Two teams – Zimbabwe and Netherlands – who know the ebbs and flow of international cricket have made it to Australia for the upcoming T20 World Cup. In essence, it shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering how the other countries have struggled to find playing time against the top nations.
But a whole lot of the two countries’ success stems down to failure; failure at the highest level in a completely different format – the One-Day Internationals. In the ongoing ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Super League, Zimbabwe and Netherlands find themselves outright bottom on a 13-team table.
Just above Zimbabwe are South Africa, which really paints a picture of how the experience of playing the top countries has massively benefitted these two nations.
"For us, it's all about learning. How can we get better?,” Netherlands’ skipper Scott Edwards told Cricket Australia.
Only a few weeks before the start of the T20 World Cup Qualifier B, Netherlands were at the receiving end of some merciless cricket from England, one of the biggest white-ball powers in World Cricket. It is these sorts of regular fixtures and experience that helps the Dutch side in battling out the other nations in the Qualifiers.
One thing that has constantly held the Dutch team back has been the schedule of County cricket, one that essentially works as a double-edged sword for the national team. On one end is the lucrative experience and money that it gives, and at the other, the clash of international schedules.
Netherlands headed into the 2021 T20 World Cup in the Middle East as the highest seed amongst the other qualifying nations.
But when placed amongst the competition – Sri Lanka, Namibia and Ireland – the Dutch side drew a blank. They did not have a foot-hold in any of their three clashes and further, had a negative net run-rate of 2.46. One of the biggest and fierce competitors were out even before the competition began.
“No, it hasn’t. Peter has been such a big influence, not only for The Netherlands, but for the whole of Associate cricket. The captaincy is a role I have enjoyed very much. I’ve had the chance to really develop into the role and to get the team to play the way I’d like,” said Pieter Seelaar after the World Cup disappointment. For the captaincy to have shifted hands from Borren to Seelaar to now Edwards
The Dutch rebuild
Placing their trust in talents alongside building a squad that had the much-needed experience is what the management desired and ultimately, attained. And the largest beneficiary of building a new-age squad, has been Scott Edwards’ team. One of the biggest winners of that trust was Bas de Leede, who ignore the pun, really led the Dutch side to Australia.
In years preceding the qualifiers, Leede only struck at a strike-rate of 81.4, 90.9 and 118.2 with the bat, whilst averaging 16, 16.7 and 26. But the trust that was instilled in the all-rounder ultimately landed Netherlands the gold, with the all-rounder scoring 169 runs in the Qualifiers, averaging 84.5 and striking at 128.
Leede showed his all-round prowess in the tournament, with his ability of clocking 85mph, and the ability to tank up scores like 91 off 67, which helped them chase down the total.
Combine that with the consistency of Max O’Dowd, the Orange have really found a unit to fight the best. Edwards too showed his value with the bat throughout the last few months for the Dutch side, with scores of 72*, 78 and 64 leading into the tournament. Netherlands don’t just have one of the best batting units in the competition but also possess a bowling unit that has caused havoc.
Fred Klaassen, a regular feature of the English County, has used all of this experience this tournament, with nine wickets, averaging just 10.33. Alongside Klaassen, Logan van Beek too showed the worth of his experience, averaging just eight in the tournament. It was just a walk in the beach for them against the United States of America, who are not well-versed with playing the top sides.
Netherlands might still not make it to the Super 12 but the fact that they are the top-dogs in this competition shows how valuable experience really is for the smaller nations.
Zimbabwe’s cricketing pride is back
Zimbabwe have a rich-cricketing history. Alongside that rich-history also comes a barrage of issues, internally in the country. Perhaps, Zimbabwe are one of the few countries in the cricketing history to have been affected more by off-field issues and controversies than they have on the field. Like the Dutch side, the African nation too have been blessed with their clashes against the top-sides.
At the same time during the last Qualifiers, the African side were banned from the tournament, with ICC going on to name Nigeria as their replacement. Maybe, the replacement makes sense on filling the gap but the cricketing wealth that is Zimbabwe can never be replaced. Albeit it being off-the-field issues, it took a sharp impact on the national team.
𝗤𝗨𝗔𝗟𝗜𝗙𝗜𝗘𝗗! Australia here we come for the ICC Men's #T20WorldCup 2022 🏆 🛫— Zimbabwe Cricket (@ZimCricketv) July 15, 2022
🇿🇼 beat Papua New Guinea by 2⃣7⃣ runs, Congrats Lads!#ZIMvPNG | #T20WCQualifier | #T20WorldCup | #VisitZimbabwe pic.twitter.com/5E1FB5jjmW
So, playing in front of home fans to qualify for the biggest tournament in the shortest format was always going to be monumental. Even though it was a semi-final, the vibes at Bulawayo was nothing short of a festival, or a T20 World Cup final. It was a celebration of all sorts, people dancing in circles, playing the instruments and creating a lively atmosphere for the clash.
“All we wanted to give the fans is something to cheer about and Inshallah, a ticket to the World Cup,” said Sikandar Raza, and the atmosphere was reflective of that. While Craig Ervine ensured that he played the long game, Regis Chakabva took off in explosive fashion against a very potent bowling unit in PNG.
Wesley Madhevere then put on a show with contributions all the way through as the hosts reached 199 in the first semi-final. It was a depiction of how they have batted throughout the tournament. 236, 146 and 185, Zimbabwe have always put on defendable scores in the tournament, backed by some quality hitting from the likes of Raza in the tournament. Raza has been a pillar of Zimbabwe’s strength, with 209 runs, averaging 69.66.
If you dial all the way back to 2007, Zimbabwe beat Australia in the inaugural T20 World Cup. If not for the off-field issues, the African side would have still been a force to reckon with in the international scene. Like the Dutch side, Zimbabwe have possessed one of the lethal bowling units in the competition.
Blessing Muzarabani, Luke Jongwe, Tendai Chatara amongst others have a truckload of experience in the shortest format, representing franchises around the world. Muzarabani was at the Indian Premier League as well, with the Lucknow Super Giants, showing how it was just a matter of time before Zimbabwe returned to the top level.
Both Netherlands and Zimbabwe are deservingly back at the highest level, for the upcoming T20 World Cup in Australia but the reality still remains the same, only experience would help more sides to succeed at the highest level. Zimbabwe and Netherlands are perhaps the beneficiary of the experience at the competition.
Scott Edwards and Netherlands finally have their day under the sun in India
Bas de Leede, a Dutch clutch master
Max O'Dowd: Netherlands getting pushed further down after Super League scrap
Associate nations leave a mark in an unforgettable 2022
Decoded: Cricket beyond the big guns
Sikandar Raza is not done just yet, neither are Zimbabwe
Bas de Leede: Scott Edwards has reduced the void left by Pieter Seelaar
Associate nations stand tall in a memorable year
Understanding Netherlands, PNG, Oman, Ireland’s exit from T20 World Cup 2021