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Interviews

Paul van Meekeren: 'In the future, Netherlands can win four or five World Cup games without it being surprising'

The Netherlands fast bowler on the win over South Africa, his viral three-year-old tweet, and why Roelof van der Merwe compared him to his dog

Immediately after Netherlands caused one of the biggest upsets in ODI World Cup history by successfully defending a modest target of 245 against South Africa under lights in Dharamsala, Dutch fast bowler Paul van Meekeren was trending. An old tweet from him, from November 2020, went viral. Van Meekeren was sustaining himself as a food delivery driver in Bristol at the time, when that year's T20 World Cup was scheduled to be played, though it cancelled in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic.
Three years on, van Meekeren is at his first ODI World Cup, leading the Dutch bowling attack admirably. In this conversation on Tuesday, he talks about his pride at being part of cricket history, and his journey so far.
When we spoke in September, you said: "Hopefully we can upset a few teams, like we did in the [2022] T20 World Cup, and just cause a bit of chaos in the landscape." You have done that with the win against South Africa. You must be proud and happy?
I'm very happy. This is one upset. I said probably a couple [of upsets] to really change the landscape of the tournament, but yeah, it was a great first step in achieving that on a personal note. From a team point of view, we've really targeted that semi-final. After four games we were a little bit further away from that than we probably would have wanted to be - especially the Pakistan game, where we didn't [make the most of] our opportunities. Sri Lanka was a big opportunity for us, but we just didn't bowl and bat well enough in the first 20 overs in both innings.
It doesn't mean we played bad cricket, but at this level you can't play okay or average cricket to win games - we just need to play good cricket. The South Africa game wasn't the perfect game for us, which we might have needed five or ten years ago to beat one of these teams. [But] we had a good day. We had a poor first half of the first innings, but it was brilliantly finished off by Scotty [Edwards], Roelof [van der Merwe] and Dutty [Aryan Dutt]. And then we were on it with the ball from the first moment. Hopefully we can get better starts in the last five games, and we can actually really start competing for another three wins.
Did you ever think it would be South Africa that you would beat first?
No and yes. No, because especially after the way they played their first two games, they seemed to be firing on all cylinders. And yes, because I believed that their batting line-up, even though it's super-strong and powerful with [Marco] Jansen coming in at seven, there was an opportunity for us if we can take three, four quick wickets early. That's what happened. Jansen had shown that he can bat against England, but we had a clear plan. He is dangerous when he is batting in the last ten overs, and not when there's another 20 or more overs to go.
So it was not a complete surprise.
Can you talk about the emotion of what such wins mean to an Associate player? Immediately after the South Africa upset, you were trending on social media because people brought up your tweet from 2020 about having to work as an Uber Eats driver. From there to playing a big hand in a World Cup win - did you need to pinch yourself?
No, I wouldn't say so. The Uber Eats stuff was fun and it's what was needed at that time, but it's not that I'm new to international cricket. It would have been nice to have a few more upsets behind my name. But we did it last year too [at the T20 World Cup]. We know what we're capable of.
After the South Africa game there was some footage of me jumping around and celebrating with the crowd. We were super excited. And when we got back to the hotel, we had a few drinks with some friends and family, but after that the South Africa game was behind us and we were fully focused on [the next match against] Sri Lanka.
That shows where we are as a national team now. In the past it would've been: okay, we won the game, we did what we had to do at this World Cup, and we would write and talk about the game for a long time. But this time we set our sights on Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, we didn't have the game we wanted. But that's not because of the previous game and that we were still tired or excited from that win.
As for working briefly for Uber Eats, it was just making sure I could pay my bills and just being patient and waiting for cricket to start. I loved my experience in Covid, not just Uber Eats but some of the other stuff that I did, work-wise. Like setting up a Dutch players' association - that's very valuable to me. It was a period in my life where I had the opportunity to do other things than cricket and work on my personal development. That made me a better cricketer today.
In the South Africa match, you played a leading hand, first by cleaning up Aiden Markram, who had cracked the fastest century in World Cup history against Sri Lanka. What was the bowling plan there?
It was just hitting a hard length, top of the stumps, almost like Test-match lengths. We knew there was enough in the wicket and if we just keep hitting the right spot for long enough, it might do something different. And on that occasion the ball skidded on a bit more, but it was just asking question after question.
In the innings break we felt that cross-seam was more valuable than seam-up. Bas de Leede got one from [Kagiso] Rabada - the ball nipped back quite a lot. For the first time in my career, I bowled every ball pretty much cross-seam and then let the pitch do the rest. Yeah, it was a good ball.
Then you broke Marco Jansen's stumps, which effectively ended South Africa's chances of chasing down the target.
The plan was quite simple: with his long arms and legs, you don't just want to pitch it up. Again, I hit the same [hard] length that skidded on nicely. He stayed very much left side of the ball, so the stumps were exposed.
"Most of the guys in the Dutch team have the ambition to play in the IPL and the other big leagues. You just can't afford to bowl a half-okay delivery. Every delivery has to be on the mark, otherwise it just goes the distance. It just shows the quality of cricket you have to play to have a chance of making franchise cricket"
Of the six World Cup wickets you have bagged so far, which have you enjoyed most?
