For Ireland, battling with fellow-promotees Afghanistan to win the Cup, an outright win was imperative, while for a below-strength Dutch side, whose real focus is on the one-day WCL Championship, this match was about gaining experience on the international stage and in the still-unfamiliar four-day format in particular.
In that sense, Ryan Campbell’s Dutch squad could afford to travel home in a much more positive frame of mind than their hosts, having recovered from two indifferent days to bat out most of the last and deny Ireland victory.
It might all have been even better for the Dutch if they had held their catches in the first innings; by allowing Ireland to reach 477 for six, Andrew Balbirnie making an unbeaten 205, they had effectively played themselves out of the game, and when Boyd Rankin reduced them to 9 for two another comprehensive Irish win seemed to be on the cards.
But a dogged 32 from Dan ter Braak, one of three first-class debutants in the Dutch side, and a fighting 82 from Ben Cooper held up Ireland’s progress, and then a record-breaking seventh-wicket partnership of 160 between Max O’Dowd, who hit a maiden international century, and Logan van Beek took them to the brink of avoiding the follow-on.
Once that had been achieved, even though Ireland were able to take a first-innings lead of 102, a draw was always the most likely outcome, and Porterfield’s side missed a trick by failing to press home their advantage urgently enough on the third evening, when they were batting their way towards the inevitable declaration.
Some of the credit for this must go to the Dutch seamers, and especially Shane Snater and Quirijn Gunning, who had bowled well for little reward on the first day – although Snater did strike back on the second to finish with five for 116 – and who again maintained the pressure on the batsmen in the second innings.
Porterfield did go on to complete his century on the last morning, but by the time he declared only 83 overs were left to bowl the Netherlands out for a second time.
Ter Braak again withstood the Irish attack for more than two hours, while at the other end Stef Myburgh kept the scoreboard moving with a succession of cuts and pulls, 56 of his 85 runs coming from boundaries.
Once he had gone, however, soon followed by Saqib Zulfiqar, whose debut left him with a damaged hand, any thought that Peter Borren’s side might actually chase their target of 343 was extinguished, and in truth that had never been on the agenda.
Borren himself, also batting with a hand injury, saw out the remaining overs in company with Cooper, and although stand-in Irish captain Gary Wilson – Porterfield another casualty owing to a back problem – tried seven bowlers and refused to call it a day for half an hour beyond the point at which the skippers could have shaken hands, in the end Ireland had to settle for the nine points they gained with their first-innings lead.
It must be a cause for concern for Ireland that, as they prepare themselves for the additional demands of Test cricket, they were unable to force a victory against a Dutch side which was missing five of its regulars, especially following their innings defeat by fellow new boys Afghanistan in March.
For Campbell and Borren, on the other hand, there were many encouraging features: the batting of Ter Braak, Cooper, O’Dowd and Van Beek; the work of Tobias Visée behind the stumps and his first-innings contribution with the bat; the efforts of the seamers, including not only Snater and Gunning but also of Van Beek and, on the first day, Borren.
The absence of a frontline spinner in the absence of Roelof van der Merwe and Michael Rippon was, it is true, a weakness, O’Dowd’s prolonged spells and Wesley Barresi’s surprising intervention notwithstanding; and the catching remains an area where the side needs to improve if its medium-term aspirations are to be realised.
There is some serious work to be done before the squad undertakes its safari to Zimbabwe and Kenya in October.