Women’s cricket returns to top Dutch club HCC

Netherlands Ireland
Netherlands international Iris Zwilling will join HCC for T20 in 2024

A little piece of Dutch cricket history will be made on 11 May this year when, for the first time in forty years, a team from HCC will take part in the KNCB women’s competition.

One of the Netherlands’ oldest cricket clubs, founded in 1878 and always a dominant force in the men’s game, the Haagsche Cricket Club has long been unable to run a women’s team, although there has been a steady trickle of girls coming through their strong youth programme.

Unable to continue to play for the club, many have given up the game, while others, like Dutch internationals Jolet Hartenhof, Maxime Entrop, Caroline de Lange, Sterre Kalis, Frédérique Overdijk and Iris Zwilling, have been forced to move away to other clubs.

But now Iris Zwilling and her sister Mikkie, Overdijk and others will be able to turn out for the club which gave them a start in the game, and the younger brigade will not be confronted by that choice.

One of the latter is 15-year-old Lara Leemhuis, whose father Joost – himself a former Dutch international – is one of the driving forces behind the initiative.

‘After discussing it for several years,’ Leemhuis said this week, ‘the board concluded that it was now or never; we were very keen to keep the younger girls playing, but it was vital that the established players should be prepared to come back to help establish the team.

‘They had been playing for their current clubs for a while and had obviously developed a loyalty to them, and we didn’t want a situation where our starting a team caused another club to fall over because we took back all their players.’

But in 2024 at least, the HCC side will only be participating in the KNCB’s T20 competition, so the Zwilling sisters and the other internationals will continue to turn out for clubs like Voorburg, Quick Haag, Rood en Wit and HBS in the longer format.

In the shorter game, however, the Lionesses will have a pretty formidable team, with the Zwillings, Overdijk, and Phebe Molkenboer reinforced by 19-year-old Victorian Ruby Cullinan, as well as another former international in Coco Steenstra Toussaint.

‘We have a few very strong players and a few social cricketers,’ says Leemhuis. ‘We hope they really enjoy themselves this year, that they are competitive, and that we can attact more girls to come and play cricket.

‘For the longer term, the plan is obviously to make women’s cricket an integral part of the club and to have a thriving women’s cricket department. The whole club is happy that this initiative has finally come about.’

Iris Zwilling, too, is delighted that the step has been taken.

‘It will be amazing to finally have a women’s team represent HCC,’ she says. ‘We aim to be in contention for winning the championship, but our main focus is to make this season enjoyable for all our players, so we can create a strong team bond and can continue playing in this league for many years to come.’

With three of the four Women’s Topklasse teams – defending champions Voorburg, the HBS-based Hague All Stars and Quick – all based in the Hague region and Groen Geel taking part in the Hoofdklasse, Den Haag evidently has a claim to be the powerhouse of Dutch women’s cricket, although the KNCB will doubtless be delighted that another team making its debut this year will be the Cricket Combinatie Brabant, drawing on Wanderers Oss, MOP Vught and HTC Eindhoven.

It will be the first time a side from the south of the country has taken part since the women’s team at Quick Nijmegen folded in 2017.

The establishment of the two new teams will bring the total number competing across the two formats to eleven, the largest number for a decade.

When HCC last fielded a women’s team back in the 1980s – a side which included, incidentally, the future mothers of Dutch men’s internationals Max O’Dowd, Boris Gorlee and Hidde Overdijk, as well as of the latter’s sister Frédérique – cricket in the Netherlands was at the peak of its popularity.

No fewer than 26 clubs had a women’s section, sometimes putting out two or three teams, but the women’s game has since suffered the same decline as the men’s, without the compensating rise in the number of players of Asian origin, who now account for around two-thirds of all male players.

A KNCB working party in 2014 (full disclosure: chaired by the present writer) declared that women’s cricket in the Netherlands was in life-threatening danger and made a dozen recommendations for improving the situation, not the least important of which was that clubs should regard the promotion of the women’s game as a high priority.

In the intervening decade four of the eleven teams which were operating then have disappeared, although new ones have been established by Excelsior ’20 Schiedam, HBS and Voorburg; the addition of HCC and CCB is a big step towards the KNCB’s goal of a much more comprehensive women’s competition.

Together with the emergence of new men’s clubs in several centres around the country, from Groningen in the north to Arnhem in the east and Terneuzen in the south, the Board will be hoping that these are the first green shoots of cricket’s long-awaited and much-needed revival in the Netherlands.

[This article was amended on 11 April to correct Lara Leemhuis’s age and to remove the suggestion that Caroline de Lange would be playing for HCC in 2024.]

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