When Dutch wicketkeeper Reinout Scholte was part of the national squad at the 1996 World Cup in India he could scarcely have dreamed that 26 years later, just short of his 55th birthday, he would be attending the ICC annual conference in Birmingham as the KNCB Board member responsible for all aspects of high performance.
Making his debut in the Dutch side against Rawalpindi in 1987, Scholte went on to play 126 times for his country, his 92 catches and 18 stumpings putting him fourth on the all-time Dutch list behind Jeroen Smits, Wesley Barresi and René Schoonheim, his best effort with the bat 90 not out against Papua New Guinea in the 1994 ICC Trophy in Nairobi.
Such an extended international career makes him a comparatively unusual figure among ICC delegates, and he admits that despite his successful business career as an employment adviser in Den Haag he was excited and challenged by making his first entrée into the world of global cricket politics.
‘There was a steep learning curve for me,’ he says, ‘but as a recently-elected Board member I found it an enormously interesting and valuable experience.
‘The programme of workshops and panel discussions, especially in the rapidly-growing area of women’s cricket, gave plenty of insights into how cricket can play a crucial role in society, and the evidence from countries like Thailand shows that the game can help young women find a stronger and more favourable position in all aspects of their lives.’
Scholte is a strong advocate of the new KNCB Board’s commitment to bring women’s cricket in the Netherlands much closer to the level of the men’s sides, but his ambitions go much further than that: to ensure that for both boys and girls the sport plays a part in the all-round development of the individual.
‘We have to strike a better balance between enjoyment and performance,’ he says, ‘giving kids more opportunity to just play for the fun of playing, and letting the emphasis on high performance come in at a later stage.
‘We have the advantage that cricket is a game where girls and boys can play together in the younger age-groups, involving the entire family in the game and helping to promote greater confidence and resilience in children of both sexes.’
Scholte even questions whether the KNCB’s Lions and Lionesses programmes, which select children to join national training and touring squads from the age of 11, don’t place too much focus on performance from a young age, although he concedes that the experience of a tour to England at that stage can be a formative influence on a young player’s development, as it was for him.
‘Other countries start selecting much later,’ he observes, ‘from around fifteen, and at the very least we need to be aware of the consequences of our decisions – what about the later developers, and what happens to the kids who start out in the winter training squad but then don’t make it into the touring party in the summer?’
Which is not to say that he is unresponsive to the performances of the current generation of Dutch cricketers, from the way the men’s team learned from facing the West Indies spinners recently and carried this into their ODIs against England, or the achievements of the women in their series against Namibia: ‘I was really impressed by the Dutch girls’ courage,’ he says, citing Frédérique Overdijk’s decisive final over which conceded no run and which gave the Netherlands a 3-run victory and the series 3-2.
He has returned from Birmingham a strong supporter of greater co-operation between the Associate members, and hopes also that it may be possible for Associates to get greater support from the Full members.
‘During one discussion,’ he recalls, ‘I :tFing
Scholte believes the Associates need to find ways of getting into the Full members’ sense of the cricket landscape, but to do that they will have to work out what they can offer the Full members in exchange for greater recognition.
In the meantime, he would like to see the leading Associates organising high-level tournaments among themselves, with the emphasis on development rather than qualification.
He remembers the benefits which came from events like the ABN Trophy in Nairobi, the Six Nations tournament in Namibia and the Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka in 2002, and believes that the next generation of Associates players could gain enormously from a return to such tournaments.
But the opportunities for closer co-operation between Associates go much further than this: why, Scholte asks, should individual countries have to create their own development programmes from scratch, when many of them face similar challenges?
‘Not only in high performance but in grassroots development as well,’ he says, ‘I’ve been hugely impressed by initiatives like that in Namibia, where a national tour of a promotional bus with coaches and national team players reached over 65,000 children, introducing cricket to new regions of the country.
‘We’re all trying to solve the same problems, and by sharing our experiences and our best initiatives we can learn from each other, help each other to develop faster and more effectively.’
Scholte sees the current developments in franchise cricket, with more competitions emerging and the IPL taking an ever more aggressive position, as an obvious danger to the traditional international system, but also as an opportunity for the Associates.
‘We need to redouble our efforts to persuade the franchises to offer development contracts to leading Associate players,’ he says, ‘and after all, if some of the top players are going to drop out of the international game because they’re contracted to the IPL, that could narrow the gap between Full members and the top Associates.’
His primary focus, though, is on the challenges facing Dutch cricket, and the steps the new Board can take to grow and develop the game in the Netherlands.
‘Our priority creat a safehealthy sporting environment,’ he says, ‘in which the clubsthe KNCB Board and office together to review and improve our system, to face the future with courage, consistency and determination.
‘With a long-term vision and careful planning I believe we will be able to attract the sponsors we need to expand the Dutch cricket community, to run A-team programmes to promote the development of young male and female cricketers, and to take the game in the Netherlands to the next level.’
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