Edition 28 June 2019, by John Mahnen
Playing a sport which is relatively minor means explaining yourself to a lot of people a lot of times. American Footballers must explain that they do not play rugby and cricketers must sometimes politely inform friends and colleagues that the sport that they ply is, in fact, not croquet. Despite that, cricket is alive and well in this country and may just be on the cusp of a breakthrough – high time considering cricket is the second most popular and played sport in the world!
By anyone’s account, the game was fi rst played on Dutch soil some 175 years ago. The Ajax Cricket Club in Amsterdam celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2017. Along the way, the Dutch national team has had some notable successes including wins against venerable England. Today, more than 5,000 cricketers are members of the Royal Dutch Cricket Association, playing for some 50 clubs spread throughout the country. There are competitive leagues for women, youth and even a business team competition – all of which are aided by cricket willingness to re-invent itself. To the outsider, cricket was long seen as a marathon affair. The introduction of the One Day International (ODI) format in the 70’s was the first of several initiatives to adapt the game to different circumstances. In 2002, the marketing team at the England & Wales Cricket Board grappled with the problem of dwindling audiences at domestic cricket grounds across the country. Led by Stuart Robertson, the ECB developed a new format that would cause the tectonic plates of the staid summer sport to rumble.
Twenty20 was born. Twenty20 or T20 is one of the abbreviated forms of cricket which has grown in prominence internationally. The biggest difference made by the limits on innings, overs and fi elders is the duration of the game. A full match of Twenty20 cricket takes about 3 hours, a far cry from the day-long or multi-day fi xtures we were so long used to. The game had been shortened before: One Day International cricket was introduced as a solution to a rained-out fi xture in the seventies. The format stuck but even more truncated versions would mean that the game could be played in an afternoon or (gasp) an evening! There was a method in the madness – cricket was having an appeal problem especially among younger and more casual viewers. Among the tweaks were colored uniforms in place of the ubiquitous off-white and white balls in place of red. Some 16 years later, the results are encouraging – not just in terms of penetrating new markets but increasing participation among the attention-span-deprived youth in the more established markets. While T20 may have taken other parts of the (cricket) world by storm, the impact on the sport here in the Netherlands has not really been felt. That may be set to change with two new initiatives launching this year.
Three national associations, namely, Cricket Ireland, Netherlands Cricket and Cricket Scotland have commissioned the start of the Euro T20 Slam. Backed by a group with their roots in the Indian Professional League (IPL), the tournament promises to be high-octane. The league was launched in Dublin this past April by Wasim Akram who the advisor for the Euro T20 Slam along with Dilip Vengesarkar. The tournament will feature six teams (2 from each participating country). These teams are franchises with the Amsterdam and Rotterdam Rhinos representing the Netherlands. The teams will fi eld players from their own national selections, augmented by a pool of domestic and international talent. The international pool will feature a number of marquee names including Shane Watson (Australia), Brendon McCullum (New Zealand), Babar Azam (Pakistan), Luke Ronchi (New Zealand), Rashid Khan (Afghanistan) and Chris Lynn (Australia). The 2019 tournament will be hosted one city per country, the honors this year going to Amsterdam where the matches will be played at VRA in the Amsterdamse Bos. From 30 August to 5 September, this moveable feast will bring top cricket action to our capital city. A second tournament featuring a truncated format is lining itself up as the Champions League of cricket. The European Cricket League will feature the club champions of Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Romania and Russia in a tournament to be played in Spain from Monday, 29 to Wednesday 31 July. This year’s version will be a T10 format. The Netherlands will be represented this year by VOC from Rotterdam. The champion of this season’s T20 competition will represent the Netherlands in next year’s tournament, expected to be a full T20 format. The La Manga Club in Cartagena (Murcia) has signed a threeyear agreement to host the tournament.
What remains to be seen is the effect of the new T20 initiatives on the growth of the game in the Netherlands. The abbreviated formats, including another variation know as Last Man Standing have already helped in alleviating weekend pitch congestion. The shorter games lend themselves to weekday evening play, which is ideal for business teams, leaving the pitches more accessible at the weekend for youth play and the purists who prefer their cricket to be an all-day affair. The infl ux of skilled tech workers to the Netherlands, many from India, have bolstered the ranks of cricket clubs especially in and around Amsterdam. However, the temporary nature of the assignments means that the clubs must deal with signifi cant turnover among their membership. To ensure long term success, the clubs must work hard to also keep the sport relevant to the local population. Clinics are a particularly good way for clubs to introduce the sport to a wider audience in order to grow the interest in the sport and to attract new members. Qui Vive Cricket Club, based at the Eendracht Sportpark in Amsterdam is a big proponent of clinics and has offered them to businesses, youth and women. The club looks to capitalize on its diversity to engage with local youth. The cricket season in the Netherlands runs from May until September meaning that it combines well with other sports such as football or fi eld hockey.
For more information consult the website of the Royal Dutch Cricket Association: kncb.nl