June 5, 2009, a date etched in Dutch cricket lore. It was the first day of the 2009 World T20 and organisers scheduled England to play Netherlands at Lord's, trying to turn what normally would have been a low ticket game against unfancied opposition into a sellout by virtue of being the tournament curtain-raiser.
Three hours later, the Dutch had pulled off one of the most improbable upsets in cricket history in a last-ball, four-wicket win. Few had expected Netherlands, a group of mostly amateur players, to be able to compete with England. That included a number of the Dutch players themselves.
Nine years later, Netherlands captain Pieter Seelaar is leading a near fully professional Dutch side for a T20 tri-series with the MCC and Nepal, the latter of which will be Netherlands' first T20Is at Lord's since the group matches played against England and Pakistan at the 2009 World T20. Seelaar and Ryan ten Doeschate are the only two members left from that famous win in a Netherlands side now full of professionalism and expectations, the pre-eminent Associate by virtue of their status as the only one included in the 13-team ODI League scheduled to get underway in 2020. It's a far cry from how the team turned up at Lord's nearly a decade ago.
"We were back then a very amateur side and we were here more enjoying the experience, whereas now not only us but the whole Associate community, so to speak, expect themselves to put up a big fight against the big nations," Seelaar told ESPNcricinfo. "Back then we were a very small, small country, as we still are, but we were very amateurish in the way we went about our cricket. We were just hoping to get a good experience out of Lord's and it actually turned out to be one of the great victories - not only for Dutch cricket but also for Associate cricket."
Leading into the 2009 World T20, there was little indication that the Dutch would have even the slightest chance of standing toe-to-toe with England, let alone slay them. In their first two warm-up matches against Bangladesh and New Zealand, they conceded totals of 206 and 194 in a pair of lopsided defeats. A tied match with Ireland followed, with the Dutch losing in a Super Over after scores were level on 135.
But all three of those matches were played without Dirk Nannes, who had recently been drafted into the Dutch squad. In their final warm-up match against Scotland, Nannes took the new ball and turned in a spell of 0 for 13 in four overs to restrict the Scots to 128 in an eventual seven-wicket win. Seelaar says that knowing Nannes was going to be making his official T20I debut at Lord's gave the side a bit of a spark.
"Obviously that gave us a bit of confidence because Ryan ten Doeschate was also in the squad," Seelaar says. "But we were hoping for an upset because that's generally what you do. You hope to play well and you never know what happens, whereas nowadays you expect to create an upset somewhere along the line.
"What I remember vividly is just walking into the Long Room and you're playing England. One of the things Darron Reekers mentioned is that, 'Well, they're probably going to be as nervous as us because they have to play a minor nation in front of their home crowd in the opening game of the World T20.' So they're gonna be as nervous as we were. As the game showed, even the full-time professionals playing the amateurs, it doesn't matter who is on the field because you're going to be nervous playing in any World Cup game."
Even though Nannes went wicketless once again, Netherlands managed to tie England down in the second half of the first innings. Despite a 102-run opening stand between Luke Wright and Ravi Bopara, England lacked the ruthlessness down the order they have now. Wright got out for 71 on the second ball of the 18th over, after which England failed to score a boundary.
Just three days after turning 22, Seelaar bowled a pivotal 19th over, conceding only six runs and taking the wicket of England captain Paul Collingwood to wrap up his four-over spell of 1 for 33. Nannes then followed up by bowling a very tight seven-run over in the 20th to hold England to 162 for 5.
That final over of the first innings was when Seelaar says the Dutch began to sense they might have an outside chance at an upset. It wasn't until the halfway point of the chase though that those upset thoughts truly started to materialise.
"Peter Borren slog swept Paul Collingwood into the second tier and I think from there, because that was such a not only a big six but a massive moment in the game where the slow bowlers were the most difficult to face, we actually started to play some decent shots as well," Seelaar said. "Tom de Grooth hit a couple of fours off Adil Rashid over midwicket, even reverse sweeping him through point.
