Home News EC Podcast Paul van Meekeren on Associate Cricket, Uber-Eats driving and Olympics

Paul van Meekeren on Associate Cricket, Uber-Eats driving and Olympics

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Life can be tough for an Associate cricketer. Prior to the introduction of global T20 status, many such talented players had to toil away in obscurity without any official recognition of their bat and ball feats. With universal international status for T20 matches between all ICC members and the formation of the three-tier Cricket World Cup Leagues; things have improved to some extent. However, there still remains a vast disparity in funding and outcomes between the various cricket nations. The COVID-19 pandemic has only served to further exacerbate matters.

In a recent tweet that quickly went viral, Dutch fast bowler Paul van Meekeren revealed how he is working as an Uber Eats driver to supplement his yearly income, due to the postponement of all international Dutch games this year.  

Speaking to Emerging Cricket for this week’s podcast, van Meekeren expressed surprise at how much exposure his tweet has received globally.

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‘The reaction to my tweet showed me how much people follow cricket or cricketers, particularly in India. It’s insane. Back at home (in Netherlands), cricket is that small that people often confuse it with polo or croquet.’

However, he was quick to reassure listeners that his temporary life as a gig worker hasn’t been all that bad.

‘I’m not the only one who is delivering packages or food to pay the bills at the end of the month. I actually find the work therapeutic. Just jump in the car and drive for 4 or 5 hours. I got an app on my phone; I kick back and just listen to some Dutch radio.’

Graphics: Nate Hays

Life in Associate Cricket

While cricket in the Netherlands has a long and varied history, it has always struggled to escape its designation as a niche sport for the ‘posh kids’. The sport receives very little mainstream coverage; therefore it is mostly reliant upon cricket playing Dutch parents to introduce their children to the game. Van Meekeren is no different.

Looking back on his career, van Meekeren says that he developed his love of the game from his father.

‘Growing up, my dad played both football and cricket for a club. At that club, almost everyone who played football in winter played cricket in summer.’

A product of the Dutch youth system, he worked his way up through the U-13, U-15 and U-19 ranks, before making his official debut for the senior team at the tender age of 20.

Now aged 27, van Meekeren is an integral part of Netherlands’ pace battery, alongside Brandon Glover, Fred Klaassen and Timm van der Gugten. In 2019, after some considerable hiccups coming into the T20 World Cup Qualifiers hosted by the UAE, the Dutch team put in a stellar performance to win the tournament, only dropping a solitary game along the way.

Netherlands qualify for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in Dubai, 2019 (Photo: ICC)

Van Meekeren was also ecstatic with his personal performance. He finished as the second highest wicket taker with 15 scalps at an average of 14.06 and a miserly economy rate of 6.05.

‘We as a team knew that we were in a good place, even though results in Oman did not go our own way. When we got to Dubai, we stuck with our personal strengths and it showed in how we ran through the tournament with a lot of convincing wins.’

Post qualifiers, the Dutch team were on a high and were looking forward to their busiest annual fixture list in history with appearances in the T20 World Cup and ODI Super League. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic halted their momentum in a rather brutal manner. It forced the postponement of Netherlands’ entire home summer fixture list including a T20 international against New Zealand and incoming ODI Super League tours from Pakistan and West Indies, which would have had Cricket World Cup qualification points up for grabs.

It also delayed the T20 World Cup by one year. Such long gaps between games can be highly disruptive to a cricketer’s career; but as van Meekeren explains, those representing the game’s emerging nations are rather used to such fixture droughts.  

‘As an Associate cricketer, we sometimes have long spells without any cricket. So, I don’t think that it’s something necessarily new for us.’

Nevertheless, he feels frustrated at the current COVID-19 enforced situation.

‘It’s tough you know with the gyms closed. We got some individual strength and conditioning programs put together for the Dutch guys. I would rather play cricket than do this [Uber Eats driving]. Hopefully, the world can go back to normal and I can play some cricket again.’

