Netherlands demonstrate power of one
The Netherlands may only have one player at the ICC's Winter Training Camp (WTC) but top order batsman Tom de Grooth has no complaints about being lonely. On the contrary, the 26 year-old has thoroughly enjoyed meeting players he has only previously seen as members of opposing teams and, more importantly, believes he has taken his game forward.
"It's not been difficult at all for me," said de Grooth. "Within the first couple of days I was mixing in with the other players, I've made some good friends and had a good time. It has definitely helped my game too. I'm playing in different conditions, working with players and coaches from different countries and just the act of talking cricket every day makes you think more about what you are doing."
The fact the Netherlands are so sparsely represented at the WTC is down to a combination of factors. By the time the camp was confirmed, in September, several players in the frame for inclusion had made other commitments. Those commitments included playing overseas - one player is in New Zealand and another is in Cape Town, South Africa - permanent jobs and studies. But although de Grooth was committed to starting studies himself, he was still able to attend.
"I've just begun a four-year course in Commercial Sports Economics in Amsterdam," he said. "I have had to do some work for the course while I have been here but the good thing about it is that it is designed for sports people so they allow you to fit your sporting commitments around the studies."
So, how has the 11-week residential camp helped de Grooth improve? "Overall I think that I now know my game a lot better and I am clearer about my gameplans against certain types of bowlers," he said. "There are one or two little technical things that I have tried to bring into my game like standing more upright in my stance so I am more balanced. We have had sessions with sports psychologists and I have talked a lot about cricket with (WTC head coach) Andy Moles, (bowling coach) Bob Cottam and (spin bowling coach) John Davison.
"I'm sure the fitness work I have done has also been of benefit and I am keen to keep it up. It has become easier to concentrate for long periods and keep going when I bat and when I am in the field. The things I am doing are all relatively small but put together hopefully they will help make me a better player."
Part of de Grooth's work in Pretoria has also involved sessions with Davison trying to improve his offspin, something that he has neglected for several seasons ahead of the camp. "I had not really done much bowling for the past three or four years because of shoulder surgery," he said. "It's definitely the area I can improve most because the ideal is to make myself into another bowling option in a match, a sixth or seventh bowler in a one-day game. My bowling is not where it should be yet but hopefully the work I have put in here will mean that I will only improve with more bowling in game situations."
Those game situations may come as early as next March with the Dutch planning a tour of South Africa ahead of likely ICC Intercontinental Cup and possible ODI commitments in Kenya. And even though de Grooth has his studies to think about he said he still intends to be part of that touring squad, if selected.
"Cricket is number one for me until the World Cup," he said. "I want to make as much time for it as I can and I would love to be on that tour."
His Dutch team mates, who have been training indoors for the past month, start their World Cup build-up in earnest this weekend with a meeting to map out their preparations. And after what he has seen at the WTC, de Grooth has a clear message for that meeting.
"We are going to have to put in a lot of hard work from hereon," he said. "I have seen lots of commitment here from players and we have to match that. We have to put in extra work where we can, breaking into small groups if necessary, but the other countries with players here are all pushing forward and we must match that in order to keep up."
Realistically the Dutch will struggle to qualify for the Super Eight stage of the 2007 event given their group also includes World Champions Australia and South Africa, currently in first and second places in the LG ICC ODI Championship table respectively. But also in their group is fellow Associate country Scotland and that is the game the Dutch are already targeting.
WTC head coach Moles offered his assessment of the progress made by the Dutch batsman in Pretoria:
Tom's probably the most experienced player here and is older than most others at the WTC. As a senior player we have used him to captain one of our sides when we have played games. He has done a good job. In those matches he has made one good score but has also found ways of getting out, which is frustrating. He's got experience and ability and we have emphasised it is now time for him to come to the party and get big scores on a regular basis. Tom's biggest challenge is to make sure he is not happy with mediocrity. He has got the game and his attitude is excellent but now he must go on and make the most of the talent he has.