England v Netherlands, ICC World Twenty20, Lord's June 6, 2009

Agricultural, impure, glorious

That Netherlands conquered a complacent England was not simply arrogance on the part of their hosts, but the benefits of relying on the basics

Well. Of all the teams to beat, they beat England. Of all the teams to lose to! How was it Netherlands? Those questions and much more besides will be ringing joyfully in Dutch ears, painfully in England's, after the lowly amateurs rudely nudged the sleeping professionals. The Netherlands' four-wicket win yesterday at a gloomy Lord's is an unlikely chirrup for Associate cricket.

The Associates - known as "lesser nations", "minnows" or simply "who?" - are often given an unfair rap, that the vast gap in quality simply doesn't warrant their inclusion in tournaments. Or, worse, that their very existence is somehow fortuitous and sneaky; the charity cases of international cricket waiting for handouts. Sometimes these are fair criticisms: despite their lack of money, each country bickers and rumbles with controversies as frequently as England or India. But then days like yesterday happen, just as Ireland shocked Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup and, briefly, the light is shone on a level of cricket much under-rated.

No one gave Netherlands a chance and, if they're honest, they wouldn't have expected to win yesterday's match either. That they conquered a complacent England was not simply arrogance on the part of their hosts, but the benefits of relying on the basics. As Kenya's coach, Andy Kirsten, told Cricinfo last year, all Associate cricketers can hit the ball just as sweetly as those from India, Australia, England or wherever else. Their technique might be agricultural and impure, or not sufficiently watertight to produce longer innings or memorable hundreds, but when chasing small totals none of that matters.

As Netherlands showed today, the sheer basics of cricket, learned in parks or schools or in the back garden, remain the most fundamental aspect of a team's success. Tom de Grooth, Darron Reekers and Ryan ten Doeschate - perhaps the best Associate batsman of them all - lack the purr of Ponting, the sheer power of Sehwag, but in Twenty20 cricket, it's not how that matters. It's how many, how quickly.

As Associates, Netherlands (and Ireland and Scotland) have so little to lose. Twenty20s are done and dusted in just 240 balls, so they might as well dispense with pragmatic thinking and overly complicated preparation and simply thwack the ball when it's there to be thwacked. The basics still apply, never more so than in this format. Some of de Grooth's strokes were as brazen as the luminous orange kit he wore, but the most obviously evident tactics were of simple cricket: keen running, picking the gaps, turning ones into twos.

"Today I was just in the zone, it worked for me," said de Grooth. "I came in at No. 4 - I was supposed to come in at 7 - but after a few early wickets I came in at 4, and said to Bas [Zuiderent] after a few balls: 'I'm just going to play my game and keep going'. It works. I think we went out there today to play brave cricket, and make England sweat. That was my natural game, how I like to play it."

We have seen so often with England in 50-over cricket their tendency to revert to the 1970s funereal method of scoring runs in the middle overs, nurdling it around asthmatically. And again today (though thanks to Netherlands' tight bowling) they only managed a below-par 73 from the final ten overs. Not so much a case of seeing the ball, hitting the ball, as evidence of minds cluttered and confused with apparently inventive plans and tactics.

Some of de Grooth's strokes were as brazen as the luminous orange kit he wore, but the most obviously evident tactics were of simple cricket: keen running, picking the gaps, turning ones into twos.

Twenty20 offers the big guns a chance to utterly demolish Associates. But in turn, the shortest format offers these so-called fledglings to hone in on the absolute basics, and give it a proper go. Such intrinsic simplicities are often disregarded when playing Associate nations, with the fair assumption that they will not sustain such basics over the course of a match. Shorten the match to 20 overs, however, and the chances of an upset - especially against a one-day side so confusingly inconsistent as England - suddenly become deliciously possible.

Ironically, it could be Associates' background that spurs them to produce these occasional and thrilling upsets. Ireland managed it in the 2007 World Cup, beating Pakistan, and now Netherlands have stunned England. Both teams contain players who have full-time jobs away from the sport, and this is so often their handicap in developing from amateurs into professionals. It pays to remember, too, that Netherlands and Co. simply don't play Twenty20s regularly, and if they do, only against a really rusty club side or two, and often on matting wickets.

"It costs a lot of money to qualify, because we have to take extra days off," admitted Jeroen Smits, the captain, "but we really don't mind. I'd love to take extra days off."

