Realistically ambitious, the Netherlands prepare for India

Ryan Cook (Coach) an Scott Edwards (Captain)
Ryan Cook (Coach) an Scott Edwards (Captain) ahead of the Cricket World Cup

There was a festive air about the Westvliet ground on Saturday, and not only because Voorburg, the home side, waltzed to their first national men’s title for 21 years with a 140-run defeat of defending champions HCC, while in nearby Den Haag the club’s women’s team was taking their third successive championship, enabling the club to become the first since Kampong Utrecht in 1992 to win both competitions in the same year.

Part at least of the comparatively large crowd was drawn there by the fact that an ICC World Cup – not, admittedly, the only one currently touring the planet, but apparently the one that will be contested in India later this year – was on display throughout the day, giving Dutch cricket fans the opportunity to be photographed, and to have their children photographed, with the trophy.

The national men’s side, of course, will be taking part in that tournament, having fought their way there in dramatic circumstances in Zimbabwe in June, and the day began with a media conference featuring national coach Ryan Cook and the team’s captain, Scott Edwards.

That gave the local media and, by an online hook-up, journalists elsewhere, an opportunity to quiz the leadership about the state of preparations two months out from the first matches, and if Cook was understandably reluctant to name names, the occasion did give some useful insights into his thinking at this stage of the build-up to what will certainly be the most demanding of the five 50-over World Cups in which the Netherlands have participated.

He was more forthcoming about the processes which had led to the side’s success in Zimbabwe: the ways in which the Super League had created a foundation – ‘the wins and the losses in Zimbabwe and South Africa,’ he said, ‘complemented each other’, each teaching its own kind of lesson — ; the ‘culture camp’ which had created the team’s distinctive work ethic; the earlier bowling camp which had helped to prepare for conditions in southern Africa.

Cook paid tribute to the significant smaller contributions which had been made during the qualifier, which had played their part almost as much as the headline-grabbing efforts of Logan van Beek and Bas de Leede, and singled out as well the role of the reserve players, who dubbed themselves the ‘electric eels’ and who kept the players hydrated and well-equipped out in the middle.

But that inevitably raised the question of the players who were not available for the Zimbabwe tournament and who will, debarring injury, be up for selection for the World Cup itself.

As might be expected, Cook and Edwards argued that for such a challenge you must pick the strongest team available, with the inevitable implication that some who made the squad for Zimbabwe will miss out this time.

Cook stressed the way in which those who had not been available in June because of county commitments or injury had supported the side from a distance, sending pre-game videos of encouragement and celebrating the victories.

With the squad to be announced within the next ten days, final negotiations are currently taking place to ensure that the strongest possible party assembles in India, and all concerned understand what’s involved: the players, Cook said, ‘know what it takes to play for the Orange’.

Edwards referred to the success of the recently-completed Fairtree Pro Series, the domestic regional competition for which all Dutch-based players had been available, and which provided valuable preparation a level above that of club cricket.

As for the prospects in India, when the Dutch will face the nine top-ranked ODI countries at seven different venues over a period of 36 days, Cook and Edwards are necessarily up-beat; no-one goes into a tournament announcing that they expect to lose.

‘Every team aims to reach the next stage,’ Cook declared, ‘and that means we’re aiming for the semi-finals.’

The evidence of the 2019 World Cup suggests that this means winning at least five of the nine games, but neither man was prepared to be drawn on which opponents they were targeting.

‘We should have won more Super League games than we did,’ Edwards justifiably acknowledged, ‘and we have to capitalise on situations in which we are on top, especially against more fancied opponents.

‘That means holding onto our catches, taking our run-out opportunities, making sure we don’t get run out ourselves at crucial moments.’

‘We know we can beat good teams when we’re playing at our best,’ Cook added, ‘and we’ve learned to play strong cricket under pressure.’

The meticulous approach to preparation will involve camps in India and a three-match series against the state side of Karnataka, who reached the semi-finals of this year’s Ranji Trophy.

The squad will also benefit from Cook’s experience as fielding coach for IPL side Sunrisers Hyderabad, not least because the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium is where the Dutch will open their World Cup campaign with matches against Pakistan (6 October) and New Zealand (9 October).

And going forward, beyond this World Cup and next year’s World T20 Cup for which Edwards’s men secured automatic qualification by beating Zimbabwe and South Africa ten months ago?

Cook believes that the KNCB is putting in place the right policies and processes (a favourite word) to ensure the further emergence of Dutch-produced players of true international standard, pointing to the group of young spinners currently in the squad and several pace bowlers who are also coming through.

‘We have created,’ he says, ‘an inclusive, accessible training programme, which means that coaches are ready to fit in with players’ availability, travelling where necessary to run one-on-ones.’

Edwards, looking forward to the prospect of a 14-team World Cup in 2027, makes a commitment on behalf of his side: ‘we know,’ he says, ‘what we want to bring, and we will set out to treat our supporters to what they want to see.’

Nobody could demand any more than that.

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