After a pandemic-enforced wait of well over a year, the Netherlands are finally set to make their entry into the Cricket World Cup Super League this week when they welcome their former Associate sparring partners Ireland for a three-match ODI series at Utrecht. As the only qualifier in the competition, their debut marks the culmination of a six-year campaign that started at World Cricket League Division 2 in Namibia back in 2015. Their victory saw them return to the Associate top-flight, where they went on to win the final edition of the WCL Championship to reclaim ODI status and secure the only Associates spot in the top-tier 13-team Super League alongside the 12 Full Members.
Ireland will look at the series as a chance to reverse a poor start to their Super League campaign, their fifty-overs record against the Dutch unblemished by defeat since 2007. Their most recent ODI encounter was back in 2013 however, where a dramatic tie in the second of their two-match WCL Championship series saw Ireland secure their qualification for the 2015 World Cup, while the Netherlands would eventually fall just short, the series in retrospect marking the beginning of the Dutch descent that would bottom out at Windhoek in January of 2015. Since then the Netherlands have held the upper hand in white-ball cricket, though the two sides have only met in T20 internationals for the past few years the Dutch have won seven of their last nine matches, starting with the famous win at Sylhet that sent Ireland out of the 2014 T20 WC.
It is a rather unwelcome irony that the Netherlands, after years of preparation, finally find themselves forced to name an understrength and somewhat undercooked squad for arguably the most important matches in their history. A combination of travel-restrictions and uncooperative Counties sees the hosts missing practically their entire first-choice middle order for the series. With Michael Rippon now based in New Zealand in pursuit of a black cap, and Covid-related travel regulations rule out a trip back-and-forth to the Netherlands. Meanwhile Ryan ten Doeschate, Colin Ackermann and Roelof van der Merwe are retained by their respective Counties across the North Sea, leaving the Dutch batting looking alarmingly threadbare.
Across the recent A team tour to Ireland and the Scotland ODI series, the Dutch have not come close to crossing 200 in five matches, collectively averaging less than 17 runs per wicket. At the top of the order Max O'Dowd has been in fine domestic form but lacks a settled opening partner, the recall of the veteran Stephan Myburgh rather forced on coach-selector Ryan Campbell. Other opening options include the untested Musa Nadeem, or a return to the top of the order for the mercurial Tobias Visee. The rest of the Dutch batting is made up the in-and-out of form Ben Cooper at three, while skipper and ascended spin all-rounder Seelaar will likely bat at four (three or four spots higher than he might like) while keeper-bat Scott Edwards may play something of a floating role, or possibly even open the batting with O'Dowd as he does at club level for VOC Rotterdam. Bas de Leede and Saqib Zulfiqar will look to fill the considerable shoes of the absent County bats in the middle order, and a good series for either would do much to improve the hosts' prospects.
The absence of Rippon and van der Merwe also puts a lot on Seelaar's shoulders (and lower back) in the spin section, though young leg-spinner Philippe Boissevain has lately been bowling very well both in the Dutch Topklasse and in Orange. Both O'Dowd and Zulfiqar are also capable of delivering a few overs of leg-spin if the conditions suit, though neither are likely in the squad for their abilities with the ball and the Dutch skipper will likely be turning the clock back and his arm over frequently this series. What the Dutch do have in abundance is quality seamers. Too many, in fact, to field at once. With Timm van der Gugten, Brandon Glover and Fred Klaassen given leave to play by their counties, competition for fast-bowling slots is fierce, with no place for Paul van Meekeren, Ryan Klein, nor Essex's Shane Snater in the squad. Of the locally-based seamers Voorburg's new-ball pair of Logan van Beek and Vivian Kingma both have nigh-undeniable claims to a starting spot, the former not least for his abilities as a lower-order backstop with the bat, and the latter purely on exceptional form. With conditions unlikely to suit express pace it's likely that some of the county contingent may spend some time on the bench. Even with the batting below full-strength, the quality of the Dutch seam attack alone will give Ireland reason to worry, and though the Dutch batting is inexperienced or out of form they are not without talent.
While Ireland will likely welcome news of their opponent's player-availability problems, they are not without difficulties of their own. An ankle injury aggravated during the A-team series between the two sides has ruled out Curtis Campher, who has been a reliable presence in the Irish middle order, trailing only Paul Stirling in the run aggregates for their Super League campaign to date. Stirling too lacks a dependable partner at the top of the order, prompting the recall of former skipper William Porterfield on the back of domestic form, left handedness, and a paucity of alternatives. With James McCollum dropped and Gareth Delaney also sidelined through injury, the only other plausible option at the top is Kevin O'Brien, who has combined well with Stirling in T20s but had less success in the longer format and, with Shane Getkate missing out on selection, will likely be needed to fill the role of lower-order hitter. Skipper Andrew Balbirnie, despite a tough tour against Afghanistan, is unlikely to be disturbed from his customary slot at three, likewise Wolves captain Harry Tector at four who looked in excellent form against Netherlands A. Ireland too will likely have a left-arm spinner turned batting all-rounder in the top order in the form of George Dockrell, who has forced his way back into the side by weight of domestic runs. With Lorcan Tucker the only keeper in the squad his place is effectively assured, while the balance of the attack will likely be determined by the conditions.