Amateur status is a constant blight on their development and Netherlands, in particular, remain angry at the ECB that they are not included in the Friends Provident Trophy along with (the England-feeder sides) Ireland and Scotland. Ireland, in particular, are the Associate team to beat nowadays, and their exposure to county cricket cannot simply be a coincidence. "I don't know [of] any cricket reasons not to be in that competition," Smits said. "This [win] speaks for itself."

For now, Netherlands are mere temporary visitors to England, but they have given their hosts the most enormous of wake-ups. Their victory today is a cautionary tale against complacency; that no matter who a side is up against, be they baggage handlers or bursars, even minnows occasionally like to win. Sometimes, they richly deserve it, too.

Will Luke is assistant editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • I on June 7, 2009, 3:32 GMT

    What about if they exit early and get thumped in the Ashes? Better to win when you can. The future is never guaranteed.

  • Girik on June 7, 2009, 2:39 GMT

    Dan-argent, the problem with your typical English attitude is that it is precisely why you won't win the Ashes. If you think there is only series worth attention, you will stuggle to win it.

    The decade long dominance of the West Indies and Australia were built on the idea that every game of cricket is serious. India and South Africa in recent times have also stuck to this philosophy, and it has paid dividends.

    Remember that England had won many consecutive Test series before conquering the Aussies in '05? And remeber that you thrashed them in the T20 warmup and were competitive in the ODI's?

    It doesn't matter whether you think T20 is clown or Mickey Mouse cricket. Half of the Test team is in the T20 squad. If they are in bad form in T20, they will definitely carry this form into the Tests. The Poms will have no momentum or confidence leading into the Ashes and will be thrashed just like last time. Your only saving grace is that Australia themselves are not what they used to be.

  • Naresh on June 6, 2009, 22:35 GMT

    Ah, Dan, it is not quite one or the other. As an England fan, I would want to see them win both. I just don't understand why you have to lose this one to win the Ashes. If anything, their morale will have taken a beating after this belting, and the English team will be worse off come Cardiff July 8.

  • prashant on June 6, 2009, 21:53 GMT

    How on earth is a world cup tournament a sideshow???As an England fan, you want them to treat both events with respect and compete seriously in both, not treat one of them with arrogance or non chalance. Why can you not have glory in both the T20 world cup and in the Ashes?It's all in the mind.

  • Walter on June 6, 2009, 21:18 GMT

    Well deserved Holland! I didnt give them a chance..but in all honesty I hoped they'd pull this one off.

    Dan What good is winning an urn..a tiny one at that when you throw a world cup away. I wonder how many football fans would preferto see England win say a champions league type of tourny compared to the European title( im not even comparing to the world cup here) Any fan would call you barking mad. If this is the wat England prepare for the ahes then they dont deserve it! You play one game at a time and give it your best..by saying that its just a world cup shows how far behind England really are compared to the rest of the cricketing world....

  • kiran on June 6, 2009, 21:01 GMT

    we have seen the weird things in the cup and but the last two days show the lottery of t-20 and all we get is the unbelievable information that cannot be true unless seen.

  • Aaron on June 6, 2009, 20:20 GMT

    Dan-argent: that is not the point. The team should be fully focused on the task at hand and play each game with the maximum of intensity and desire. especially as hosts of an ICC premier tournament. whats with you people?

  • Jayant on June 6, 2009, 18:54 GMT

    if England cant win 20 over game against Holland..how do they dream of winning 5 day match against Australia ???they need to wake up...at least they should make a contest..otherwise it will be 5-0 Aussi..

  • Darryl on June 6, 2009, 18:10 GMT

    Well done Netherlands. Really good performance and cricketing spirit. They fought really hard and gave it there all. I think that if England loss was to be blamed on the absence of 2 or 3 players against Netherlands- It has also to be considered whether you would rather see England win this tournament and be thumped by Australia, or exit it early AND STILL BE THUMPED by Australia? I know which I would prefer. Because either way I really don't see them winning the Ashes.

  • Daniel on June 6, 2009, 16:21 GMT

    This was a great achievement by the Netherlands, and a poor performance by England, but they are right to treat the World Twenty20 as a sideshow to this summer's main event. As an England fan, would you rather see England win this tournament and be thumped by Australia, or exit it early and regain the Ashes? I know which I would prefer.

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