Great achievements, but Dutch face new challenges

The Dutch enjoyed their most successful T20 World Cup campaign in their history, but greater challenges await the leading associates

There may have been a slow start, but by the end of the Super 12 phase the Dutch men’s side had achieved all that could have reasonably have been expected of them – and a good deal more.

If an initial objective had been to expunge the memory of last year’s Debacle in the Desert, when they were bundled ignominiously out of the first phase of the tournament without a win to their names, that had already been done by the time they squeezed into the Super 12, having beaten the UAE and Namibia in the process.

After coming within 9 runs of Bangladesh – a match they certainly could and arguably should have won – they faced an ordeal by fire against India and Pakistan, but the way they bounced back, beating first Zimbabwe and then South Africa, demonstrated both that they had learned a great deal along the way and that they had resources of character which some of their more illustrious rivals could only envy.

Much of the credit is, of course, due to the bowlers, and especially to the pace quartet of Paul van Meekeren, Fred Klaassen, Brandon Glover and Bas de Leede.

Van Meekeren and Klaassen finished in the select company of quick bowlers who conceded fewer than six and a half runs an over across the tournament, and between the four of them they claimed 41 wickets, 28 of them in the Super 12 phase.

Van Meekeren was a revelation: his career has not been a straightforward one, but here he showed that he is a bowler of genuine international quality, consistently hitting speeds of 140+ km/h and taking vital wickets at crucial moments, often with yorkers which were a model of their kind.

Klaassen was a little less consistent but still played a vital role, while once he came into the side Glover was a key player in the victories over Zimbabwe and South Africa, much more accurate than in the past and boasting one of the best strike rates in the competition.

De Leede was more expensive, but he led the way among the Dutch bowlers with 13 wickets and a strike rate of a wicket in every ten deliveries, and while he may have been misplaced at number three in the batting line-up in the T20 format, he is emerging as an all-rounder of true international calibre.

With Edwards relying so successfully on his pace attack the spinners had relatively little to do, bowling only 39 overs between them across the eight matches, but they all contributed economical overs at key moments, Tim Pringle consistently accurate until he made way for an additional pace man.

If the bowlers were the key to the Netherlands’ four victories and performed well even in defeat, the batters more than played their part, especially in the two wins against Full Member opposition which earned their side an automatic place in the 2024 event.

It was the experience of Steph Myburgh, Tom Cooper and Colin Ackermann, augmenting the solidity of Max O’Dowd, the Netherlands’ leading run-scorer with 242 runs at 34.57 and a strike rate of 112.55, which really made the difference: brought in for the last three games, Myburgh’s 30-ball 37 in what has proved to be his final international innings paved the way for the best Dutch total of the tournament, while Cooper’s promotion to number three cued two vital knocks in those last two matches.

Ackermann, too, did better as the tournament progressed: after making just 17 runs in the first phase, on pitches in Geelong which were never conducive to batting, he played an increasingly significant role, his unbeaten 41 against South Africa the innings which really made it possible for the bowlers to close out the game.

Lacking the hard-hitting firepower in the middle order which is now almost a sine qua non in T20 cricket it is extraordinary that the Dutch did as well as they did, but with Myburgh’s second retirement now confirmed and legitimate questions about Cooper’s willingness to become the Dame Nellie Melba of Dutch cricket, there will be some concern about how best to develop a batting line-up to hold its own in the West Indies in two years’ time.

A more immediate preoccupation, however, will be the preparations for the Netherlands men’s next international foray, a final Super League campaign in Zimbabwe and South Africa next March and April.

With this five-ODI tour likely to clash with the IPL, and perhaps with claims from English counties or even New Zealand, the Dutch selection may be less than straightforward, although it’s a fair bet that the South Africans, and maybe the Zimbabweans, will face greater difficulties.

For Scott Edwards’ side this visit will in large measure be a rehearsal for the more serious challenge of the World Cup qualifier, also to be played in Zimbabwe, in June and July.

The ICC having, in its infinite wisdom, abolished the Super League before even one edition had been completed, a great deal more is at stake for the Associates in this qualifier: it will determine the pecking order and with it the funding for the next cycle, and may also influence the ability of countries like the Netherlands (and most of all the Netherlands) to arrange the fixtures against Full Members which they so desperately need if they are to continue their development and which the Full Members are so remarkably reluctant to concede.

The 50-over World Cup remains effectively a closed shop, and until that changes the ‘context’ which the ICC claims it is keen to create will remain a chimera, at least for those outside the charmed circle of Full membership.

On and off the field, the Netherlands and the other leading Associates face challenges the essential unreasonableness of which is poignantly counter-pointed by such magnificent efforts as that produced on Sunday by Scott Edwards and his team.

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