Netherlands’ stunning win against Ireland in the ICC World T20 2014 has gone almost unnoticed by the majority of the people back home © AFP
The Netherlands cricket team created history in their match against Ireland in the ICC World T20 2014, achieving a run rate of 13.95 per over — unprecedented in any format of cricket. Arunabha Sengupta writes that in spite of this stupendous achievement, cricket remains a neglected sport in the country.
At the other side of the world in Sylhet, Stephan Myburgh, Peter Borren, Wesley Barresi and Tom Cooper had just dealt blows with the willow that had crashed several speed barriers and sunk a shipload of records. The Netherlands had qualified for the ICC World T20 2014 Super 10s with a whirlwind of sixes that had taken the cricket world by storm, the 193 runs in 13.5 overs against Ireland ending up as the fastest rate of scoring in the history of international cricket across all formats.
And yet, as one walked the streets of Amsterdam from the Royal Palace at The Dam to the entertainment area at Leidseplein, the only smiles and celebrations on display were reserved for welcoming the weekend. There was a bounce in the steps of all the Dutchmen who indulged in retail therapy in Kalverstraat, found solace in the flower market of Koningsplein, or even bided their time before regaling themselves with an evening at The Paradiso. But, all that was because it was Friday.
Four years earlier this writer had traced the same path from The Dam to Leidseplein after the Dutch football team had triumphed 2-1 over Brazil at Port Elizabeth in the World Cup quarter-final. The entire city had been dressed up in orange, celebrations had echoed across the low skies, and the overcrowded sports bars had gladly dispensed free beer for the Dutch goals. Huge giant screens had been set up in the Museumplein, for people to gather from the city and suburbs, to catch their national team in the semi-final and final. Almost every Dutch child could be seen on the following days kicking footballs with young, hopeful feet.
But now, as the cricket team created unprecedented history, the nation chugged on merrily, blissfully unaware about the existence of a sport in which the willow strikes the leather. Wesley Snijder had been made a hero for his brace of goals against Brazil, but no such happy fate graced Myburgh and Cooper for the whopping 13 sixes they managed between themselves. Nor did the amber level rise in the Heineken splashing watering holes. The sports bars kept screening tennis and recorded football, and the discussions centered around the UEFA Champions League draw and the injury suffered by Robin van Persie.
Cut to the following morning — the young kids biked their way to Saturday morning football practice. Strapping girls made their way to the sports centres brandishing their hockey sticks. In an obscure corner of the major newspaper, De Telegraaf, a 169-word bulletin informed those who cared enough to look past the football extravaganza: “Cricketers stunten op WK.” Not too many did care. Till now, this news item on the website of the paper has had all of 12 shares on Facebook.
Cricket is not that big a deal in the country
The sport is not new to Netherlands — it was introduced way back in the 19th century by the British soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars. English 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. Teams from all Test playing countries have come over. However, down the line, the sport has never quite managed to compete in popularity to football and hockey.
There has never been a lack of talent. As early as in 1964, the national team beat a strong Australian side that had been contesting the Ashes in England. In this one innings game played at Den Haag, the Australians were led by Brian Booth and contained Bill Lawry, Norman O’Neill, Garth McKenzie and others. The Dutch had emerged winners by three wickets.
Down the years, there have been many top quality cricketers. However, the sport never quite caught the imagination in the country. The TopKlasse, the HoofdKlasse and the Twenty20 Cup have remained quite ordinary as far as national tournaments are concerned. The premier players of the country have been forced to participate in the domestic tournaments in England, and also in South Africa and Australia. And of course the Indian Premier League and other franchise based Twenty 20 competitions have arrived as additional, often overriding, financial options.
Even a talent as exciting and rare as Ryan ten Doeschate has not been able to kindle the spark of interest in the game. He finally became content to hire himself out, not too keen on turning out for Netherlands any more.
Yes, Friday was huge in the history of Netherlands cricket, a day that saw them achieve something no cricket team had done before. But, once again it has created little reaction in the country. Irrespective of the success in the World T20, the future of cricket in the country does not really look too bright.
To put it in perspective, when this writer informed a Dutch man in a Leidseplein sports bar that the Dutch team had moved to the next round in the World Cup, the answer was, “But, it has not started yet.”
One wonders about the future of cricket in a country where sports fans are not even aware that their team is taking part in a World Cup.
(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)