Cricket is Oranje! The Dutch cricketing story

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Originally published as ‘Orange Cricket’ on the Mailer Report.

Holland, 2; England, 0.

It reads like a football scoreline – and makes it sound like the Brits, perhaps, performed better than expected.

However, it’s not a football match, it’s the record of Twenty20 cricket matches between England and the Netherlands. 2009 and 2014. Two-nil, two-love, two-zero. No matter how you put it, the crux of the issue is irrevocable – England haven’t beaten the Dutch in a Twenty20 international.

Five years is a long time in cricket, and from ’09 to ’14 all teams have had changes – England have gone from the best side in the world to a gigantic laughing stock, India have gone from laughing stocks to World Cup winners, the West Indies have fallen yet further from grace, and the Pakistanis have gone in and out of form more often than Chris Gayle changes bed partners.

But it is the Netherlands who have, perhaps, gone through the biggest changes in that time. To track their development, we ought to go back even further than 2009, but let’s begin there anyhow, for it starts things off well.

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Dirk Nannes, a brilliant left-arm quick, storms in to bowl to the English top-order.

It’s the opening match of the 2009 World T20, and England – the home side – have scheduled themselves an easy victory first up. There is still pressure on England though (as there always is on an international team), but they should wrap this up easily.

Despite the best efforts of Nannes, an Australian by birth, and his teammates, England rack up the kind of above-par total an Associate nation has no hope of chasing.

Nannes was playing his last tournament for the Dutchmen. No one realised it at the time, of course, but by August that year Nannes was plying his trade for Australia. He’d exchanged his identity to play for a better team.

Nannes wasn’t the only player at the World T20 who would – or had – abandoned their home nation. Eoin Morgan, formerly of Ireland, had helped his birth-nation qualify for the 2011 World Cup at the ’09 qualifiers, only to skip across the channel. England was his home now. Middlesex by day, England by night.

Boyd Rankin of Ireland would later do the same thing. It’s a sad truth of Associate cricket that the best players will always get nabbed by the big boys. And that those not good enough to play for their home team will make use of their grandparent’s citizenship.

So had happened with Ryan ten Doeschate – the best ODI all-rounder of his day, the South African-born Dutchman was only playing in the orange strip because he hadn’t thought higher representation for his birthplace possible, and masquerading as Dutch qualified him for County cricket.

Ten Doeschate barnstormed the Dutch to that famous victory at Lord’s, but the rumblings were already starting. Cricketing expats and outside-rejects might make a strong XI on a given day, but they’re not the way to create and develop a strong cricketing nation.

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Having foreigners isn’t the end of the world – England have the likes of Trott, Pietersen, Stokes, Rankin, Morgan, Ballance; New Zealand have Watling, Elliott, Brownlie, Wagner.

The players that the Dutch relied on, however, were tempestuous. They hadn’t come to the Netherlands to reside, they’d come there for outside opportunities. Dirk Nannes left as soon as Australia came calling, Ryan ten Doeschate followed the light (read: money) and took up contracts in County cricket, IPL, and New Zealand’s domestic T20 tournament.

Even recently, Michael Rippon – a South African-born chinaman bowler – briefly pursued the opportunity of qualifying for England.

For a nation like the Netherlands, it’s always going to be tough to develop an entirely self-bred stock of players. If New Zealand, England, South Africa, Australia and company were all playing outsourced cricketers, what hope did an Associate have? Foreigners themselves aren’t a problem. In fact, they’re a massive asset.

Wesley Barresi is a perfect example. The Dutch first-choice wicketkeeper, Barresi came to the Netherlands with no intentions of being a cricketing immigrant. He’d first played First Class cricket, in South Africa, in 2004, but only played to 2005 before opportunities dried up.

“Being an EU passport carrier made my decision for a better quality of life and job opportunities very easy,” Barresi told me in an interview last year.

“When immigrating I had no intention of representing the Netherlands in cricket. Getting a call up out of the blue to represent my country has been a blessing in disguise and certainly brought on the most memorable times of my life.”

Barresi first represented the Dutch in 2009, and has been a fixture in the side ever since. He was an integral part of the side that performed so brilliantly at the 2014 World Twenty20 in Bangladesh.

He made 40 not-out off just 22 balls in that game against the Irish, and a crucial 48 against the English. Despite his personal stand-out performance against the English, however, he doesn’t consider it his greatest day:

“I’ve been blessed to have played in and won crucial games for my team in recent years but I’d have to say beating the Irish to go through to the Super 10s is and probably always will be my greatest day as a cricketer.”