"I think it was all around the 10th, 11th overs and that's where we started to feel like we're actually supposed to win this game now. That's where it was quite handy that when the [fourth] wicket fell, Ryan came in and he coasted us home together with the other guys coming in."
"I felt really proud of the Dutch cricketers as they were seen as amateurs back then. I was like, these guys can beat England and if I train more and harder than those guys, I can beat England when I'm big as well."
Bas de Leede
The victory made from page news in the Netherlands, which was quite handy since a nine-year-old Bas de Leede slept through the finish. His mom and dad, Dutch legend Tim de Leede, were at Lord's that night but because they could only secure two tickets it meant that Bas stayed at home and was sent to bed early by his aunt who was there to babysit. But waking up to the news of the upset was inspiring.
"For me, I felt really proud of the Dutch cricketers as they were seen as amateurs back then," de Leede said. "I was like, these guys can beat England and if I train more and harder than those guys, I can beat England when I'm big as well. So it motivated me to really try and get something out of my cricket, start training harder and play as much cricket as I can because I saw what was possible with guys that to be fair were still amateurs."
The magnitude of such upsets against Full Members is tangible when witnessing an 18-year-old de Leede today, who is in London as the youngest member of the Netherlands touring squad. Seeing Netherlands beat England nine years ago filled him with hope. His burgeoning career as a cricketer today is tangible evidence for expanding the number of teams in World Cups instead of shrinking the numbers.
"To be able to play in a World Cup and play against the big teams is more of a motivation. If you pull off a victory against India or England instead of playing World Cricket League matches against smaller sides, which are still good cricket matches but I think it motivates the youth less and makes them choose other career pathways instead of cricket," de Leede says. "If the highest you can reach is playing against other Associate members, it isn't what you aspire to be as a cricketer.
"You aspire to play the best teams and beat them, and because of the reduction to the World Cup, you don't get these chances to play the Full Members often anymore and some teams will not play them at all, which is bad for Holland because it's already a small sport and it was only going to get smaller if we didn't qualify for the ODI League."
Though he wasn't at Lord's for the win against England, he was able to fly in to join his dad a few days later for Netherlands' encounter with Pakistan. Taking in the occasion of a World Cup match at Lord's with Netherlands was further inspiration, even in defeat. Now, de Leede is looking to pay that forward with a possible appearance in the starting XI at Lord's, having made his T20I debut last month in the tri-series against Ireland and Scotland.
"There's obviously quite a few sportsmen who know what it is to create an upset like that but for me it was just pure emotion, happiness. What do you remember? Not a hell of a lot. I know after that we watched the highlights on the screen. That's when I came to realise we actually won."
"When I was sat in the stands, I didn't even think about playing at Lord's one day," de Leede says. "But now that the opportunity is there, I'd say it's every cricketer's dream to be able to play at Lord's and if it comes true, then it's one of the greatest moments of my cricketing career but if it doesn't, I hope there's plenty more chances to come.
"I'll definitely keep pushing myself until I reach the level to play at Lord's more often. I remember the image of me sitting in the stands as a young kid and I hope to be playing out there for a lot of young kids as well and inspiring them to grow up playing cricket, be the best they can and try to play for their country."
In a summer that has seen record heat wave roll through the UK, the return for Netherlands has been spoiled somewhat by rain returning on Sunday morning at Lord's, causing the scheduled T20 tri-series fixture with an MCC side captained by Mahela Jayawardene to be shortened ahead of the scheduled T20I vs Nepal. But it hardly dampens the impact of the occasion in de Leede's life, nor the memories Seelaar has of the final moments of victory.
"It was pure emotion that came out. What I know is it was a long sprint and after it was a lot of hugs," Seelaar said. "I mean there's obviously quite a few sportsmen who know what it is to create an upset like that but for me it was just pure emotion, happiness. What do you remember? Not a hell of a lot. I know after that we watched the highlights on the screen. That's when I came to realise we actually won and it was a good day but in between that it was pure happiness."