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Paul van Meekeren: 'Our seam attack is so talented, I'll need to work my bum off to get a slot to play'

Netherlands' front-line fast bowler on his CPL stint, working odd jobs between tournaments, and coming into his second World Cup a different bowler

Deivarayan Muthu
Paul van Meekeren recently became the first Netherlands player to feature in the CPL, and he went on to win the title with St Kitts and Nevis Patriots. The 28-year-old fast bowler recounts his CPL experience, talks up Netherlands' seam attack, and looks ahead to his second World Cup.
What was it like to be the first-ever Dutch player to be picked in the CPL?
The CPL deal was sorted before I hit my form in the Royal London Cup. I had a message from Evan Speechley, who is the Royal Challengers Bangalore and Netherlands physio. He reached out to me because Malo [Malolan Rangarajan, RCB's head of scouting and Patriots' assistant coach] was scouting. Malo asked me if I was available, and Dwayne Bravo also said, "I want you to join the team because I need an opening bowler." Apparently I'd made an impression during the Global T20 Canada for him to ask me, which I wasn't aware of at all! Hopefully, I can come back and defend the title with St Kitts.
What were the major takeaways from your CPL stint?
I think I took a lot of confidence away from it, that I can compete and belong at that level, and really contribute and play those tournaments. Some of the tactics and fields that were being set were interesting and something that I definitely want to experiment with in the warm-up games before the T20 World Cup.
The whole brand of cricket in the West Indies was something I've never seen before, which is quite funny. It is almost just about hitting fours and sixes - that's the feeling I got from it - and not being scared of getting out. It's sixth gear from the start, which was very interesting.
As a bowler it was the kind of pressure I've never had to deal with before. Every now and then on the county scene I might bowl to someone like Alex Hales, Jason Roy. But you also [mostly have] players in county cricket who pace the innings and start rotating the strike and run hard. Then, as a bowler, you feel like you can build a bit of pressure, but in the CPL it's guys trying to hit you for six every single ball.
"I ended up doing food delivery because you can just open the app and start working. I didn't want to be stuck working in a restaurant where, if I got a phone call saying 'Come and train with us tomorrow', I can't tell them 'I have a job'"
How did you deal with the pressure of bowling to elite hitters like Andre Russell? You also bounced him out in one game.
I think Russell is a special case (laughs). I got him out in the first game against Jamaica and then I bowled an over to him and I went for 24-25 in another. I guess it was one-all. But Russell and probably [Kieron] Pollard, when they're on - which nine out of ten times they are - there are no words that I can find to describe the amount of pressure that you are under. If you miss by an inch, you go for six. They hit the ball so clean and so far.
I definitely didn't perform under pressure in that one over I bowled to Russell, but there's a lot of guys [like him]. It's not a one-off thing; these guys do it year in and year out. Every tournament they've got three, four games where they just take down guys for 20-plus runs an over and that's a game-changer.
You were with Bravo in the Winnipeg Hawks, who won the 2019 Global T20 Canada. How influential was Bravo's leadership to the Patriots winning the CPL this season?
I think he's just one of those captains that believes in his players. From day one he says, "We're going to win this tournament and you're here for a reason, because I believe in you and the coaching staff believe in you. We've got players that match up against certain opposition and that's how the team was built as well." I feel the guys he believed in had something that the other team would struggle against, and he probably made all those match-ups in his head.
That was unbelievable to see, the knowledge and the way he reads the game, like keeping a slip in for 15 overs or getting a short leg in when I was bowling and there was a bit of extra bounce.
I've seen things that I've never seen before. In the first game, I didn't have a mid-on at one stage and I was hit through mid-on, but I've never had a field in T20 cricket where there was no mid-on. You saw this as well with some of the other captains: against Pollard sometimes when guys bowl yorkers, there's a fielder straight behind the bowler. Some of those fields were unbelievable.
You've played county cricket in the UK, apart from the CPL and Canada stints. Has experiencing different cultures helped you grow as a person as well?
Definitely. You've got people coming from different places in the world, which is different to your life. That's one of the beauties about cricket - it's so diverse in where it's being played around the world. I think it makes you a better person and you learn about other people's lives and their ways of living, which I really, really enjoy. You will never stop learning and never stop being a better version of yourself. Hopefully, in the next few years I get the opportunity to travel a bit more and keep developing as a person and a player.
How did you get your nickname, "Smiler"?
Actually, it's not a nickname used in the Dutch team here. I think it happened at Somerset, where we have a very loyal fan base. There was a group of three, four members at Somerset who were die-hard fans, coming for the first team, second team games, and they came up with "the Smiler". In one of the first meetings with St Kitts I said, "I'm called the Smiler and if you're ever down, you can come and see me and hopefully I bring a smile to your face."
I'm lucky enough to do what I do, especially coming from an amateur country when I was growing up. There was no money in the game but it has changed for the better and we are now more professional. I get to travel around the world, play cricket and get paid for it. How can you not smile and be happy? You've got to appreciate what you've got and enjoy it, which I've been doing over the last five, six years.
Last winter, when Covid-19 struck, you worked with Uber Eats and Deliveroo to support yourself financially. How did you cope with all of that uncertainty?
I was looking for something to pay my bills at the end of the day. Unfortunately, I don't live in Holland, so I can't get a KNCB [Dutch cricket board] contract - you have to live there to get one. I lost my county contract, so I didn't have any finance coming in out of cricket. So I wanted to look for opportunities. If clubs and counties are allowed to get players from outside to train indoors, I wanted to be available. So I ended up doing Uber and Deliveroo, because you can just open the app, press start and start working. I didn't want to be stuck working in a restaurant or in a bar where, if you get a phone call saying, "Come and train with us tomorrow," I can't tell them, 'I have a job.'
There was also an opportunity to work with a software company called Quickscore that did a bit of LED screens, so I started doing that 16 hours a week during the lockdown. I really enjoyed it - it was personal development, and something I might pick up again after cricket.
I think Covid showed me that there are other things in life than just cricket. I had to hustle through winter to make a bit of income, but at the end of it, it made me a better person and a better cricketer. It made me appreciate cricket even more and the amount of enjoyment and fulfilment I get out of it. I wouldn't swap playing cricket for anything; If I wouldn't want to do it, I'm sure there are thousands of people who would want my place. I'm very much a glass-half-full kind of a guy: take it on the chin and just enjoy being with your team-mates. Make sure you hit the ground running and blow teams away come October 18th.
You are one of the more experienced players in the Netherlands set-up now. What are your thoughts looking ahead to your second World Cup?
I think people have said it: We've got one of the best seam attacks, if not the best, we've ever had, which is very exciting to be part of. It doesn't matter how many games I've played for the Dutch team or the experience I've got. Guys in our seam attack are very, very good, talented bowlers and there's no way I'm sitting here thinking, come the 18th of October I'm going to play a World Cup game. I'll need to work my bum off to get a slot to play. So that's very exciting, obviously, and in the batting, in the middle order we have Tendo [Ryan ten Doeschate], [Colin] Ackermann, who is a well-established player, which is great.
We will come across Namibia, who may not be as strong as we are on paper, but their unity in the team and the way they play their cricket, plus David Wiese now joining them... they're a very dangerous team. Ireland, their name at World Cups is "giant-killer" because they seem to beat big teams.
" I'm a glass-half-full kind of a guy: take it on the chin and just enjoy being with your team-mates. Make sure you hit the ground running and blow teams away, come October 18th"
I think we've got the upper hand over Ireland in the last few years - we've won more than we lost against them. You can't count them out - they've got so many new players, and someone like Paul Stirling has been in the form of his life. Sri Lanka have had a tough year or maybe a bit more, but they're still one of the better teams in the world and they're going to be very tough to beat. We're confident we can beat them, but it's now about preparing well, working hard, and making sure our skills and our tactics are at the highest level.
Speaking of Ireland, you must have fond memories of toppling them at the last World Cup.
I think that whole tournament was unbelievable at that time. There was a game against Bangladesh where I dropped a catch and bowled really well. It haunts me a little bit, because I believe we should've won that game, but that was a great experience overall. And then there was a bit of weather around and we didn't play against Oman.
We played against Ireland - it was only a six-over game, which was a bit of a lottery. But it was just great to be part of a World Cup, playing in front of the crowds and my family, who had travelled all the way to India, and the kind of exposure Dutch cricket got - it was a fantastic experience for a neutral person. It showed the rest of the world that Associate cricket can be exciting to watch and there's a lot of talent there. Yes, personally I had a good game against Ireland and I was lucky enough to pick up the Man-of-the-Match award, but as a team we showed that we've got some serious cricketers and that we can compete at this level.
Does winning the 2019 qualifier in the UAE give you greater confidence in the lead-up to the World Cup?
I think this is going to be a different tournament. In 2019 in the UAE, we had the pressure of qualifying as one of the favourites coming into the tournament. Then we came across the UAE side and if we had lost that game, it would have been a knockout between us and Scotland. That was a game we didn't want to play. Luckily we blew away UAE and qualified, so we could relax. That tournament had a different vibe and pressure on us than here at the World Cup.
We are expected to go through to the group stage, but we are still here to enjoy ourselves and play the World Cup. You don't get an opportunity to play a World Cup that often in your career. So to go and play and represent Holland, play with the guys around you and play for the guys around you, it's just going to be exciting.
It's hard to compare 2019 and 2021. We've played a lot of cricket in the UAE, we've got a bit of experience, but I also think every time you come to the UAE, the wickets are a little different to what we played at the same grounds. So obviously, we're watching the IPL very closely, and it could be that we rock up at Abu Dhabi in a couple of weeks' time and get flat wickets. We're just going to be ready and be prepared for every situation, and on the day we have to make the right decision and read the wicket.
Have you added new tricks and slower variations to your repertoire to suit UAE conditions?
Definitely, but I'm not going to tell you which one because maybe some of the opposition might read it or see it (laughs). I'd like to think in five years [since the 2016 World Cup] as a bowler you develop just like how batters develop, coming to the tournament with new shots. There are some new balls and new ways of thinking about bowling. I've played a bit of county cricket and some of the franchise tournaments, so taking that experience along with new options and slower balls... I'm probably a bit more confident with my yorkers now.
I might also try one or two things that I picked up from DJ's [Bravo's] captaincy, but we will wait and see if it works out in the warm-up games. If it works out there, I might use some of them in the World Cup.
There's a lot of experience in the Netherlands squad, right from ten Doeschate to yourself.
We are all confident that we can achieve something special here at this World Cup. We also don't want to get carried away by that excitement and make sure we just keep doing the little things well. When we train, we train high-quality and make sure we're not wasting the little bit of time we get at the ground. We've got very clear plans as a bowling group and I'm sure it's the same for batters, though I'm not involved in that (laughs). Whoever is going to bowl that first ball in orange, it's going to set the tone and the other bowlers will back him up, smashing it from the other end.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo