Spring being the time of new growth and all, there could hardly be a better moment, as the new season gets under way, to hold camps devoted to the development of young cricketers.
And two events held last week in Amsterdam and Deventer illustrate how enjoyable and useful such occasions can be, as well as pointing up some lessons which need to be heeded.
There's an old saying about great oaks coming from small acorns, and it would be encouraging to think that one or two of the children who took part in these camps might eventually emerge as mighty trees in the forest of Associates cricket.
The four-day Amsterdam Cricket School was the second of its kind, organised at VRA's ground in the Amsterdamse Bos, this year attracting 56 participants (a 44% increase on last year) from nine Dutch clubs. The children ranged in age from 10 to 15, and included three girls.
Belgian national coach Fazil Mahmood led a coaching team which also included current Dutch internationals Peter Borren and Eric Szwarczynski and VRA coach Ryan Maron, and among the innovations was a two-day ‘Test' match between teams drawn from the stronger players, some of whom are already in Dutch Lions squads for their age-group.
For Mahmood and his staff, this game gave the youngsters an opportunity to play cricket in an unfamiliar form, forcing them to think about their cricket in new ways and to practise new skills such as building an innings over a longer time.
With the Dutch under-15 side struggling to put up competitive performances in the Caribbean, there are serious questions to be asked about how to prepare young Dutch cricketers for the challenges which will face them, while retaining their enthusiasm for the game.
Mahmood wasn't altogether happy with what he saw.
‘You can't help wondering what the club coaches have been doing,' he says, ‘when you see batsmen who don't know how to take the initiative sensibly, and bowlers whose actions lack energy and coordination.'
And School organiser John Wories underlines the point: ‘A national school like this is invaluable,' he says, ‘but why shouldn't every club be organising events like this for its own players?'
A model of club initiative was certainly on display at Het Schootsveld in Deventer later in the week, where a three-day camp for young female cricketers attracted a contingent of ten girls from the Oldenburg club in Germany.
Originally set up for Dutch girls, this was the second time that Oldenburg, who only started playing girls' cricket in 2006, had taken advantage of the opportunity to come across the border and participate in a KNCB-supported event.
Oldenburg club president Carsten Hoeffinghoff and a colleague joined a coaching team led by Huub Jansen, and again there was plenty of current international expertise available with Dutch skipper Helmien Rambaldo, Carolien de Fouw (player of the tournament at the recent Women's World Cup qualifier in South Africa) and Violet Wattenberg on the staff.
There were 24 participants in the camp, ranging in age from 10 to 16, and including three boys from the Oldenburg club. Three of the girls had just returned from the ICC European Women's Academy in La Manga, while two others, clearly gluttons for punishment, moved more or less direct from the Amsterdam School to the Deventer event.
With such variation in age and cricketing experience, the coaches put a good deal of emphasis on individual development, encouraging the players to identify areas they wanted to work on, and providing them with opportunities for working on their own game.
‘We've been concentrating on the basics,' says Rambaldo, ‘and we want them to take home what they've learnt here and to continue working on it.
‘And we've been trying to get them thinking more about their game, about what they're doing and why they're doing it.'
She added that there had been a great deal of emphasis on improving the fielding, with the taking of high catches a skill for which there was a great deal of demand, while Jansen attested to the girls' enjoyment of her session on sliding in the field.
The atmosphere at Deventer, even on the final afternoon, was buzzing with enthusiasm, and the coaches remarked repeatedly on how well the participants, for all the language differences and their different cricketing backgrounds, had melded into a group.
Organiser De Fouw is delighted with the way the project is developing, and hopes to expand its international catchment area next year, thereby increasing the chances of securing financial support.
Nothing could better illustrate the importance to Dutch cricket of the UD complex in Deventer, the cricketing aspects of which are now managed by Salland CC. Under threat over the winter, Het Schootsveld's two grass squares – unique in Continental Europe – have been reprieved for another season, but their strategic location means they need to survive for a lot longer than that.
And the commitment of Oldenburger CC to the expansion of cricket as a girls' sport might be a lesson for many Dutch clubs, with no under-age competitions for girls in The Netherlands and only eleven of the KNCB's 63 member clubs having a women's section.
It's not only on the individual level that the oaks-from-acorns adage works: both these camps are models for how youth cricket for both sexes might be fostered in the future, and they serve as a reminder that it is in the clubs in both The Netherlands and Germany that the real work must be done if cricket's base is to expand and firmer foundations are to be laid for the development of real excellence.
There's no other way to go.