Now that the Netherlands has completed its historic campaign in the Super League – which has itself been consigned to history – it’s a good moment to review both the campaign itself and where things might now lead for the Dutch international men’s team.
The fact that in their 24 matches the Dutch used no fewer than 29 players is an indication of the difficulties they faced, with county and other Full Member commitments, retirements, injuries and a suspension.
Only Scott Edwards was ever-present, taking over the captaincy in the middle of last summer, and of those 29, only nine played in more than half the games; Max O’Dowd played in 21, Bas de Leede in 19.
If we look at the performances, seven batters averaged better than 30, with Tom Cooper top of the list with 343 runs at 38.71 from the nine games he played.
Edwards made the most runs, 767 at an average of 36.52, while Colin Ackermann had an average of 35.16, but was only available for seven matches.
Two other statistics give a more rounded picture: among the top-order batters, Edwards’ strike-rate of 88.36 was the highest, emphasising the struggle the Dutch faced against the best attacks; and although they managed a total of 29 fifties there was only the single century, Teja Nidamanuru’s unbeaten 110 against Zimbabwe.
Time and again, batters got a start, only to get out when they needed to go on and capitalise; that was, perhaps, the greatest difference between this side and their opponents, schooled through playing longer formats in the art of staying at the crease for longer and making the most of the time they had spent at the crease.
Among those who enhanced their reputations, 20-year-old left-handed opener Vikram Singh stands out: his willingness to take on new-ball attacks has won him many friends, and his three sixes off the South African pace attack in Benoni will live in the memory when much else has been forgotten.
It is hugely encouraging that Singh is one of a trio of Dutch-produced youngsters who have proved their worth at this level: off-spinner Aryan Dutt’s composure when taking the new ball against world-class openers was exemplary, and he stood up well to the pressure when he was brought back later in the innings.
And although his opportunities have been more limited, Shariz Ahmad rolled out his wrong’uns with aplomb, and did enough with the bat to suggest that he could develop into a useful bowling allrounder.
The question remains: what steps need to be taken to ensure that these three continue to progress, and that others are able to step up when the county players are unavailable and as the careers of older players like Cooper and Barresi come to an end?
The abolition of the Super League means that the highest level of competitive 50-over cricket the Dutch can anticipate for the next few years is League 2, and we all know how difficult (and expensive) it is to persuade ICC Full Members to take on the top Associates in bilateral encounters.
Which means, of course, that not only will the players have fewer opportunities to test themselves against the best, but that we are unlikely to see any repeat of last summer’s series against the West Indies, England and Pakistan, which could have done so much to raise the profile of cricket in the Netherlands.
If the Dutch are not to continue to be reliant on players produced elsewhere, the best of whom have professional commitments in first-class cricket which restrict their availability for their adopted country, then more needs to be done to bridge the gap between an indifferent domestic system and the full international stage.
An encouraging signal was given at this month’s general meeting of the KNCB, at which it was revealed that the Board is planning to invest €45k. in the coming year in the ‘professionalisation of the High Performance organisation’, including the introduction of a player management system, a new pay structure, and a development programme for the national teams, A team and under-18s.
This long-overdue investment provides hope that the next generation of emerging players will be given the opportunities they need to grow from a Topklasse which, quite frankly, involves too many teams and too many players of limited ability onto a world stage where the demands on batters, bowlers and fielders continue to expand.
What we are yet to see, however, is the realisation that the creation of a properly-organised intermediate domestic tier is just as important as this welcome initiative.
One only has to look across the North Sea to Scotland to see how the establishment of their three-team regional series, ‘Scotland’s premier domestic competition for the top men’s and women’s cricketers in the country’, to quote the website, has transformed the development of their leading young players.
A decade ago, after trying to set up a North Sea Pro Series jointly with the KNCB, Cricket Scotland concluded that they would do better going it alone, and the result is that they now have a strong regional tier between club cricket and the national sides, while the Dutch equivalent struggles for any kind of credibility.
As High Performance Manager Roland Lefebvre argued in a recent interview with Emerging Cricket, such a series requires a degree of financial investment and commitment from the players, but the truth is that the Topklasse is an inadequate preparation for the demands of international cricket in any format.
Even if an element of multi-day cricket is, regrettably, likely to remain impractical for the immediate future, a serious regional structure involving both 50-over and T20 cricket will be indispensable if the best young Dutch players, both male and female, are to progress successfully to the international stage.