February 25, 2011

Big fish in a small pond

Ryan ten Doeschate is Netherlands' star player by a distance. He may not be back at the World Cup again, but his best may be yet to come

"Are there any endorsements I do?" Ryan ten Doeschate mulls the question briefly. "Can I make one up?" he asks with a chuckle.

ten Doeschate is the most consistent and sought after Associate player in the game today. He is one of the few full-time professionals from a minnow side, playing for teams in both hemispheres- from first-class cricket for Essex to Twenty20 competitions for Tasmania, Canterbury, and Mashonaland Eagles (Zimbabwe). He is the ICC's Associate and Affiliate Player of the Year currently, but are there sponsors lining up at his doorstep? "Unfortunately not," he says.

He's not worried. Not as long as he can carve out magnificent innings like the hundred against England in Netherlands' World Cup opener on Tuesday in Nagpur. ten Doeschate started on an edgy note before picking up the pace steadily and eventually breaking free, to help the Dutch to 293: it was the second-best total by an Associate against a big brother side. Later he delivered a disciplined bowling performance, which cramped the English batsmen and put Netherlands back in contention, before England went on to win by six wickets. There were accolades for the Dutchman, not least from England's captain Andrew Strauss, who remarked on how ten Doeschate had managed to elevate his game on the big stage.

Later that evening in Nagpur, three Englishmen walked into the Dutch dressing room to congratulate ten Doeschate. "Andy [Flower], Goochie [Graham Gooch] and Ravi [Bopara] had a beer and we had a nice chat," ten Doeschate says. Flower and Bopara played with him at Essex. But it is Gooch, a former Essex player and coach, who ten Doeshcate regards as his mentor, one who's been instrumental in the South African-born Dutchman's success.

In 2003, Gooch was on tour with Essex in South Africa and saw ten Doeschate's talent for the first time in a match against a Western Province second XI. Against Essex, he first excelled with the ball in a four-day game. He then did well with the bat in a one-dayer. It did not take long for Gooch to talk to old friend Peter Kirsten, one of the Western Province coaches, who mentioned ten Doeschate's Dutch passport that would make him eligible to play in England.

"So they asked me to come for a trial and signed me up pretty straightaway," ten Doeschate recollects his first days at Essex, around the time Twenty20 cricket was taking off. He got there midway in to the 2003 summer. At the same time he was committed to playing club cricket in Netherlands and had to be back on the weekend. "Goochie would drive me to the airport on Saturday night or the early hours of a Sunday, so that I would be back playing [for Bloemendaal Club] in Holland."

At 22, he was not sure where his life was heading. Till then he had played competitive cricket at his school, Fairbairn College in Cape Town, which had never produced a famous cricketer. "I never really looked like making a career when playing for school and later for the province." If not for Gooch's guidance, ten Doeschate says, he would probably never have recognised his own worth. "For me Goochie was the guy. He has always been impressed by how good a cricketer I have become, about my work ethic, always reminding me how much I have progressed in the last five years. He has always given me confidence. For me that is all I can really ask for.

"His real strength is, he is a total professional. He brings to the unit that professional approach - we can all learn and watch how he goes about it, and that rubs off on the rest of the squad, most of which is inexperienced."
Netherlands coach Peter Drinnen on ten Doschate

"I was quite astounded by the lengths that he went to, to keep me involved," he says. As payback, ten Doeschate never forgets to get Gooch some of his favourite red wine from Cape Town.

"In those days we looked at him as a bowling allrounder but credit to Ryan he has turned himself into a fabulous cricketer," Gooch says. It took a couple of years for ten Doeschate to make himself a certainty in the team and that arrived via a make-or-break moment in a 45-over Division One match against Middlesex. Darren Gough was leading Essex at Lord's. Middlesex had made 243 and ten Doeschate was having a miserable game - Scott Styris had belted him for 25 runs in the only over he had bowled.

"That was the turning point of my career," ten Doeschate says. "That would've been my last chance. They left Dale Steyn out to allow me to play. We were in trouble when I came in at 152 for 6. But I managed to get the runs in the company of the tail and we won by one wicket with two balls to spare. I got 50 not out," he says. He has not missed a one-day game after that at Essex.

Subsequently, he made his name in the Intercontinental Cup in 2006-07, with 686 runs at a phenomenal 228.66 in three matches. More recently, injury hampered his performances in the English county season, where he finished with average of 40. And he was the Most Valuable Player in the HRV Cup, New Zealand's Twenty20 competition, for Canterbury.

"Ryan is a super player without question," Peter Drinnen, the Queenslander who is now the Dutch coach, says in praise of his best player. "His real strength is, he is a total professional. He brings to the unit that professional approach - we can all learn and watch how he goes about it, and that rubs off on the rest of the squad, most of which is inexperienced. His work ethic is superb. His approach to the game is one of pure determination to succeed. That, for me, is the massive strength."

ten doeschate says he enjoys being a key player but he does not want to be the one in charge. "It is important to not try and take too much onto my own plate. There are a lot of decent players in the Dutch team who have come on and taken big strides. It is important to take the focus away from me in this environment, and everybody has equal responsibility. I am certainly not feeling any extra pressure or responsibility in this World Cup."

Still, he understands that for Netherlands to make a mark in what is likely to be their farewell one-day World Cup, he will need to step up and make major contributions. "I am lucky enough to be able to play full- time, compared to the other guys, who are training hours after work and weekends. So if I can give them a sense of how things are done and how efficiently training can be done, in terms of looking after yourself, then hopefully they will learn and progress the way they play," he says.

ten Doeschate feels the side has come a long way from the previous World Cup, but says it lacks the "limitless resources" to perform at a consistently high standard. He himself can't be in the Netherlands as much as he would like. He says he has spent roughly five days in the country in the last five years. "When I join up with the squad sometimes I feel a little bit awkward. I miss quite a bit of hard preparation they do."

ten Doeschate is one of three professionals in the side. Tom Cooper at South Australia and Alexei Kervezee at Worcestershire are the others. At times he finds it difficult to slip back into the side straightaway. "Just that thing, the professional aspect, is missing. I am not criticising - there are some aspects you can't expect from guys who don't play all the time. That is little bit frustrating. That is a challenge for me, something I need to address."

When days like June 25, 2009 (when the Netherlands shocked England in the World Twenty20 at Lord's) come along, the belief grows. The intensity was high once again in Nagpur this week. ten Doeschate reckons it is sad, then, that the ICC has planned to pull the plug on the Associates from the 2015 World Cup. "The fact that I have will not have another opportunity to create such special moments is disappointing." He is 30 - too late, he says, to think about playing for England or South Africa.

Gooch says the best for ten Doeschate is yet to come. "All that he has achieved is down to his desire, to his sacrifice, and to his discipline. He has become desirable as a cricketer. I have nothing but admiration for him."

In addition to playing in a World Cup, ten Doeschate may soon fulfill another long-standing wish. Jacques Kallis was one of his heroes as a teenager, but he has never spoken to the South African allrounder yet. "I guess I will now, since both of us are in the same IPL team [Kolkata Knight Riders]."

I ask him what is the question he gets asked most. He laughs and says, "At the moment it is about the IPL." ten Doeschate knows he has a second life.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo