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Feature

Fred Klaassen: 'I need to learn on my feet quicker. I don't have ten or 15 years'

The Netherlands seamer, who will be playing against England this month, talks about his late start and circuitous route to international cricket

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
14-Jun-2022
Fred Klaassen bowls, New Zealand vs Netherlands, 3rd ODI, Hamilton, April 4, 2022

Fred Klaassen found it tough to make it in cricket in New Zealand, and then switched to playing club cricket in the UK and the Netherlands  •  Michael Bradley/AFP/Getty Images

Fred Klaassen laughs at the end of a sprawling five-minute answer about his route into international cricket. "It's certainly not the same as most players," he says in a thick New Zealand accent, "but that's just how it's worked out."
Many cricket fans view the idea of nationality in binary terms but Klaassen is a living, breathing counter-example: born in Sussex, brought up in New Zealand and Australia, representing Netherlands. Associate cricket is filled with players who have similar stories, including many other players in the Dutch squad who will play England in three ODIs in Amstelveen over the next week.
As his surname suggests, Klaassen's ties to the Netherlands are strong, even if he did not set foot in the country until the age of 16. He has had a Dutch passport since birth. "My Dutch heritage has always been part of my life," he says.
His grandfather was born in the industrial southern city of Eindhoven. "They were a pretty poor family," Klaassen says. "His mother actually died after he was born, so he was brought up by his sister and then his father met another woman: he ended up having 14 siblings who lived in one house.
"He fought in Indonesia with the Dutch during World War Two, and when he went back home to the Netherlands, he realised that his life had been pretty s**t. He wanted a new life and in 1955 he got on a boat, like a lot of Dutchies did around that time. He migrated to New Zealand, where there's a massive Dutch community. It's a young country, so lots of people have migrated from somewhere - it's only ever two or three generations away."
Klaassen is a late developer by cricket standards: he signed his first Kent contract shortly before turning 26. As he points out, that is the average age at which county cricketers leave the game, according to the Professional Cricketers Association. His dream to play professional had "faded a little bit" in his early 20s as he struggled for opportunities, before then spending time playing club cricket in the UK and the Netherlands.
"Growing up, I always wanted to be a professional cricketer but I didn't get the opportunity in New Zealand," he says. "I finished school and university there and after my degree, I did a bit of gardening and worked in a couple of cafés doing hospitality work - pretty mundane jobs.
"After about 12 months in the Netherlands, I realised there might be an opportunity to play for the Dutch side. There was a new coach coming in, Ryan Campbell, who is probably the biggest influence in my cricket career to date. He gave me the opportunity and in my year with the Dutch side, my cricket really improved - probably because I was in that sort-of-professional environment which I'd craved from the age of 17.
"When I got my opportunity with the Dutch side, I just decided to put all my time and effort into cricket and see where I ended up.
"I'm 29: most of the guys my age are senior players or captain, or have played for England, but my career is very different. I still feel quite young as a cricketer because I haven't had a long professional career. I need to learn on my feet a bit quicker. I don't have ten or 15 years."
After making his Netherlands debut in 2017, Klaassen played two T20 friendlies against Kent a year later and took 4 for 44 across his eight overs, including the wickets of Carlos Brathwaite and Joe Denly. Kent liked the look of the tall left-arm seamer and wondered if he could provide their attack with a point of difference; after a brief trial, he signed professionally later that year.
Since then he has been a key player in their T20 team: he was their second-highest wicket-taker when they won the Blast in 2021, earned a contract extension until the end of 2024, and was retained by Manchester Originals after a solid season in the inaugural Hundred.
Kent have given Klaassen a level of financial security that is near-impossible to find in Associate cricket but the drawback is that his county commitments have limited his availability for Netherlands. He has been named in the squad to play England but when we speak, he only expects to be available for the third ODI and is due to arrive in Amsterdam on the morning of the game, the day after playing against Gloucestershire in the Blast in Canterbury.
In theory, counties have to allow their players to play for their Associate teams in ICC events, qualifiers, the ODI Super League, and any ODI or T20I against a Full Member; in practice, players and boards accept that enforcing that protocol would result in some players losing their county deals, and others retiring from international cricket altogether.
"It's a bit different for the Netherlands compared to, say, playing for England," Klaassen says, "especially this season because there's a heavy Dutch fixture list right in the summer of English cricket. It makes it really hard. It's pretty chaotic, but I love playing for the Dutch side.
"You don't get the chance to play international cricket all the time, especially coming up against some of the Test-playing nations that they've got this summer. I want to be part of as many as I can, but unfortunately, it's tricky. It's the nature of playing county cricket in England and then trying to play in the Dutch side as well, and obviously there's a few other guys in the same boat that haven't been available.
"Kent have been pretty fair in the last couple of years in letting me play, but properly clashing this season makes it so much harder. At the end of the day, Kent pay my salary and you have to look after the hand that feeds you. The nature of Dutch cricket is that there isn't a lot of money there, and probably not a whole lot of power."
Earlier this year, several players who were in the final years of their respective contracts missed Netherlands' tour to New Zealand in order to spend pre-season with their counties. "We need to look after our careers first," Klaassen says. "Each individual has to juggle it themselves. It's not easy.
"Missing the experience of Colin Ackermann, Roelof van der Merwe, Timm van der Gugten - it's a big loss. But in saying that, the younger Dutch squad that played without the county players against West Indies did bloody well. They were unfortunate not to get a win actually, especially in that last game. It's great experience for them."
Among those players, Klaassen highlights two 19-year-olds in Vikramjit Singh, the stylish opening batter, and Aryan Dutt, the offspinner who dismissed Nicholas Pooran three times in as many innings against West Indies. He has high hopes for Bas de Leede, the 22-year-old allrounder, too: "He's the best thing coming through Dutch cricket at the moment… he's got a s**tload of talent. He could really go to the top.
"They're only going to get better when they jump in at the deep end. That's my biggest takeaway from professional cricket. You think that players are so far ahead of you or you watch them on TV and put them on a pedestal. Then you come up against them and play them some more and you start to realise you can compete."
Ryan Cook, the interim head coach, will continue to take charge against England. ( Campbell has been sidelined with heart trouble.) Netherlands' next major assignment will be the T20 World Cup Qualifiers in Zimbabwe next month, and they will look to put a surprise exit in the initial group stage in 2021 behind them.
As for their chances of causing an upset, as they did in the 2009 and 2014 T20 World Cups? "The next step for us is putting a full team performance together," Klaassen says. "We saw Ireland defeat England in 2020 and in the past two T20Is against England, the Dutch knocked them over. It's a bit of a banana skin, you could say.
"The new England coach, Matthew Mott, probably has a bit of expectation and a bit of pressure on him - he doesn't want to lose to a non-Test-playing nation, especially with [Brendon] McCullum just winning the first Test. On the Dutchies' day, if everyone clicks, we could definitely get a win."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98