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June 9, 2009
There was no second fairytale for Netherlands as their dreams of a Super Eights berth were shattered as quickly as Shahid Afridi ran through their batting line-up. It was the gulf in class that everyone had expected to see last Friday when, for a night at least, the cricket world was turned upside down and went a shade of orange.
This time an 82-run defeat went with the pre-tournament script, but there was no inequality in commitment and pride, from the way Netherlands fielders dived to save every run to the way they went down swinging. "It was a privilege to be here," said captain Jeroen Smits, "but maybe we are better under lights."
The Netherlands players had become celebrities overnight after the England win, the event caught the imagination back home and there were some bosses nervously checking if they'd need cover when their staff didn't show up for an extra week. Those with full-time jobs will be back at their desks in a few days time, but will have memories to last forever even after this heavy defeat.
Such was the belief in the Dutch squad after their final-ball win against England that there had been a genuine confidence that they could progress in this tournament against Pakistan, even if that seemed an absurd notion when the two teams are lined up against each other. But Netherlands had already shown that a collective will to win can make up for whatever may be lacking in class.
And, in Pakistan, they were facing a team who were hopelessly poor in their first game, a performance that was almost laughed off by their captain Younis Khan who called Twenty20 "a bit of fun." It was this combination of bubbling optimism and a lethargic opposition that actually played a part in Netherlands' defeat according to their captain.
"We were looking forward to the Super Eights because we thought we had a good chance," Smits said. "Maybe we were a bit too over confident this morning and I think Pakistan deserved to win. We didn't miss many chances so I can complain about the bowling or fielding, but the batting didn't go according to plan."
It was Pakistan's slow bowlers who proved too much to handle and they were always going to be the biggest threat to an Associate side that sees precious little mystery spin. Few Netherlands batsmen will ever have faced a doosra like Saeed Ajmal's or the rapid darts from Afridi. Smits said that despite preparing for such a task, it proved a challenge too far.
"We spoke about it this morning, especially Afridi because he doesn't spin the ball, he drifts it in and I think on this kind of wicket it skids a bit and he worked us out today as he bowled a special game. I think that's maybe the difference between Associate level and the professional level.
"We were confident in the dressing room at half time, but we needed a big innings from someone" Smits added. "We had a lot of 15s and 20s but that isn't good enough. We would loved to have seen Darron Reekers for some extra overs but that didn't happen and they bowled really well."
The most important number for Netherlands was 151 - which would have seen them progress on net run-rate even in defeat - but Smits said they'd gone out with the intention to chase down the full target. "Before we went out we said we wanted to win the game but you know how it works. Everyone heard about the target so maybe there were in two minds, but we didn't even come close so I don't think that was the case."
Throughout their brief stay at cricket's top table, the Netherlands players haven't been afraid to speak their minds. After defeating England, Peter Borren slammed the hosts' attitude to their match and there was one final, small dig from Smits towards their earlier opponents when asked what the difference was between England and Pakistan.
"The main difference was Afridi, he was really special and made life hard for us. If you compare Afridi with [Adil] Rashid there's a bit of a difference."
Now that they won't be extending their involvement in this tournament, Netherlands' thoughts turn back to their regular level of cricket and the balance between trying to maintain a professional team in an amateur set-up. The Intercontinental Cup, the Associates' first-class event, will resume later this year but already looming on the horizon is another chance to mix it with the leading lights.
The next World Twenty20 takes place in West Indies next April and the qualification for that is held in Dubai during October. "First of all we have to qualify for the next tournament which will be tough but we are all looking forward to the next T20 because we have done really well and can be proud of ourselves." This tournament ended in predictable style, but the past week has been an adventure that none of the Netherlands players will forget.
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