Involvement with the Dutch Cricketers Association (DCA)

Netherlands celebrate a wicket at the T20 World Cup Qualifier, 2019

The other issue for Associate cricketers is that their annual income from the sport can often be low and erratic. Many ply their trade for little or no pay, far away from the glittering lights of the big T20 leagues. The Dutch awarded central contracts to nine players in 2018, but van Meekeren admits that they pale monetarily in comparison to the contract values for Full Member players.

‘We’ve got quite a few guys now contracted back home, which is fantastic; even though they are quite small contracts and more like a part-time one. It’s a monthly retainer and some match allowances. But you must play in Holland to qualify, which is fair enough.’

‘It’s a good enough setup at the moment where guys can focus a bit more on their cricket and studies. And you can still get by with a smaller job on the side‘, he further adds.

To protect the players further, van Meekeren got together with other Dutch teammates to form a players association called the Dutch Cricketers Association (DCA).

‘Some Dutch guys came together during COVID-19 to form a players association. Hopefully, we can build something for the players, where we can look after them and make sure they are prepared in the best way possible for these big games that we got coming up with the Dutch team. And hopefully, the DCA can also help with growing the game and promoting it back home.’ 

He is pleased that the DCA and KNCB remained on good terms, through the setup process.

‘We had our initial chat with KNCB. We are still building on a partnership and a relationship that is based on trust. We received a lot of help from FICA [Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations] in setting up the DCA.’

County contracts and Brexit

One of van Meekeren’s career highlights has been his four-year county stint for Somerset. Although his First Class and List A career returns for Somerset were comparatively modest, van Meekeren credits the setup for his personal development as a player. The financial security of having a county contract is also huge and for an Associate player, this can be a game-changer.

‘I think it’s massive. If you can focus twelve months here on cricket and have that setup where you have six-to-seven coaches for a group of 24 players; you get a lot more contact time with coaches. On the side, you have strength and conditioning and the physios. Committing to cricket becomes so much easier which helps a lot with development.’

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Injury brought his Somerset career to an end in 2019. However, instead of returning to Netherlands, van Meekeren stayed on in the UK, eventually signing for the Cutthorpe Cricket Club in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. In fact, having lived in the UK for the past 5 years, he can now play as a ‘local’; which is a relief especially in these uncertain post-Brexit times.   

‘Because I’ve been in UK for the last five years and got my settled status, I can play as a local. So, all cricketers with a Dutch or European passport with a settled UK status can still play as a local even after Brexit.’

However, Brexit does have serious consequences for young talent coming through the Dutch ranks. Van Meekeren says that it will make it harder for future generations of European cricketers, as they would have to compete with full member players for the coveted overseas player slots.

‘Brexit has closed the doors on some exciting young Dutch talent coming through like Bas de Leede, Philippe Boissevain etc. It is a shame, but we cannot control it. I can still play as a local but a lot of teams find it hard to sign someone who’s not ECB qualified, unless you are an overseas player. I’m actually looking to get ECB qualified by applying for UK citizenship, but I won’t be eligible until April 2022.’

Olympics

The discussion then turns to cricket’s prospects of entering the Olympics. Van Meekeren is adamant that it needs to be turned into a reality sooner rather than later.

‘A lot of athletes dream about going to the Olympics. I’m no different; I would love to see cricket at the Olympics and play in it. But it needs to happen sooner rather than later.’

He is convinced that the financial benefits from Olympics participation will be highly consequential for Dutch players.

‘I think it will be massive. Previously in Netherlands, the Olympic committee had helped finance some of the players, but only temporarily. If cricket can get back into the Olympics, it will come with great financial benefits for Dutch players. As you can keep players training 24/7 throughout the year and you’ll also get extra exposure. It will give us an opportunity to show off our skills in the biggest sporting event in the world.’

Van Meekeren drops a bombshell at the end of the podcast; stating that if given a choice between ODI World Cup or Olympics participation, he would choose the Olympics every time.

‘If you are going to have ten-team World Cups and take our opportunities away; why not put us in the Olympics? It will help grow the game. For me personally, I actually will take Olympics over playing in a 50 over World Cup.’

Graphics: Nate Hays

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Shounak Sarkar
Shounak Sarkar
Finance Professional by day & Emerging Cricket Writer by night. Passionate cricket fan and advocate of the Global Game!

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