The Dutch national team returned today from Dubai following an ignominious exit from the Desert T20 after what was, by any standard, a poor showing in their three group matches.An unneccesarily narrow win over Oman in their opening match was to be their last, letting Scotland off the hook in both innings of their second game after dominating early, and then falling to pieces entirely against Hong Kong.
There were, as ever, glimpses of what the side is capable of - for their first 16 overs of the tournament the Dutch looked clinical, keeping Oman's total under 100 until the 17th over, and Roelof van der Merwe's 15-ball blitz to seal the win contrived to make the victory look retrospectively comfortable.
Similarly Scotland looked to be in for a pasting when van der Merwe and van Meekeren reduced them to 19-3 after the powerplay, and even after Nizakat Khan's onslaught had put them well on the back foot in their final match the Dutch spinners strung together a five over spell that saw 2 wickets fall and cost just 17 runs, briefly giving hope that they might fight their way back into the game.
But time and again Peter Borren's side seemed incapable of maintaining discipline over the course of 20 overs, much less 40. Dropped catches in the field, needless run outs when batting and consistently woeful death bowling - the last three overs against Oman went for 36 runs, against Scotland for 35, against Hong Kong for 44 - saw the Dutch repeatedly fritter away the advantage.
The batting was little better, with the notable exception of Michael Rippon, once again the Netherlands' stand-out performer with bat and ball. Even before the tournament began the top-order had been identified as a glaring concern, until the 11th hour call-up of Ben Cooper the Dutch squad contained only one established specialist batsman in the form of Stephan Myburgh who, in a rather mystifying decision, would only play one match - contributing only a single scoring shot to the cause before being bowled and dropped.
Skipper Peter Borren had a particularly difficult tour, managing only 20 runs over 3 innings, and Pieter Seelaar, who has transformed himself into and almost-exclusively-batting allrounder, faced only 12 balls in the tournament. Coming in at 7 or 8 in the line-up, Seelaar's exact role in the side at this point is increasingly unclear.
But though the underperformance of senior players is a cause for concern, a deeper worry is underlined by the struggles of Myburgh's replacement, TobiasVisée. Coming into the side off the back of an excellent season in the Hoofdklasse, Visée faced three balls across two innings and was LBW for at least two of them.
Put simply, the Netherlands has not produced an international class batsman in nearly a decade, and Visée is only the most recent debutant to have the the gulf in standards between Dutch domestic and international cricket brought brutally home. It is probably too early to write off Visée, who walked out to an impossible task in his second outing, but the lack of any young batsmen making a pressing case for inclusion in the side does not bode well for Dutch cricket on the international stage.
Of course before the knives come out, it should be remembered that there was (for once) little riding on the tournament itself, though one never knows what significance the team's two-place drop in the T20I rankings from 11th to 13th may take on down the line.
The team's preparations were more or less limited to a warm-up match against a local side, the team "coming out of hibernation" as Borren put it, mere days before the competition started. Nonetheless for a side with the stated ambition to be the top Associate in the shortest format the tournament will have been a sobering lesson, namely that it is not enough simply to "turn up and back your skills".
Similarly the team's backroom situation was hardly ideal coming into the tournament, it was Chris Adam's first outing in charge as interim head coach, and he seemingly found the going no easier than his predecessor Anton Roux did in his first tournament.
The KNCB can hardly be blamed for the departure of Roux ahead of the tour, and are to be commended on the scrupulously open process they are pursuing in search of a replacement, though specualtion naming Dougie Brown as a "frontrunner" will likely have done little to bolster Adam's authority or peace of mind, and it is to be hoped such musings did not originate in Nieuwegein . Likewise the dismissal of the popular Ed van Nierop as team manager without a permanent replacement seems only to have further agitated an already unsettled dressing room.
All told, it is arguably best not to read too much into the Nethererlands poor showing at a tournament for which they were, more-or-less by their own admission, profoundly underprepared. The last time the Dutch had such a miserable tour, at the World Cup Qualifier in New Zealand back in 2015, they rebounded quickly and put together a remarkable run of international success. Nonetheless, there are serious questions about the team's lack of consistency and bench-strength which cannot be left unaddressed, or the Netherlands will quickly find itself left behind by an ever-strengthening Associate top-flight field.