Introduced in 2012, the Cricket Challenge is a joint initiative of EP-Nuffic, the organisation which links Dutch schools offering a bilingual curriculum, and the KNCB, and during the five years of its existence it has introduced cricket to thousands of secondary school pupils through lessons in the physical education programme and the Cricket Challenge competition.
53 schools have taken part in at least one of the tournaments, and in 2016 there were a record 42 participants, forcing the creation of a fifth regional tournament leading to the national finals day in June.
That figure seems set to be equalled this year, with three new schools, Coenecoop College from Waddinxveen, Merlet College in Cuijk, and the Visser ‘t Hooft Lyceum from Leiden, entering the programme.
Ten, including former winners the RSG Noord-Oost Veluwe from Epe and the Elde College from Schijndel, have taken part in every competition so far, and will be back again this year.
In its geographical spread, covering eight of the twelve Dutch provinces from Friesland and Drenthe in the north to Noord Brabant and Zeeland in the south, brings cricket to many places where the game is largely unknown.
In this sense, however, the Cricket Challenge lives up to its name, for few of the participating schools are in places where there is a cricket club, and even from those where such a club does exist in the neighbourhood it is notoriously difficult to convert participation in one event in a new sport to continuing involvement.
Links have been established between local clubs and the bilingual schools in several cases, and there are a few indications that this is beginning to bear fruit.
And with the KNCB’s long-term policy now including the active promotion of cricket outside the Randstad conurbation, bringing the game to new areas and back to areas from which it has disappeared, the Challenge provides a potentially crucial platform for development.
At the very least, moreover, it has given thousands of Dutch boys and girls a basic knowledge of the sport, something which might yield positive results in the future.
As for this year, ten schools will contest the North-East zone tournament at Salland’s Deventer ground on Tuesday, with a further eight teams (including, for the first time, two from one school, the Over Betuwe College in Bemmel) taking part in the South-East Zone in Nijmegen on Thursday.
These will be followed by the Central Zone at Het Loopveld West on 16 May, the South-West Zone at Hazelaarweg on 18 May, and the West Zone at Westvliet on 23 May, where last year’s winners the Haarlemmermeer Lyceum from Hoofddorp will begin their defence of their title.
The national finals day, involving the two top sides from each of the regional tournaments, will be played at Maarschalkerweerd on Tuesday, 20 June.