Barresi is everything you could ask for of a cricketer – passionate, gutsy, talented. The Netherlands is his nation and his team – and you get the feeling he wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Of course, Barresi isn’t the first cricketer to display this kind of passion for the Dutch. Their captain, Peter Borren, is a New Zealander by birth, but has become possibly the most loyal cricketer in their history.

He’s by no means the greatest player they’ve had, but he’s like Glen Chapple for Lancashire or Anthony McGrath for Yorkshire. Not the best batsman in the side, not the best bowler. But the most committed, loyal and dedicated cricketer – without any doubt.

Borren has played for his nation for over a decade, first captained in 2008, and yet has never been a true match-winner with either bat or ball. His stats look poor next to the Ryan ten Doeschates or Tom Coopers, but no one can claim to have given as much to Dutch cricket as the skipper himself.

In an interview with ESPNCricinfo not long ago, Borren described himself thusly: “I’m 31 but I feel 51 and look like 61.”

It was an apt description of how much he’s given, and the physical toll it has taken.

§

But those who are only Dutch part-time aren’t entirely gone.

Tom Cooper, the brilliant middle-order bat with the 48.80 ODI batting average, still places his South Australian commitments ahead of representing the Dutch.

He still wants to play for Australia.

He still considers himself wholly Australian.

And he’s contributed hugely to cricket in Holland, been a huge part of their success and development.

But he’s not a Dutchman.

And despite what he’s done for Dutch cricket – and despite being described by many Dutch cricketers (including Barresi) as the best player they’ve had – he would still skip off to Australia if Mark Waugh and his bunch came calling.

There are far fewer than ever before, but still, perhaps, too many. Logan van Beek, the Canterbury and New Zealand Under-19 player was brought in for the World T20, but hasn’t represented the Dutch since.

But it’s still a progressive step for the side that the core group of players – Barresi, Borren, Vivian Kingma, Mudassar Bukhari, Ahsan Malik, Pieter Seelar – all consider themselves Dutch.

They’re proper Dutchmen, representing their nation.

The systems within in the country are now developing players to a standard worthy of the national side. It’s important that they do; since losing representation in the English domestic 40-over competition, the team lacks that exposure against County Championship cricket teams.

As Michael Swart, the Dutch vice-captain at the World T20, said: “The CB40 was such a fantastic competition for Holland to be involved with. It gave us the exposure and game time against some really good opposition and helped us bridge the gap between club cricket and List A cricket. It’s definitely a big loss.”

Michael Rippon, who has played for the VRA club since 2008, wrote about Dutch club cricket as what encouraged him to play for the national side: “Club cricket in Holland was very strong with a whole crop of seasoned pros playing in the league. I played in a combined overseas XI team against the Dutch national side in a couple of T20 warm up games in prep for their World Cup fixtures. I decided then that I would like to play for the Netherlands one day.”

Ahsan Malik, one of the heroes of the Dutch World T20 campaign, and of the recent World Cricket League Division Two tournament (where the Netherlands rightfully promoted themselves back to the Associate top-rung), is a brilliant case study.

The Dutch-born pace bowler described in glowing terms the development of cricketing structures within his nation – structures which he himself has graduated from, into the big-time of the national side.

“The structure [within the Netherlands] is getting better and better every year as we are getting a lot of foreign coaches to play with and that helps the local players a lot. We are playing way more cricket than we used to as we have North v South games as well as matches against teams from Scotland. So the local players are getting more games to play and with experienced players from abroad that helps as well.”

The team’s recent re-promotion to Division One, after the disappointment of slipping down to Division Two after the World Cup Qualifiers will make a big difference – “Losing ODI status was such a big loss for us. Losing funding and games all because of one day’s rain in Canada is a bitter pill to swallow”, as Michael Swart put it late last year.

For the Netherlands, the future is bright. The Dutch know that they can push on from here, and really prove the quality of their home-bred cricketers. When they beat the Poms again in a World T20, they did so with a team of dedicated Dutch cricketers.

The heroes – Peter Borren, Ahsan Malik, Wesley Barresi, Mudassar Bukhari – were those who considered themselves 100% Dutch.

The structure in the country, and the players it is producing, are proving that they can finally kick on from here. They can bounce back from losing ODI status, and prove themselves as an Associate nation to rival Ireland.

There’s a long, hard road ahead of them, but for a Dutch team which has been stagnant since Herschelle Gibbs clobbered Daan van Bunge for six sixes back in 2007, it’s a sweet change to have that road open after all.

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