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Agony turns ecstasy as World Cup pendulum swings Netherlands' way

Dutch dream still alive as unlikely helping hand from UAE sends Namibia packing home, writes Alex Malcolm

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
Netherlands' agony turned to ecstasy and their flights home were cancelled  •  ICC via Getty Images

Netherlands' agony turned to ecstasy and their flights home were cancelled  •  ICC via Getty Images

The agony and the ecstasy of a sometimes cruel game.
At 6.42pm local time on Thursday night in Geelong, Netherlands captain Scott Edwards left the press conference podium at Kardinya Park a dejected man. His side had just lost their first game of the T20 World Cup, falling 16 runs short of Sri Lanka. Edwards had held a brave face at the podium and a hint of Dutch optimism.
"They're just cut-throat tournaments, aren't they," Edwards said. "We think we've played a lot of good cricket in all three of the games. But yeah, the nature of these tournaments, one little slip-up, 15-20 runs and you can be knocked out. Hopefully, UAE can get up and we're still going tomorrow."
But in reality, he knew his side was up against it. Namibia, who had thumped Sri Lanka just five days earlier, only had to beat the winless UAE to progress to the Super 12s and send the Dutch side packing, having lost just one game of three in this early group phase and two games out of eight including the qualifiers in July.
There were discussions happening already in the Dutch camp about an early flight home on Friday morning. There was debate about where to watch the next game, whether to stay and watch it in the stands or in the rooms, or at the hotel. Edwards himself was contemplating his next golf game and a summer in Australia, as a dual passport holder, having been away from family and friends for most of the year.
Edwards opted to watch the second match with friends in the stands, while some of his team-mates gathered in the players' dining area.
They had time to contemplate what had gone wrong for them against Sri Lanka as they watched UAE crawl to 115 for 3 after 18 overs on the best Kardinya Park pitch of the week. The Dutch had been the best bowling unit of the group, understanding that simplicity was the key at Kardinya, only to fall short at the final hurdle against Sri Lanka. Their frugal hard lengths and straight lines gave way to some leg-side mistakes as Kusal Mendis helped himself to 79 of 44 balls, with five leg-side sixes, to help Sri Lanka post the biggest total of the week at 162 for 6.
"I think the wicket was definitely a lot better than what we've played on in previous days," Edwards said post-match. "In those first two games, it was a lot easier to hold your line and your length. A couple of those Sri Lankan boys there were moving around in the crease, got ahold of us, and potentially our lines and our lengths weren't what we needed on that wicket. At the same time, I think to keep them to 160 in the end there with lots of wickets in hand was still a good effort."
But the UAE team had been paying attention to Sri Lanka's tactic of back-ending the innings with wickets in hand, as the ball was sliding on far better than it had in previous games this week.
David Wiese and JJ Smit erred at the death in the same way the Netherlands' bowlers had done and CP Rizwan and Basil Hameed clobbered three sixes and two fours between them in 12 balls to lift UAE to a very competitive total of 148 for 3.
Suddenly there was optimism in the Dutch camp again. As good as the pitch had played compared to the previous matches at Kardinya, Netherlands were acutely aware of how difficult it was to chase, given their net run-rate was the reason they were on the brink of elimination having needed almost 20 overs to chase 112 and 122 earlier in the week.
"It's quite hard to build a net run-rate chasing on those wickets, just the nature of it," Edwards had said earlier. "Batting first, potentially you can try and get a little bit of a bigger score on and squeeze, but I think chasing it was all about getting to the total. 120 wasn't an easy total just to knock off in 12-13 overs."
Optimism turned to excitement as three Namibia wickets fell in the powerplay and they were barely scoring at a run-a-ball. Cameras peaked into the Dutch dining area to catch Vikramjit Singh, Tim Pringle and Paul van Meekeren wearing broad smiles alongside a young UAE supporter who had joined them. At 43 for 3 they left the building, but Edwards remained in the stands.
Two more wickets fell as Edwards posed for selfies in the crowd. But he turned ashen-faced when Wiese struck his first six. But when Jan Frylinck and Zane Green were castled by Zahoor Khan in the same over, Edwards was jumping out of his seat and fist-pumping with elation.
At 70 for 7, Netherlands' skipper left his friends and sprinted down the snaking concourse at the back of Reg Hickey stand on the way to the hotel.
Only Wiese stood in the way of the Netherlands' change in flight plans for the morning. And he almost pulled it off. In the blink of an eye, the equation went from 64 off 30 to 20 off 12. Tom Cooper must have had flashbacks to 2014 when he and Stephan Myburgh pulled off a similar T20 World Cup heist against Ireland .
No one was game to write off Wiese. But Muhammad Waseem proved to be UAE and Netherlands' hero. Three overs after dropping Wiese to almost sink Dutch hopes, Waseem forced him to hole out to Alishan Sharafu who took an outstanding catch tightrope walking the longest boundary at Kardinya Park.
Netherlands' agony turned to ecstasy and their flights home were cancelled. At 10.31pm it was Wiese and Namibia who were left despondent and dejected at the cruelty of this game.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo