"Coming from being involved with Australia, I didn't even care about Associate cricket back then, because I didn't know it." These are the words of a man who now wears his cricket heart on his orange-coloured new Dutch sleeves.
Ryan Campbell is just over two months into his tenure as Netherlands head coach, after having spent several years as part of the Hong Kong national set-up. Even with his team four months out from their next one-day fixtures in the WCL Championship, he's on the road in Edinburgh, getting a look at future opponents Namibia in their one-day series against Scotland. Netherlands have four games left in the competition, against Kenya and Namibia towards the end of the year. If they win them all, they will clinch the title, and with it ostensibly a return to ODI status. (The ICC said earlier this year that the winner will be included in the proposed 13-team ODI league for 2023 World Cup qualification.)
The last three years have been trying for Dutch cricket. They have had to expend energy to reclaim the ODI status - and the funding that goes with it - that was lost at the 2014 World Cup Qualifier. But Netherlands are on the cusp of accomplishing the targets they have been craving and Campbell has been tasked with seeing it through.
"By winning these four games [in the WCL Championship], we can leave a footprint in Dutch cricket for the next decade, I have no doubt," Campbell said during his scouting assignment in Scotland. "Then we'll tackle the next hurdle and get a structure and blueprint that can push Dutch cricket forward for the next ten years, not just the next one or two.
"I think that's what happens in Associate cricket. Everything's a short-term fix because you don't quite know what's going to happen, because the cycle is four years for ODI status. If you're at the qualifiers and you advance, you get your status and funding and away you go. If you lose it, you're in trouble." It's something Dutch cricket knows all too well now.
For Hong Kong, Campbell served as assistant batting coach, and he subsequently made his debut for them as an opening batsman during the 2016 World T20.
Campbell had been living and coaching in Hong Kong for several years in his role as the head coach at Kowloon Cricket Club, one of two anchor clubs on the Hong Kong domestic scene. He had also been serving as an assistant coach with the national team, and though he was content with life in Hong Kong, he was in search of a challenge and wanted to see how he could do leading a side as "the main man".
"Our season in Holland is four months. If that means sending players to Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, or if an Australian with a Dutch passport is playing in Australia, I'd be stupid to say we're not going to pick him"
Campbell felt strongly about representing Hong Kong because of his ancestral ties to the country; his paternal grandmother was a Chinese woman born in Kowloon. Campbell's wife was born and raised in Hong Kong, but to Dutch parents, and both he and his wife had Dutch passports.
He says he kept tabs on Dutch cricket going back to former batsman Michael Swart's stint in the national side, something partly set in motion by Campbell.
"I had always had a close eye on Netherlands cricket from way back, because I think it started when I was living in Perth and I owned a management company. I did the deal to get [former batsman] Michael Swart to the Netherlands," Campbell said. "So once he started playing, obviously I kept a close eye on how he was going and met some of the players and knew how they were going and had a bit of a background. In Perth cricket circles, there's lots of ex-players, the Tim Zoehrers and Michael Dightons, who had always spoken about Dutch cricket."
Campbell said he first applied to be Netherlands coach in 2014 but was passed over in favor of Anton Roux. Last year, the Netherlands board (KNCB) called on him to fill the vacancy left by Roux when he left.
When Campbell made himself available for Hong Kong selection heading into the World T20, he had a conversation with coach Simon Cook and director of cricket Charlie Burke in which they asked if he would be available to help out for WCL Championship fixtures through the end of 2017. The top four teams in the eight-team competition would clinch spots in the 2018 World Cup Qualifier.
Campbell's availability for away tours was limited due to his primary job with Kowloon, and he had to withdraw himself from selection for the WCL Championship tour of Kenya last November. However, he was in line to be picked for the home series against Netherlands in February. Just when he was going to make his one-day debut for Hong Kong, he got a call regarding the state of his application for the Netherlands job.
"They were in Dubai at the time, at the Desert T20, when I was told that I was going to be the coach," Campbell said. "The funny thing was, I actually was told by Charlie Burke that I was going to be selected to play for Hong Kong against the Netherlands. Obviously without officially telling them that I was going to be the coach, I withdrew from my ability to play.
"Look I don't think I needed to play. I think Hong Kong cricket is getting pretty strong in their batting. As we've seen the Anshuman Raths have come forward, but I think Simon wanted that experienced head just for Babar Hayat to talk to during games. We don't have Jamie Atkinson all the time now, we don't have Mark Chapman all the time, obviously Irfan Ahmed's not playing anymore [under ICC suspension]. So there were holes, I guess, and until the youngsters, Shahid Wasif and those ones, can step up, I guess the theory was, let's have an experienced head in the camp."
Whether he was needed or not as a player, or an assistant coach, Campbell's departure continues Hong Kong's brain drain of 2017. Burke departed after seven years, while chief executive Tim Cutler resigned not long after the conclusion of the acclaimed Hong Kong T20 Blitz. Campbell admits that the departures do not leave a good impression on the public, though he believes Cook and Mark Wright, Burke's replacement as director of cricket, are on track.
"In some sense Hong Kong were very lucky that they had such a wealth of talent to go to because the two big clubs, Hong Kong CC and Kowloon CC, happened to hire Simon Cook and me," Campbell said. "So Charlie had at his access blokes that could help, and obviously he formed a very strong bond.
"Tim Cutler came in and did a fantastic job, in my opinion, for the time he was there, and Max Abbott made it very professional and was striving forward with the Blitz having 12 million hits. So yes, it was very successful. Everyone leaving, it's not perfect. I'm, to be honest, pretty disappointed with some of the stuff that's gone on.
"Obviously Charlie has been such a great person for Hong Kong cricket. Maybe he had gone through enough of the cycle. He needed to probably take a step back and relax. I'm not convinced Tim Cutler should have been outed or left, whatever you want to call it. I just think he is that passionate person that could drive them forward and had views of where they needed to go. It is tough, and I just hope that the board find their way. In the last two or three years, it's one of the stories that we look at with such fondness because it's such a success story."
The Hong Kong experience is in the rear-view mirror now. Campbell has settled in the western Amsterdam suburb of Haarlem. In his short time in the job, he says he has made increased use of technological tools a point of emphasis with players. Every player has installed a series of apps on their phone, including one that helps track improvements for daily training and fitness by logging inputs for each session. He has also laid out new mandatory weekly training sessions for Netherlands-based players in an effort to enhance team chemistry.
" I keep saying to the Dutch board, we don't need 20 or 50 of them to come out at once. We only need two or three quality players in the next five years to bolster the numbers"
"I'm a big believer that the cap that you wear represents more than yourself, and I'll always push my players to understand that when you play for the Dutch, you bleed orange," Campbell said. "You give everything. You give your heart and your soul to that cap, that shirt on your back. That's how we need to be seen.
"The Dutch, we don't have a million brilliant players but we have some battlers who will fight and fight and fight. You just have to look at our captain [Peter Borren] to know that when he crosses that line, mate, he goes to war, and we need ten blokes to go in with him. So we'll always strive for that and push and push and work as hard as we can."
The first opportunities to demonstrate that are against Zimbabwe this week in a series of one-dayers. Netherlands will also be hosting UAE soon after for 50-over matches, and then heading to Ireland in August for an Intercontinental Cup match. Campbell said he is hoping they may be able to schedule 50-over matches with Ireland too, particularly since Ireland's proposed series against Afghanistan was called off. The benefit of most of these fixtures is that unlike the four WCL Championship matches with Kenya and Namibia, ODI status isn't at stake.
"Against Zimbabwe, Roelof van der Merwe and Timm van der Gugten will only play the first two games," Campbell said. "So in that last game there's going to be names that people haven't seen very much before. That's a great opportunity for me to expose them.
"You'll see the Zulfiqar brothers, a young Tobias Visee, a lot more, Fred Klaasen a lot more, Shane Snater will be bowling a lot more. That's what I'll have to do to prepare us for the next stage."
As much as Campbell wants the younger players to step up, he is fully aware that when the 2018 World Cup Qualifier comes around, he has no choice but to pick his best eligible XI. As such, he has no hesitation in casting a wide net to find more Dutch passport-holders who may be open to suiting up for Netherlands.
"We have guys in New Zealand now as well who are pushing their case," Campbell said. "Our biggest issue for me is that our season in Holland is four months. I need to basically send them all over the world to get them playing a lot more. If that means sending them to Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, or if an Australian with a Dutch passport is playing in Australia in the best competition, I'd be stupid to say we're not going to pick him."
Despite the team's position at the top of the WCL Championship table, Campbell said they are far from a polished outfit. They need to find a more consistent opening pair, for instance, before the 2018 Qualifier. However, he thinks the fast bowling unit - spearheaded by van der Gugten and Paul van Meekeren - provides them a legitimate shot at competing with Ireland, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, and most likely West Indies, for one of the two qualifying berths available for the 2019 World Cup.
"Can we beat those teams? We've seen in the past [Netherlands'] record against England in World Cups is quite amazing. What we need to do to be successful is that consistency, and that's what I'm striving for, so day one we play exactly the same as day two, three and four. We just need to prepare accordingly to get our player stocks ready to go and expose our youngsters to high-octane cricket.
"The West Indies, they're vulnerable because a lot of their players want to play IPL, so that sucks out a lot of their talent. Afghanistan are a great story. I think all the success stories have been the ones with great supply lines. Ireland, people say they might be slipping, but I still see them as one of those benchmarks, because again, they have a supply line. They have massive numbers playing cricket. Scotland is the same, they have good numbers.
"Our test is always going to be the numbers of people playing. I keep saying to the Dutch board, we don't need 20 or 50 of them to come out at once. We only need two or three quality players in the next five years to bolster the numbers.
"The next year or two is going to be very exciting for Dutch cricket. We are at a stage where we want to take the game forward, for Netherlands to be left in a better position than it is now for the next generation of Dutch players and hopefully get more playing."