Heading into this week’s Intercontinental Cup match with Scotland, the Netherlands squad may have been more noteworthy for who was missing instead of who was present. Timm van der Gugten, Michael Swart and Tom Cooper were the most notable absentees.
But the arrival of Roelof van der Merwe has helped ease the strain on the rest of the squad to make up the lost runs and wickets needed to compete against Scotland in the Intercontinental Cup. His valuable first innings contribution of 73 took Netherlands out of trouble from 88 for 5 and now has them in a position where they might not just secure first innings points, but are a strong chance of collecting an outright win with two days remaining. The left-arm spinning allrounder is prepared for anything though after a topsy-turvy second day.
“There’s always one partnership waiting to happen,” van der Merwe told ESPNcricinfo after day two. “I think we’ve just got to stick to our plans and not try to bowl them out as soon as the tailenders come in. We’ve got to be very disciplined and if we’re disciplined we can have a very good lead.”
After playing 13 ODIs and the same amount of T20Is for South Africa from 2009-10, Van der Merwe emerged on the Dutch scene quite suddenly in July, transitioning into the squad just days after securing a Dutch passport to make his T20I debut against Nepal. He made an unbeaten 40 and took two wickets, but had more modest returns through the rest of the World Twenty20 Qualifier. He scored 60 runs in seven innings at an average of 12 but was more effective with the ball, taking 11 wickets.
While he has had some experience batting higher up the order in domestic T20 competitions – he batted at No. 3 in the last three matches of the 2009 IPL for Royal Challengers Bangalore ahead of Rahul Dravid, Ross Taylor and Virat Kohli – most of van der Merwe’s appearances for South Africa in both T20Is and ODIs were at eight or nine.
However, over the last three years he has proven himself a capable batting performer in multi-day cricket in South Africa. After recording five half-centuries each in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons while batting at No. 7 for Titans, van der Merwe had a breakout season in 2014-15, finishing third overall with 774 runs at an average of 55.28.
Starting the season batting at No. 6, he produced his maiden first-class century, an unbeaten 205 against Warriors in the second match of the campaign. He was subsequently promoted to No. 5 for the next match and repaid faith in the move with another hundred. Before the season was over, he tagged one more on for good measure.
Rather than looking like a slap-bang T20 dasher, van der Merwe’s polished technique vindicated Netherlands management’s decision to send him in at No. 4. Admitting to being more eager than nervous about making his Intercontinental Cup debut for Netherlands, by the end of the day he had produced his first major contribution with the bat for his adopted country.
“I think over the last two years in four-day cricket I’ve worked myself from about seven down to about five or four,” van der Merwe said. “It’s something I’ve really enjoyed doing in the last few years is four-day batting. The one-day game is a bit different. You always need somebody to hit at the end also. I think that’s what I’m mostly known for, is just hitting the ball and trying to clear the boundary.”
In a bizarre display, six batsmen combined from both sides were out leaving deliveries seaming in from outside off. Van der Merwe played more than his fair share of dot balls – 95 out of the 136 deliveries he faced – but far more frequently opted to blunt the ball with a straight bat rather than risk shouldering arms and suffering the same fate as others.
“The ball really did jag today,” van der Merwe said. “Maybe half of them was bad judgment and other ones were good balls nipping back a lot. I think it was a very slow pitch. There’s not a lot of lateral movement but the guys who got out leaving, the ball did jag a bit. There was a bit of seam movement every now and then so it was quite tough picking up the lines.”
With Netherlands 187 for 7 at tea and van der Merwe on 68, the only thing that appeared set to deny him a century was running out of partners. However, three overs into the final session he was through a drive slightly early to Josh Davey and sent back a return catch.
The disappointment was evident as he kept his helmet on with his head tilted toward the ground throughout his walk back to the pavilion despite generous applause from the scattered group of supporters. The possibility of a first innings score in excess of 250 vanished with his dismissal but after the lively display produced by the Dutch bowling unit in the final session of day two, the Netherlands will be aiming to capitalize on their solid position.
“I think we were very disappointed in our first innings,” van der Merwe said. “I think we could have scored a lot more. Some of the guys got out with loose shots but definitely under par first innings. But we’ve moved the game forward now in their first innings getting them six down very quickly so hopefully we can get a lead.”