland Deventer and Kampong Utrecht were promoted from the Hoofdklasse to what will be a twelve-team top flight in 2022 before reverting to ten teams for the following season.

O’Dowd was the leading run-scorer in the Topklasse with 820 at 63.08 for VOC, but he was third in the averages behind Excelsior’s Tristan Stubbs (440 at 110.00) and Tayo Walbrugh of HBS (780 at 65.00); left-arm spinner Clayton Floyd of HCC carried all before him among the bowlers with 37 wickets at 7.32 apiece.

The KNCB introduced a new online scoring system linked to live streams of domestic matches, which was used with varying success by most Topklasse clubs; it’s hoped that this will be applied more consistently in 2022, and that it may help to promote the game in the Netherlands.

Hopes were high for the Dutch men after winning the T20 World Cup Qualifier (Photo: ICC)

Having won the global qualifier in 2019 the men’s side went to the T20 World Cup in October with high hopes of reaching the main event via a tough Phase 1 group, but the expedition turned out to be an unmitigated disaster: chronically underprepared, the Dutch lost all three matches, culminating in the humiliation of being bowled out for 44 by Sri Lanka.

Only O’Dowd and Klaassen enhanced their reputations, the former with 51 against Ireland and 70 against Namibia, and the latter consistently testing opposing batters, but the attack as a whole, let down by the batters, took only nine wickets across the entire tournament.

Questions needed to be asked, but instead the headlines were immediately grabbed by the Board’s extraordinary decision, on palpably ludicrous grounds, to terminate the contract of their recently-appointed CEO, Milena van Not.

The outcry was immediate, leading to the convening of a special general meeting of the KNCB’s member-clubs, at which it was evident that not only the Board but also the clubs were deeply divided; bringing in an external mediator to resolve the underlying issues, which extend much further than the immediate question of the Board’s parting company with its fourth CEO in less than seven years.

As if that were not enough, the men’s Super League visit to South Africa and the women’s World Cup qualifier in Zimbabwe were both cut short by the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19: the former had done well to restrict the South Africans to 277 for eight before rain intervened in the only match of the series which actually got underway, while for the women, although they lost to both Sri Lanka and Ireland, leg-spinners Caroline de Lange and Silver Siegers both collected four-wicket hauls, while Babette de Leede, Sterre Kalis and Robine Rijke all showed good form with the bat, De Leede and Kalis putting on 142 for the second wicket against Sri Lanka.

All in all, both on and off the field the problems loomed larger than the achievements for Dutch cricket in 2021, and some serious reflection will be needed if the KNCB’s long-standing issues are to be resolved effectively.

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