Netherlands scratch away seven-year itch

Netherlands have had a peculiarly difficult time mastering multi-day cricket. Odd, considering they are among the most successful Associate countries of the past decade: three straight World Cups from 2003 through 2011 not to mention a pair of World T20s in 2009 and 2014.

Canada, Kenya, even Namibia have all been to the final of the Intercontinental Cup but not Netherlands. They have found winning a single game of first-class cricket difficult let alone stringing a series of them. Prior to this week’s I-cup victory over Scotland, Netherlands have come out trumps only four out of 27 times since the competition was founded in 2004. There are 15 losses among that number as well and their record at home was especially poor – one win and eight defeats.

Netherlands’ best finish in the competition came in 2007-08 when they came in fifth out of eight teams. Beating UAE that April in Sharjah had been their last success in four-day cricket. It has taken seven years, and 16 matches, but finally Netherlands are back on the board again.

There had been two great opportunities to break the streak sooner. Both at home in Amstelveen and both against countries who had yet to win a first-class match. They wasted a 74-run first-innings lead in 2009 as Afghanistan chased down 207 with one wicket to spare. Had Netherlands won then, they would have cut short their losing streak to three matches.

A bigger upset was to follow this summer, when they could not stop Papua New Guinea from running down a target of 305. There had been a Sisyphusian feel to that match as Assad Vala and Mahuru Dai denied the Dutch with a 200-run fifth wicket partnership. A similar feeling may have crept in on Friday when, after taking two wickets in the first three overs of the day to peg Scotland back at 52 for 5 in pursuit of 201, Rob Taylor joined Richie Berrington for an ominous stand.

“Obviously Berrington and Taylor batted really well and this was the kind of wicket that when you get in, you could stay in. It was never easy for people to start though,” captain Peter Borren said after the win. “They batted beautifully and [both were] really good, disciplined innings. But I was really happy with the way we bowled during that period anyway. We bowled with a lot of discipline with our three young quicks – Kingma, van Meekeren and Gunning – they all ran in hard for both innings and put the ball in the right areas.

“We knew that we were probably one breakthrough away and that wicket that Michael Rippon got, Richie Berrington lbw just before lunch, that opened an end for us. They’ve still got good players but for guys just coming to the wicket, it’s not easy and you’re always in with a chance as a bowler.

“Before lunch that was a big wicket for us. I’m glad we took advantage of it but I guess the reason why we ended up winning this game was a lot of work from those three seamers.”

The frontline seamers may have done the bulk of the work, but Borren’s career-best 4 for 1 was no less significant. In light of his shoulder troubles – he had surgery last year – Borren’s recent bowling workload has been far less than it was when he began playing for Netherlands. He might not be back to full pace yet, but after cleaning up Matthew Cross and Con de Lange on back-to-back deliveries and with victory within sight, adrenaline started kicking in. There was more vigor, more purpose with each charge up to the crease.

“For me it was nice to get some wickets,” Borren said. “I suppose the ball was pretty scuffed up on one side. The wicket was a little bit abrasive and it was just nipping back in, getting a little bit of reverse and the pitch also wasn’t bouncing much towards the end of this match. I guess if I ran in and bowled wicket-to-wicket, I was going to be pretty well suited to these conditions.”

Netherlands secured victory 14 balls into Borren’s post-lunch spell and the seven-year itch had been scratched off. From this XI, only he and Pieter Seelaar have known the joy of winning an Intercontinental Cup match, and Borren was pleased that the younger players can now understand that feeling, one he described as more satisfying than winning 50-over or T20 games.

“We haven’t won one of these matches for a long time,” Borren said. “It’s a great feeling. I’ve been trying to say to all the boys to win one of these games, you have to work hard and it’s an amazing feeling when it happens, but a lot of our guys haven’t won a four-day game before so I’m just really proud of the effort the guys put in. It’s just an awesome feeling and I’m really stoked.”

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