Simi Singh is likely to spearhead the spin section, his developing legspin also serving to compensate for the lack of a dedicated wrist-spinner if late call-up Ben White doesn't make the eleven. Andy McBrine is an option as a second spinner, though the presence of Dockrell and Stirling ensures the visitors will not lack for slow-bowling options if the need arises. The seam attack is arguably a trickier question, but the first name on the team sheet will likely be the returning Graeme McCarter. Back in the Green for the first time since 2015, McCarter's domestic form saw him afforded a chance against the Dutch for the Wolves, and his return of 6-32 in the final match will be hard to ignore, especially if conditions at Utrecht prove similar. Mark Adair's value as an all-rounder makes him an attractive choice too in the absence of Campher, though Barry McCarthy would likewise add depth to the batting. Craig Young's solid showing against Netherlands A lends him a claim to the final seamer's spot, though Josh Little as a left-armer has the advantage of variety.
Ireland have yet to find a white-ball combination that matches their golden generation for consistency, but have begun to emerge from the transitional phase that they have languished in for the past few years. Facing an understrength Dutch side missing it's middle-order backbone, the Irish will sense a chance to reassert their accustomed dominance, but can ill afford to take their hosts lightly with so much on the line.
What's at stake: For the hosts, their debut series in the CWC Super League is likely to be the most important they will play. Though they have higher-profile series lined up against the likes of Pakistan, England, South Africa and New Zealand, these three matches against old rivals Ireland are far more likely to prove decisive to their first ambition of avoiding a last-placed finish and thus ensuring their survival in the league for the next cycle, while any hopes of direct qualification depend on a series win this week at the least. For Ireland, who have won just one for their six Super League matches to date, the calculation is similar. Every victory is not just ten points to their total but also ten denied to the Dutch, and thus an additional measure of distance from the unwanted 13th spot. A clean sweep for the visitors could see them jump to joint second on the table and rekindle hopes of a top-eight finish, while a perfect start for the Netherlands might also prompt them to set their sights higher than mere survival. One or other of the two sides will end the series as favourites for the wooden spoon however, and the risk of relegation should they finish behind the League 2 Champions at the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe. For Ireland such an outcome would be a humiliation, but for the Netherlands, without the sinecure of Full Membership, it would be a blow from which they might not recover.
1st ODI: Wednesday June 2nd, 10.30am CET
2nd ODI: Friday June 4th, 10.30am CET
3rd ODI: Monday June 7th, 10.30am CET
Where: Sportpark Maarschalkerweerd, Utrecht, the Netherlands
What to expect: Maarschalkerweerd at Utrecht is one of the Netherlands' lesser-used grounds, traditionally behind the VRA Ground in the Amsterdam Forest, VOC's Hazelaarweg Ground north of Rotterdam and even het Schootsveld at Deventer in the pecking order. Though the ground has seen a fair bit of women's international cricket, the series will be the first men's ODIs to be played there. The ground is also slightly smaller than the Netherlands' two main grounds, with markedly shorter square boundaries than VRA or especially Hazelaarweg. Maarschalkerweerd has seen little cricket this season as locals Kampong CC play in the Dutch second division, which remains on hiatus due to Covid restrictions. Kampong's home ground generally produces more typically Dutch wickets than either the batting-friendly VRA or the more spin-amenable Hazelaarweg. Generally one might expect assistance for pace bowlers both off the seam and in finding swing early. While the lack of domestic cricket will have helped with preparation, the recent weather has not. An unseasonable amount of rain has fallen in the Netherlands over the past month, and despite better weather for the few days leading up to the series the pitch is expected to be slowish and low, tough to score on and likely suiting Ireland's medium pacers better than the hosts' battery of quicks.
What they said
The three World Cup Super League matches against Netherlands will be a stern test for the squad as we head into a busy and consequential summer of international cricket. This is the first of three such series we're playing over the next few months, and with 30 world cup qualification points up for grabs, we will be keen to claim as many points as we can – Andrew White, Ireland Chair of Men's Selectors
Netherlands: Pieter Seelaar (captain), Scott Edwards, Max O'Dowd, Ben Cooper, Tobias Visee, Musa Nadeem Ahmad, Stephan Myburgh, Bas de Leede, Logan van Beek, Saqib Zulfiqar, Timm van der Gugten, Fred Klaassen, Brandon Glover, Philippe Boissevain, Vivian Kingma.
Ireland: Andrew Balbirnie (captain), Mark Adair, George Dockrell, Joshua Little, Andrew McBrine, Graeme McCarter, Barry McCarthy, Kevin O'Brien, William Porterfield, Simi Singh, Paul Stirling, Harry Tector, Lorcan Tucker, Craig Young, Ben White.
(Non-playing reserves: Peter Chase, Stephen Doheny, Graham Kennedy, David O'Halloran)