Twenty20 cricket has a reputation for delivering unpredictable results and the 2009 ICC World Twenty20 has certainly not disappointed fans of this popular format. Not only did Australia and Bangladesh crash out of the tournament in the initial Group stages; two European Associate member countries defied the odds and defeated two Full member nations in the early group stages setting the scene for a thrilling tournament which culminates this weekend at Lord's.
The Netherlands, successful qualifiers for this event alongside Ireland and Scotland, opened this year's tournament as they took on host side England in the curtain-raiser match at Lord's. Despite a rain delay, the match provided plenty of drama and entertainment, with Tom de Grooth's 49 off 30 balls paving the way for a shock Dutch victory on the final ball of the match. Needing one run to tie the game, Edgar Shiferli and Ryan ten Doeschate took advantage of a Stuart Broad overthrow, allowing the pair to steal an extra run to win the match in what has now been referred to as the greatest day in Dutch cricketing history.
Commenting on the Dutch team's achievement, ICC Regional Development Manager - Europe Richard Holdsworth said: "The Netherlands have qualified for four ICC Cricket World Cups in 1996, 2003, 2007 and 2011, which just shows their consistency and sustainability in the Associate world. To defeat England in such a way on the first match of the Tournament was a dream to these players, but it is important now to build on this great performance. Cricket has never seen so much coverage on the back pages in the Netherlands and it is hoped that this great achievement will enthuse many young people to take up the game."
Following the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup in the West Indies, the Netherlands and fellow Associate member Ireland have worked hard on and off the field to improve themselves in order to compete with Full member countries. With a significant win over Bangladesh two years ago which advanced them to the second stage of the World Cup, a repeat performance in their group match encounter was imperative to Ireland's ICC World Twenty20 campaign.
Batting first, Bangladesh struggled against the bowling of Trent Johnston who took an impressive 3-20 in four overs. With a loss of eight wickets, Bangladesh was restricted to a total of 138 runs at the end of their innings, a somewhat modest target which was met with relative ease by the Ireland side as they took to the crease. Brothers Niall and Kevin O'Brien contributed largely to the six wicket win scoring 79 runs between them. With Bangladesh's loss to India two days prior, Ireland's win in their first match secured them a crucial spot in the Super Eights play-offs, a fantastic achievement for ICC's top Associate side.
Reflecting on the shorter format of the game, it has been Holdsworth's firm belief that the 20-over format would significantly reduce the gap between Associate and Full member countries. For Ireland in particular, it was important to demonstrate to the global audience that their remarkable performance in the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup was not just a one-off, rather the skills they have shown in the 50 over format and the 4-day first class format (Ireland has won three ICC Intercontinental Cup Championship titles since 2005) could also be transferred to the shorter game.
The Netherlands and Ireland are both part of the Pepsi ICC Development Programme which was initially established in 1997. The programme aims to develop and foster the game in non-Test playing nations by providing support services such as education (including coaching, umpiring and administration), provisions of equipment, resources and promotional materials, facility development, elite player programmes and the coordination of regional tournament structures for men, women and junior players.
Over the last seven years, participation on the European continent has grown dramatically and this year's inspiring ICC World Twenty20 performances together with increased media coverage (Eurosport is now broadcasting the ICC World Twenty20 in 10 different languages across Europe) means that there is even more chance of growing the game among countries with little culture of the game yet have already shown a lot of interest such as Hungary, Russia and Poland.
Seeing evidence of increasing participation across Europe is particularly good news for Holdsworth and his team: "Last year ICC announced a new global funding policy for the developing world worth almost US$300 million over eight years," said Holdsworth. "This sort of investment allows us to support the likes of Ireland and the Netherlands in their vision, and we hope that government sports agencies and sponsors will take them seriously in their quest to make cricket a national sport."