Daryl Mitchell [against New Zealand]. He had started to attack the short boundary. He played a few shots before that, too, which signalled they were really trying to start getting into that end phase and accelerating. And that slower ball just came out perfectly and did him all ends up. That was the most satisfying wicket. And we managed to then pick up Glenn Phillips and [Mark] Chapman… we picked up their finishers quite cheaply. They got away the last few overs, which was disappointing, though.
You bowl mainly in the middle overs where teams have been scoring the bulk of their runs. You have picked up four wickets with an economy so far of 5.16 with an average of 30.75 (143 balls, 123 runs) in that phase. How have you gone about adapting to the pitches in India?
Just trying to be as consistent as you can for as long as you can. The big challenge tomorrow in Delhi [against Australia] is, the wickets seem to be quite flat. But as long as you put the ball in the right place, there has been some assistance in the wickets. I've been more used to bowling towards the last two overs of the first powerplay and then through the middle and the end. Pretty much every game we've actually been quite lucky that we haven't had to go to death bowling yet. I am sure there's going to be a couple of games where the batters will be on top and we'll need to show our death-bowling skills. At the moment we are sticking to the hard length, stump-to-stump line, top of the stumps, as long as we can until we are forced to change.
Against Sri Lanka, New Zealand, we bowled too many easy boundary balls. If we can just tidy that up, then teams are forced to take more risks - that's what we saw against South Africa and that's why we won the game.
In a chat with ESPNcricinfo recently, Roelof van der Merwe compared you to his dog in terms of attitude. "Who is chilled and just wants to lie around all day? I'll go with Paul van Meekeren," he said. Did you read that?
I saw it. I sent a screenshot to him and I was like, "Haha, well done." I know his shih-poo, Bella, very well. I was there when they picked Bella from the previous owner, who had the litter. So me and Bella go way back! What he clearly didn't tell you is that Bella is a bit of a Duracell battery and when she's not chilling and sleeping, she's running around like a madman. In a way it was actually a very nice compliment, even though he tried to take the piss out of me a little bit. Me and Bella have spent many nights on the sofa chilling while I was babysitting his kids.
Roelof is the kind of character who inspires people, isn't he?
I've been playing cricket with him since 2015 - for the Dutch team and at Somerset for three and a half years. When he is doing anything competitive, not just cricket, he just doesn't like losing. We have had it twice now this World Cup, where we had a man too far out of the [30-yard] circle - it's probably not the best time to have a camera aimed at him because he doesn't like those simple mistakes that could have been avoided.
I remember there was season at Somerset where I was bowling a few no-balls. So every no-ball I bowled, not just in a game but even at practice, I had to pay him one pound. He was watching me like a hawk at training [to ensure] I kept my foot behind the line. And even if he does it himself, he's just as hard as on himself as he is on others.
I don't know, 55 or however old he is [38], he keeps throwing that body around and keeps fighting for every run. And that's very motivating. He drags everyone with him. If you look at the team, everybody throws themselves around in the field and we've complemented each other enough in our fielding this tournament so far.
World Cups can be life-turning events. What have you learned on this trip, both as a bowler and as a person?
? It's tough. Most of the guys in the Dutch team have the ambition to play in the IPL and PSL and the other big T20 franchise leagues. You just can't afford to bowl a half-okay delivery. Every delivery has to be on the mark, otherwise it just goes the distance. It just shows the quality of cricket you have to play and the level of cricket you have to play at to have a chance of making franchise cricket, which is the new ecosystem in cricket. That's my main takeaway.
"Every team around the world in any sport strives to be better than the previous teams that represented their country. Looking back at the team I played for ten years ago and now, it is completely day and night, culture-wise and performance-wise"
You are one of the original Netherlands born-and-bred players in the side, alongside Bas de Leede and Aryan Dutt, who are also having a good tournament. Do you think this will cause an uptick in youngsters in Netherlands looking to play cricket?
There will definitely be a bit of a buzz around boys, and hopefully also girls, who see what we are doing as a team and want to be part of that success and hopefully that motivation can spark a generation that will outperform our team like we are outperforming the teams from the past. Every team around the world in any sport strives to be better than the previous teams that represented their country. Looking back at the team I played for ten years ago and now, it is completely day and night, culture-wise and performance-wise. There's no reason why guys in five to ten years' time can't come to a tournament like this World Cup and just win four or five games without being looked at as a surprise.
"We are not here to just have fun. We are here to win games of cricket and give ourselves best chance to make the next stage." That's what Scott Edwards said after the win against South Africa. You now play Australia, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, England and India. What do you need to do to cause more chaos?
We have made sure we have both feet on the ground. We keep talking about what we can do better. We are training with the same intensity. We are doing the same recovery stuff we did from day one. It's just about being consistent in whatever you do. If it's bowling, batting, sleeping, eating, stretching - it is all part of putting that performance on the field. We are not thinking, "Okay, now we can eat more junk food because we won a game." No, we still make sure we keep getting the right nutrition in. We still have to make sure we get the amount of hours of sleep in, keep doing the homework.
We will do the same thing for the quick turnaround against Australia, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, and then the same against England and exactly the same against India. And then we've just got to control what we are doing and if we control what we can do and we do it well, then we can easily win another two-three games.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo