When the playing XI from Nepal and the Netherlands walked to the middle at Amstelveen early in August, it was a tough choice to say for whom the day meant more. Where Nepal were making their one-day international debut, it was the Netherlands’ first ODI in four years.
The loss of ODI status back in the ICC World Cup Qualifier 2014 in New Zealand had come as a shock for the Dutch side. Perhaps it was a case of trying too hard. Perhaps they were just not good enough on the week, they thought. But they refused to think it was all over for them, fighting through the ICC World Cricket League Championship to return to the top level of the sport.
Stepping on to the field for this ODI was validation of all the hard work.
“A few of our guys were part of the team that lost ODI status in 2014,” Pieter Seelaar, the 31-year-old skipper who walked out to the toss in the Nepal match, told ICC. “We’ve experienced the feeling of losing everything we’ve played for previously. So, for us, there was a lot more history to [the return].
“The new guys picked it up as well, because they knew what we’d been working on for the last four years or so, so they embraced it.”
“Everyone was excited to get back to the ODI thick of things,” added Stephan Myburgh, 34, their left-hand batter. “It means a lot, not just personally for me but the whole country. We’ve worked extremely hard over the last four years to get back ODI status, so it was really nice to get another opportunity.”
"We’ve experienced the feeling of losing everything we’ve played for previously. So, for us, there was a lot more history."
Five youngsters stood in line to get their maiden ODI caps, but, surprisingly, there were no nerves. They meant to take it all in and enjoy every moment.
Shane Snater, the 22-year-old Zimbabwe-born pacer who played his youth cricket there before making his home in the Netherlands, was one of them. But the Essex youngster, who happens to be a cousin of England’s Jason Roy, didn’t need to be told what it meant to be playing at the highest level.
Just days before, he was at Lord’s with the squad for the T20 tri-series with Nepal and MCC, “seeing the history and walking through the rooms, seeing such great players on the walls and sitting in the change room”. Now, here was another memorable milestone.
“There are a lot of guys who aren’t a part of the team anymore, who’d been a huge part of gaining ODI status,” Snater pointed out. “It was mentioned to some of us who haven’t been around as long that this was a big occasion. But everyone knew that and wanted to rise up to the occasion and just do well for themselves and for the team, present or past.”
Their captain did his bit to keep the team calm. It’s just another game of cricket, he reminded them. “Just because it’s an ODI doesn’t change the fact that it’s a battle between bat and ball. You can’t get all wound up about it. In the end it’s all about the ball you’re about to deliver or the shot you’re about to play.”
The captain’s relaxed attitude and the youthful energy of the new faces were two key elements to this Netherlands side, setting it slightly apart from the Dutch teams of, say, a few years ago.
Seelaar, the left-arm spin-bowling all-rounder, took over from the respected Peter Borren, who retired in April after the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2018. Borren had been a pugnacious and emotional player and leader; he ensured the disappointment of 2014 was not the start of a slide, but a launchpad for global success.
The new captain is calmer – at least he tries to be. He is a good motivator and more patient, which works well for the youngsters.
The Netherlands have successfully blooded several young players in recent years. According to Myburgh, who has one List A hundred and 16 fifties to his name from 85 matches, this has changed the complexion of their game.
“We were a weaker squad [in 2014]. Now we’ve got a lot of youngsters coming through,” he said. “We have a group of 16-18 to pick from, where in the past we’d got only 12. Now with injuries, we’re OK, where in the past, if we had one or two injuries we would struggle.
“Because we’ve got a lot of guys aged 18 to 23, they’ve brought in a lot of energy. Our fielding has also improved quite a bit, and we’re a little quicker. It brought a refreshment around the team.”
Nepal seal their first ODI win by the slimmest of margins! A one-run victory!— ICC (@ICC) August 3, 2018
Captain Paras Khadka defends five off the last after the 10th wicket had added 30. An unbelieveable game, and what a moment for Nepal!#NEDvNEP SCORE 👇 https://t.co/hiBJZ67jpN pic.twitter.com/Fv2938NyhH
So, it was a happy, positive vibe to the side for the ODIs against Nepal. The hosts won the opener, but, of course, Nepal aren’t known as the ‘cardiac kids’ for nothing. Defending 216, the newest ODI nation pulled off a last-ball win in the second game as the series finished 1-1.
The Netherlands were slightly disappointed – going by rankings, they had expected more. They rued the rash shots and the lost chances.
But they also knew that their ODI comeback had become a classic – they spent an hour with their rivals after the match, chatting and sharing experiences. They knew it held vital lessons for their ODI future in the one-day game.
Absolute pleasure being part of our return to ODIs vs @CricketNep! Great vibe created by fans! Serious fight shown by both teams with some great individual performers! Hopefully have a return series over there in Nepal! @ICC @KNCBcricket @seelaar8 @paras77 @IamSandeep25 #NEDvNEP— Ben N Cooper (@bencooper_32) August 4, 2018
“We probably were involved in one of the greatest games of cricket,” laughed Seelaar. “You talk about the great games, people scoring 300, 400, but … it was one of those games when you could never think it was a done deal.
“Nepal fought hard, we fought hard to get where we were in the last over, last two overs. It was really exciting but also really disappointing. We set ourselves an objective, but it seems Nepal has a nagging way of fighting well against us and beating us on occasion!
“It’s probably one of the biggest lessons to learn, that you are never truly out of the game until the final ball is bowled or the final run is hit.
“It’s a lesson for the guys coming in, the game of cricket is never over till it’s really over.”
– Karunya Keshav