I first saw Ryan ten Doeschate bat in Nairobi in March 2006 when, at the age of 25, he hit a faultless 158 for the Netherlands in an Intercontinental Cup match against Kenya at the Gymkhana Ground.
This was the innings with which he really announced his arrival on the Associate scene: he had by this time played a handful of games for Essex and six for the Netherlands, making 84 in a badly rain-affected Intercontinental Cup match against Ireland in Belfast and, more significantly, an unbeaten 65 against the UAE in the ICC Trophy game in 2005, which clinched Dutch qualification for the 2007 World Cup, but the knock in Nairobi was pure class.
The game also revealed the man’s character as, having damaged his hand attempting a difficult catch off his own bowling, he returned to the field and again took the ball as the Dutch battled to finish off a persistent Kenyan innings in which Steve Tikolo was leading the resistance with 212 not out.
In November, after more promising season with Essex, Ten Doeschate was again on Intercontinental Cup duty with the Netherlands, this time in his native South Africa, hitting a hundred in each innings against Bermuda in Pretoria and taking three for 121 in 37 overs on a bowlers’ nightmare of a pitch.
A fortnight later he claimed six for 20 to skittle Canada for 103 in Sinoville before hitting an unbeaten 259, made over six and a half hours out of a total of 409 and joining the elite club of players who have made a double-hundred and taken six wickets in the same first-class innings. As if that were not enough, he smacked a brisk 31 off 26 deliveries to steer the Dutch to a 7-wicket victory, their first in first-class cricket.
It was an astonishing performance: across those three matches he had scored 686 runs at an average of 228.67, and had taken 14 wickets at 20.93 apiece. It could – and no doubt was – at the time have been seen as a measure of the gap between established first-class cricket and the infant Intercontinental Cup; after all, Ten Doeschate had scored more runs in those five innings than he had in three times as many for Essex, although he had hit two centuries and averaged 40-plus in that 2006 county season.
It was more a question of the responsibility he was given in the Dutch side, a matter of opportunity but also of expectation, and time would show that what he could do for his adopted country he could also offer to his county.
It’s not just the personal tallies which attest to this: the 11,000 first-class runs at an average of 44.30 and 214 wickets (and counting), the 42 centuries across all formats, including those against England and Ireland in the 2011 World Cup.
More than all that, it is Ten Doeschate’s record as county captain which speaks to his massive contribution to the game, and the maturing of a cricketer who was still finding his way when he burst upon the Associate scene in 2006. In 2016, his first season in charge of Essex, he led them out of Division 2 of the Championship; the following year they topped Division 1, an achievement they repeated in 2019. Three winning sides in four years is a record any county captain can be proud of.
Ten Doeschate’s commitments to Essex, and his devotion to the club, have naturally meant that he has played for the Netherlands less often than the Dutch would have liked. His choices have not always been free from controversy: in 2009 he made the difficult decision to rejoin Essex before the end of the World Cup Qualifier, before the Netherlands had made sure of a place in the 2011 World Cup.
He spoke at the time about his loyalty to the players with whom he spent his summers travelling around England, and to the county which had given him the opportunity to earn his living as a professional cricketer. Despite one’s disappointment, one could see his point.
And he has nevertheless appeared 37 times in Dutch colours since then, despite the fact that he didn’t play at all between March 2011 and December 2017, making 1526 runs at 63.58 and taking 31 wickets. He was, unforgettably, at the crease with Edgar Schiferli when the Dutch scored the winning runs off the final delivery against England at Lord’s in the 2009 World T20.
The last time I had a chance to talk with him, all too briefly, was in Southend in 2017, when Netherlands coach Ryan Campbell took a side over to play a series of friendlies and Ten Doeschate captained a strong Essex side at Garon Park. He was as friendly and approachable as ever, recognisably the same young man who had talked so openly about his hopes for and doubts about the future in Nairobi eleven years earlier.
Ten Doeschate return to the colours made a big contribution to the Netherlands’ triumph in the 2019 T20 World Cup Qualifier, and there is a pleasing symmetry to the prospect of his ending his distinguished career in dayglo orange at the T20 World Cup itself in October and, one hopes, November. One can even fantasise about an historic rematch between the Netherlands and England in Sharjah on 1 November. That would be one for the connoisseurs!
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