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Bats, shoes, commercial ties: Dutch bask in newfound glory

Nihal Koshie

Posted: Feb 26, 2011 at 0011 hrs IST

New Delhi: If a single innings could impact a national team’s fortunes, this was one. Ever since Ryan ten Doeschate’s 110-ball 119 nearly put the Netherlands out of England’s reach in Nagpur on Tuesday evening, life hasn’t been the same for Dutch manager Ed van Nierop.

On Thursday, the first day his boys took a break from cricket in over a month, Nierop estimates he got about a thousand calls — from people wanting to understand just how the Peter Borren-led side pulled that stunning rabbit out of their hats. “What will it be if we beat South Africa or the West Indies, or say India? I can’t imagine,” he said.

And it isn’t only about ten Doeschate— also the Netherlands’ stingiest bowler with 2 for 47 off 10 — either. The entire squad is suddenly the subject of unprecedented interest from the media and corporates.

At the team’s first training session after the England game, at the Air Force ground at Palam in Delhi, a large crowd of reporters gathered. New, bright orange shoes arrived for the players, from a leading sportswear company that wants them to endorse its orange line of shoes. There were shiny new bats for vice-captain Bas Zuiderent; a top batmaker has started supplying to the side. And the squad that could manage just one Indian sponsor for the World Cup — thanks only to the image of the Netherlands as a nation of dairies — suddenly has a multinational energy drink firm seeking an association with it.

Back home in football-crazy Netherlands, the less fancied of the men who wear the Oranje lion crest are big news. In a country where only 10 minutes of television time is allotted to cricket per year on average, the cricketers’ exploits are getting full-page coverage well beyond the sports pages.

And in an indication of just where cricket stands — and how significant the team’s achievement has been in that country — most World Cup articles are accompanied by a small infographic explaining the fundamentals of the game.

“At best newspapers devote a single column, that too only if there is a controversy like spot-fixing or if a cricketer dies. Our side got noticed when we beat England in the inaugural match of the World Twenty20 two years ago (in June 2009) but the interest we are generating back home now is phenomenal,” said Nierop, who has been opening downloaded e-papers of Amsterdam-based dailies on his laptop whenever he finds the time.

The Royal Netherlands Cricket Board, which has 5,000 registered players — only four members of the World Cup squad are professionals — runs a tight ship. Nierop is doubling as both manager and media manager, and gets just a daily allowance for his services. But the Dutch have begun to catch on to the significance of a good performance in the commercial hub of the cricket universe.

The fan base is swelling. “We had 500 followers on our Twitter page, and that has now touched 1,000. I update our Twitter feeds faster now. Everyone wants to know what we are up to,” said the manager.

Ahead of the World Cup, the team played four practice games — away matches against Zimbabwe, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Canada. Because of the harsh Dutch winter, the last time they trained outdoors at home was nearly six months ago. The only indoor facility, in Rotterdam, has been their training centre. Most players have regular jobs, and train only four times a week, including two fitness sessions.

Muddasar Bukhari, who opened the bowling against England, signed a contract three months ago, guaranteeing him a match fee. Before that, he used to work at a burger restaurant in The Hague.

“I make a good story perhaps because I worked at a Burger King joint. But I don’t do that anymore. We are not a rag-tag bunch of amateurs. A couple of guys have full contracts, while others do get match fees and allowances and are paid for coaching too,” Bukhari said.

Skipper Borren conceded it was a Herculean task to promote the game in The Netherlands, where football and hockey are the big draws.

“It is only with good performances that we can get noticed. Cricket isn’t popular but if we play like we did against England, things should change,” Borren said.

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