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March 22, 2007
Six days and a lifetime ago, Holland's captain, Luuk van Troost, faced the media ahead of their opening World Cup fixture against South Africa, and declared that his intention was to go for broke and pull off a victory. "If you don't give yourself a chance, there's no use coming to this tournament," he said. "You have to back yourself."
In the end, van Troost felt he couldn't back himself any longer, and after appearing in eight consecutive World Cup matches, dating back to 2003, he stepped aside at the age of 37 to allow his younger guns a chance to show their mettle. They obliged with a performance that stunned their more fancied Scottish opponents and secured the European bragging-rights in this most imbalanced of groups.
In the process, Holland proved the wisdom of a strategy that had, in the games against Australia and South Africa, seemed as rash as a dash across Culloden Moor. "Win the toss and bowl" was what both van Troost and Scotland's captain, Craig Wright, had done in their opening fixtures, and on both occasions they found themselves drowning in a deluge of runs.
Today, however, Holland were vindicated for their faith in their seamers and their suspicion of the conditions that, once again, were damp and steamy at the start of play after heavy overnight rain. Billy Stelling, restored to the side after injury, didn't exactly make the ball sing but he nevertheless found the sort of discipline that the big-gun openers had never permitted him to display - and for his second match running, he struck with the second ball of the match.
Scotland, meanwhile, were left to rue an ill-disciplined performance and a defeat every bit as comprehensive as the one that South Africa had subjected them to on Tuesday. The Netherlands cantered home by a whopping eight wickets with 157 balls to spare - which was only three balls more than Graeme Smith's men had needed, and one wicket fewer.
The Dutch have now won two World Cup matches in three tournaments, compared to Scotland's record of none in two. No Associate team with the exception of the Kenyans can boast a prouder record, and if the experience of Ed Joyce and Gavin Hamilton are anything to go by, no other European nation offers such promise for the future - because the cream of the Irish and Scottish crop will invariably be nabbed by England.
That fact, however, is at the crux of the decision to omit Holland from the former C&G Trophy (now Friends Provident), and at the close, their stand-in captain, Jeroem Smits, took his one last opportunity on the world stage to appeal for a rethink.
"We don't have any support from the ECB, so it will be difficult for us [to progress]," said Smits. "We have to do it all ourselves. I think today is a good day for Dutch cricket, because we showed we should be playing at least at C&G level. But I don't want to get into the politics behind that decision. I just don't think it's a good thing that they invite Ireland and Scotland and they leave Holland for what it is. But we will keep on working hard, and try to beat those teams."
They didn't just beat Scotland today, they flogged them, with Stelling supreme in the morning conditions, and Essex's Ryan ten Doeschate - demonstrating the benefit of exposure to regular one-day county cricket - unstoppable as the run-chase turned into a canter. "Ryan's was a very professional performance," said Smits, pointedly. "He was outstanding and he just makes the difference for us. Bassie [Zuiderent] batted well today as well, and he is used to the county level [with Sussex]. I think you can just see the difference."
The Dutch have a toehold in the county scene, with ten Doeschate now joined by the 17-year-old Alexei Kervesee, who has recently signed for Worcestershire. But they missed out on qualification for September's Twenty20 World Championship, ironically because of their last-ball defeat against Scotland in Kenya. It is a long old wait until their next chance on the world stage.
For Scotland, on the other hand, there was merely a familiar bout of navel-gazing, as they exited at the first hurdle with a "Played 3, Lost 3" record more usually associated with one of their World Cup football campaigns. "I have to confess I'm slightly embarrassed," said their captain, Craig Wright. "We set out to prove we are a good cricket team - which we are - but we just haven't done it."
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