'I never imagined I'd get so much out of cricket'
South African-born Ryan ten Doeschate is one of cricket's original freelancers, having played in the domestic competitions of six Test-playing countries, in addition to his international career with Netherlands. He is currently playing for the Kolkata Knight Riders in the Champions League Twenty20 in India. ESPNcricinfo spoke to him in Hyderabad.
You said that you are away so much from the Netherlands squad that when you go back, you find it a little awkward to gel with them. How do you make that mental adjustment, having played with so many teams?
At times it is really easy to go in to a team and gel straight away. At times it is not so easy. Most importantly, you have got to look after your own game first. It certainly helps the team culture if you go in and do well. You have to understand that players are working in a full programme for the whole year and they are moving the team forward in their own way. And then someone comes into the team, so it can be very tough mentally. I look to focus on my own game and then try to adapt to the team culture.
You have played in countries as diverse as Australia, Zimbabwe and Netherlands. What is the approach when you join, say, the Mashonaland Eagles side?
The best thing is not to think too much. You are aware that you are going to be up against different conditions. For instance, in India you see pitches that are slow and turn a lot, but if you look at the pitch in Hyderabad, you might not see a wicket that quick even in Australia. I think, from a practical point of view, to not make a big deal about these things is important.
The biggest contrast for me was when I went back to England from the IPL to play a four-day game in Gloucester. That's not even club cricket, that's first-class cricket. The difference in the atmosphere, with only 30-40 people watching, can be alarming. You have got to find a way to bring your own energy into each game, otherwise it can all drift past very quickly.
What strikes you the most about a country like India?
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of India is the passion for the game. When you go to the stadiums, people will shout when, say, a Yusuf [Pathan] or a Brett [Lee] appear on the big screen. It's just superstardom. It's an honour to play cricket in India.
It's a massive shock initially when you come to India, but in a positive sort of way, to see the sport that you are involved in get so much attention. Obviously the passion in England is much more reserved. While there are various good aspects about different countries like England and Australia, India stands out by miles as the best place to play cricket.
Travel is one of the biggest things. Has there been a day when it has all felt like a little too much?
I'm pretty lucky I don't suffer from jet lag. I enjoy the travel and feel a bit like a tourist. Lot of the guys don't enjoy getting out, but I like seeing new places.
From a cricketing point of view, I have never felt fatigued physically [with all the travel and games]. Mentally, you don't consciously feel fatigued, but what catches up with you is that you don't have a base and a home. That is the draining part. I have realised in the past 18 months that taking a break is also part of your cricket preparation. I'm looking forward to having a break after this tournament where I am just going to do a bit of travelling and go home to South Africa.
Which is the country you most love to go out in when you are touring?
I am not saying this because I am here now but I am fascinated by the history of India and its different cultures. Obviously I would not get to see such things in the western countries or in Australia. Things like the old forts, the monuments and the street life. When you walk out of your hotel, the atmosphere and the vibes here are quite different compared to walking in a city like Sydney.
How does the stomach hold up, though?
No problems there. I had a few issues in Delhi during the World Cup, when I struggled a bit, but I have been really lucky on that count. We were out for a walk at night and I bought what looked like a dessert from a street vendor. It had been fried and appeared safe. It was like eight pieces for only Rs 20 and that should have set alarm bells going. I had it, and fortunately it did not have any [ill] effect.
What advice would you give a player landing in India from England for the first time?
Soak up the entire cricket atmosphere. Don't do anything that upsets the people on the other side of the fence, as you want to keep them on your side.
What about tackling different people and languages? Every team is so different.
Very, very different. There is a huge contrast between how people bring you into teams as well. For instance, I have never seen a welcoming team culture like Tasmania. They just made me settle in straight away. Every single person I was in contact with was so genuine and so friendly. They are the nicest bunch of people I have ever come across in my life.
At Kolkata Knight Riders, everyone is very respectful. It's a characteristic of the culture here; people are very respectful. The big names that I [had] never played with before, it's been quite amazing to see how humble and accommodating they are.
Jacques [Kallis] is someone I have always looked up to. This is the first time I have rubbed shoulders with him and talked to him, and he's been so normal. It doesn't sound like a compliment, but it is. You always see the Australian team putting up this big front but [Brad] Haddin and Lee are two of the nicest guys I have come across.
Having played so much cricket all over the world, what direction do you think the game is headed in?
The game is going through a phase now where Twenty20 is a craze. The only real opportunity for guys outside the big international teams is to try and play in T20 competitions. I think it's fantastic, with the kind of opportunities it presents. It definitely raises the standards by getting some of the big players from other countries to play in domestic competitions.
Do you think the sense of home advantage is slowly disappearing?
Home advantage is getting lesser, gradually. Players are playing in all conditions all the time. Given the homework and preparation that go into tours now, I don't think the conditions factor is as big as it was 15-16 years ago.
What has given you the most satisfaction - the World Cup hundreds, the Essex performances or the Twenty20 performances?
That is a difficult question to answer. [I think] any close game where I can help my team get over the line. But I have had most of my success at Essex. Most of my fond memories are from helping Essex do really well.
Have you always been so fleet-footed against spin? Watching you hit those sixes, against Somerset, it seemed as if it came naturally to you.
I sometimes get a bit tied up against spin. But I have made it a point to watch the ball closely, and it has helped. I do like to get after the spinners and I think that is the best way to play them.
How much has playing for Netherlands meant to you?
The opportunity to play international cricket for Netherlands has been fantastic. We have had some special times, especially beating England in the World Twenty20 in 2009 and running them close in the World Cup 2011. It's been a privilege to play for Netherlands.
And the experience of playing in Zimbabwe?
Given the problems that Zimbabwe have had to overcome, it was heartening to see the progress they have made. The domestic Twenty20 competition was so well run that I was surprised and impressed. They have lots of potential.
Paul Strang said that coming from Africa, the culture in New Zealand is totally different. What do you make of that?
What struck me about New Zealand was a comparative lack of resources. It is quite a tough place to play domestic professional cricket. But as a small nation, they always do really well in tournaments like the World Cup.
After all this, what will you remain at heart - a South African or a Dutchman?
I will always remain a South African at heart. I was brought up there and I still spend half my time there. I grew up following South African sport.
I am so grateful for all the experiences I have had. I could have never imagined getting so much out of cricket. I started very late and got a break for Essex and a chance to play for Netherlands. Playing for a side like Kolkata has been the pinnacle. I just hope to bring a bit of enjoyment to people who watch me play.
When you finally call it a day, where will you settle down?
Because you get to go around so much, you only see the best about places in four to six weeks. I guess my home is still Cape Town. If I were to push for a second home, I'll go for Hobart.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo