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Netherlands hope to keep 'intensity, dedication and spirit' intact in race for Champions Trophy spot

The team believes that a top-eight finish at the World Cup could provide long-term stability by attracting new sponsors

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Scott Edwards, as always, leading Netherlands towards good things, Netherlands vs Sri Lanka, World Cup, Lucknow, October 21, 2023

Can Netherlands secure a top-eight finish at the World Cup?  •  ICC via Getty Images

The Royal Dutch Cricket Federation (KNCB) learned via the media on Sunday that their performances at the 2023 ODI World Cup could lead to qualification for the 2025 Champions Trophy, and believe that a top-eight finish in India would provide some long-term stability by attracting new sponsors.
Shakib Al Hasan, Bangladesh's captain, blindsided some teams at the World Cup - including England - when he reiterated his side's ambition of a top-eight finish after their defeat to Netherlands in Kolkata on Saturday night in the context of reaching the Champions Trophy.
The ICC confirmed to ESPNcricinfo on Sunday that a change in the qualification process - which had previously been determined by rankings - had been ratified at a board meeting in November 2021. The change was not announced publicly at the time.
The KNCB is not represented directly at ICC board meetings - there are three Associate member directors along with the chairs of Full Member nations. Roland Lefebvre, the KNCB's high-performance manager, confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that the Netherlands World Cup squad had only learned about the qualification process after reading about it online.
Pakistan will qualify automatically as hosts, along with the seven highest-finishing teams at the ongoing World Cup. With three group fixtures left for all ten teams, Netherlands sit eighth in the World Cup points table and as things stand, would pip Bangladesh and England to Champions Trophy qualification.
Their remaining fixtures are against Afghanistan, England and India and while two wins would almost guarantee Champions Trophy qualification, one win could be enough. Netherlands' game against England in Pune on November 8 looms large as a potential qualification decider.
"We weren't aware," Lefebvre told ESPNcricinfo. "I just read the articles, and the ICC said it goes back to 2021 when it was decided. It would have been nice for them to remind the world of what the situation was and the significance of this tournament. But for us, we're still in line for the top eight."
Lefebvre confirmed details of the process with ICC officials after communication from the team on Sunday. "I relayed that back to the team, who are now aware," he said. "We will play with the same intensity, spirit, dedication and desire as in the previous six matches - but of course, the significance is huge."
Lefebvre called for greater representation of top Associates at ICC board level to avoid similar situations arising in future. "I don't like the word 'associate' because it means less," he said. "But I think we should have continuous representation of members Nos. 13-20."
In November 2021, the three Associate member directors were from Singapore (Imran Khwaja), Malaysia (Mahinda Vallipuram) and Bermuda (Neil Speight), none of whom had a men's ODI ranking and were all ranked outside of the top 30 in men's T20Is. Last year, Pankaj Khimji (Oman) replaced Vallipuram on the board.
There were three Associate member representatives on the Chief Executive Committee, which also ratified the changes in the qualification process in 2021: Rashpal Bajwa (Canada), Mubashshir Usmani (UAE) and Sumod Damodar (Botswana). Damodar has since been replaced by Denmark's Umair Butt.
ESPNcricinfo understands that the change was made because ICC members felt that the World Cup points table would be a more accurate representation of the world's top eight teams than the rankings, with rotation and second-string sides now a common feature of bilateral series.
"Our players and coaching staff want to get better, to play more cricket and be full professionals, but on the limited levels of funding we get, it's incredibly difficult. The ICC is always talking about a level playing field… what level playing field? There's nothing equal or supportive."
Roland Lefebvre, the KNCB high-performance manager
There were exactly three months between Netherlands' qualification for this World Cup and their opening match against Pakistan, leaving only a short window for the KNCB to secure sponsorship for the tournament. In the event of Champions Trophy qualification, they would have a year and a half to prepare.
"Qualification for this World Cup was immense," Lefebvre said. "We had to find a main sponsor in about six weeks and it's tough. People think you can just sort it out but the whole climate has changed. We would have one-and-a-half years to sort it out for the Champions Trophy; we would have something else to work towards."
Teams receive a participation fee - reportedly around $500,000 - for the Champions Trophy though there will still be funding challenges for the KNCB. "The ICC is not going to turn around and say, 'Oh gosh, Netherlands, you've been doing so well, we're going to give you some additional funding,'" Lefebvre said.
"Our players and coaching staff want to get better, to play more cricket and be full professionals, but on the limited levels of funding we get, it's incredibly difficult. The ICC is always talking about a level playing field… what level playing field? There's nothing equal or supportive."
The Netherlands have only featured at the Champions Trophy once previously, losing both of their group games at the 2002 edition. If they qualify, they will become the first Associate member to play at a Champions Trophy since Kenya and the United States reached the 2004 edition.
"There's a lot at stake," Lefebvre said, "but it's not going to affect our play. We've played with passion and played as the game was designed, not driven by franchise cricket or huge contracts. The world has recognised that and we've been given a lot of credit for it. Let's hope we have another win, at least, to make the top eight."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98