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We are used to the constant brilliance of the Dutch football team, and only the occasional successes of the cricket team. However, the first major cricket star of the country actually predated the first big name in Netherlands football. Arunabha Sengupta traces the superb career of Carst Posthuma.
When Robin van Persie flew through the air to head Netherlands’ equaliser against Spain at the stroke of half-time, it prised opened a floodgate.The men from the lowlands exhilarated all with their spree of goals and the world rode on the waves of delight with each subsequent strike. Dutch football has enthralled us for long – from eras dating before Johan Cruyff brought along the Total Football revolution.
Of course we know that the men from the Netherlands can be useful cricketers as well. We have bowed to the brilliance of Ryan ten Doeschate and have grudgingly learnt to spell his name. We have recently witnessed Stephan Myburgh, Peter Borren, Wesley Barresi and Tom Cooper deal blows with the willow at Sylhet that crashed several speed barriers and sunk a shipload of records in the WorldTwenty20 2014.
However, we do know that cricket does not scratch the surface of the immense popularity of football in the land. Not that the sport is new to the country. It was introduced way back in the 19th century by the British soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars. The Royal Dutch Cricket Association was established in 1883, while the analogous bodies in hockey and football were formed in 1898 and 1899 respectively.
English cricket teams have visited the nation for long, one of the earliest even featured Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – the creator of Sherlock Holmes. The Dutch team travelled to the British Isles frequently enough, and with time also ventured out to Australia and South Africa. In 1964, they pulled off an upset win at Den Haag against an Australian team that included Bill Lawry, Norman O’Neill, Garth McKenzie and others. Teams from all Test playing countries have come over. However, down the line, the sport has never quite managed to compete with football and hockey.
Yet, in spite of the rich history of football and the relative scarcity of cricketing glory, the first major cricketing star of the Netherlands actually predated the many, many Dutch football heroes. And there could hardly be any character more inspiring than the trendsetting Carst Posthuma. He was without doubt the greatest Dutch cricketer of his era and several subsequent ones. Even WG Grace was impressed enough by his bowling to give his beard a thoughtful tug and invite him over to play for his own London County side.
It is not that Dutch football lacks characters from the hoary past. In the modern era, we have watched the heroics of van Persie and Arjen Robben, and not too long back we have been delighted by the skills of Dennis Bergkamp. The header of Ruud Gullit and the goal from the near impossible angle by Marco van Basten in the 1988 Euro Cup final still remain fresh in the memory, as does the Johan Cruyff’s act of raising his foot behind his hip and tipping the ball over his head, proceeding to break away at full speed while under challenge from defenders. But, even if we take leave of these luminaries and go much further back in time we find plenty of great Dutch names associated with football.
The country has been graced by the Frisian legend Abe Lenstra, the prolific scoring skills of Beb Bakhuys and the curiously named Kick Smit. The land has been blessed by the Feyenoord cornerstone Puck van Heel. There has been that rocklike custodian of the formative days by the name of Reinier Beeuwkes.
And finally there has been that most fascinating character from early Dutch football – Bok de Korver. This Sparta Rotterdam player won two Olympic bronze medals with the Netherlands side – in 1908 and 1912 – and is believed to have never committed a foul in his career. Among his other curious traits was the belief that training was unsportsmanlike and his known weakness for long cigars. It is little wonder that he ended up as s the forerunner of all the later stars – becoming the first Dutch footballer to be the subject of a biography.
But, even de Korver, born in 1883, was a decade and a half younger than the man who was arguably the first sporting superstar of Netherlands – Carst Posthuma.
The career of Carst Posthuma
Carst Posthuma was born in 1868 in Haarlem and played cricket up to the age of 60. A left-arm fast bowler, he represented Netherlands on as many as 72 occasions. If we take his performances in local cricket into account, his tally of wickets stands at a staggering 2338, at a spectacular average of 8.67. Many of those were scalped with a devious slower ball, and some with an occasional fast off-break. In 1900 he became the first Dutch player to capture 100 wickets in a season. Six years earlier, in 1894, his left-handed strokeplay had made him the first to score a century in domestic cricket.
Posthuma toured England with the Dutch team for the first time in 1892, capturing a handful of wickets in each of the games against the local sides. Two years later, he returned with the Gentlemen of Netherlands and took seven wickets against Blackheath, six against Tottenham and ended the tour with 11 scalps against the Gentlemen of Surrey.
When the incredibly named club Leicestershire Ivanhoe visited Holland in 1895, Posthuma captured seven wickets in each innings. However, his best tour took place in 1901. He started with six for 159 against the MCC and followed it up with eight for 170 against the Gentlemen of Surrey. The next match against London County was not that successful, with his figures showing a rather expensive four for 160. However, it was the watershed moment of his career. Among his opponents was the great WG Grace and the old man was visibly impressed.
The year 1902 saw Posthuma return with the Dutch team and pick up 11 wickets against MCC. WG Grace invited him to come back and represent London County the following season. So Posthuma returned in 1903, playing five times for London County. The side lost the first match against Leicestershire by 165 runs, but the Dutchman picked up 10 wickets in the game including seven for 68 in the second innings. In a following match he captured six for 44 against MCC before ending the season with 23 wickets at 15.04.
He enjoyed another impressive tour in 1906. Four years later, in the 1910 Brussels Exhibition, he played for the Netherlands for the final time, picking up 24 wickets in three matches. Curiously 11 of the wickets came against MCC, with rather less stupendous returns against the lesser cricketing powers France and Belgium.
When the First World War broke out, Posthuma opened his country house near Haarlem to the British troops and organised cricket matches for the soldiers. When he returned to cricket in the 1920s, his wicket taking ability seemed to have been preserved from the wear and tear of time. In the first major match he played, he picked up 13 for the Cricket Touring Club de Flamingos against the Incogniti in 1922.
By that time he had progressed along the path of the other national passion of the Dutch – that of growing flowers. However, he specialised in roses rather than tulips, reminding all that rose was in fact the national flower of the Netherlands.He was considered one of the world’s leading authorities in this field. Posthuma passed away in Haarlem in late 1939.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry.He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)
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