Anton Roux's Netherlands side go into the tournament as favourites, and for a side generally reckoned to be in the top five associate teams World Cricket League Division 2 is a fair way to fall. After narrowly missing out on direct World Cup qualification during the league phase of the last WCLd1, a calamitous batting collapse against Namibia and an extraordinary Kenyan batting onslaught saw the Dutch crash out of the World Cup Qualifier, falling to 17th place in the one-day rankings and forfeiting their ODI status, a shock from which Dutch cricket has still not entirely recovered.
Two of the principle architects of that calamity - Ragheb Aga of Kenya and Namibia's Christi Viljoen - will not be back to the haunt the Dutch in Namibia, but this edition of WCL Division 2 is without question the toughest so far and the tournament will be no cakewalk for the Dutch. The player availability issues which hampered their campaign in New Zealand are now compounded by the applicability of the development criteria, and as well as the names of long-departed stars such as ten Doeschate, Nannes and Kervezee, the likes of Tom Cooper, Timm van der Gugten and Michael Swart can also be scratched from the Netherlands' roster.
That said, the side Peter Borren will lead onto the field in Windhoek still looks comfortably the strongest in the competition. Cooper's younger brother Ben has stepped up in his absence, and though he has yet to transfer the phenomenal domestic form that won him his cap to the international level, he is nonetheless one of several batsmen in the Dutch side able to take a game away from the opposition single-handed.
Also among that number are Stephan Myburgh and keeper Wesley Barresi, both of whom are more than capable of dominating at this level, indeed one would expect them too. Myburgh's exploits at the World T20 mean he will need little introduction, but Barresi is equally capable of brutalising bowlers, and though his best performances have come on smaller stages they have not neccessarily come against weaker attacks.
If any of the three really get going in this tournament the Netherlands can be fairly assured of progression, yet the key man in what otherwise looks like something of a death-or-glory line-up will likely be the less-celebrated Eric Szwazrcynski. Of the Dutch top six, Szwazrcynski is probably the only batsman more at home in the 50 over format, and the Dutch will look to him to provide some stability in an notherwise frenetic top order.
In terms of bowling Timm van der Gugten will be sorely missed, his extra yard of pace generally found to be unsettling by batsmen less used to out and out express bowling, and still greater responsibility falls on spearhead Mudassar Bukhari in his absence. Bukhari has been bowling well both in the warm ups and for Joondalup in Perth during the Dutch off-season and he will likely be the man Borren will look to to lead the attack.
Fitness concerns regarding the captain himself and World T20 star performer Ahsan Malik have receded somewhat, but the Dutch skipper's recently operated shoulder will likely still keep him from playing a major role with ball in hand. "Pete's shoulder has healed nicely but we are holding him back on bowling just yet. These things take time, and the well-being of our players is the first priority. Ashan has worked hard to regain his strength and fitness, and credit has to go to the work put in by him and his fitness trainer back home. We have monitored his work load during the prep phase and he has come through nicely. I'm sure come the 17th that Ashan will be in great shape" said Roux.
The Netherlands' skipper is regarded by many as worth his place in the team for his captaincy alone, and given his current form with the bat - he has been the Netherlands' lead scorer in the warm-up games - his break from bowling might seem something of an afterthought. Yet in the absence of Swart and Cooper Borren's holding roll with the ball in the middle overs remains a gap in the Dutch side, though Malik's fitness will come as a great relief to Dutch fans.
In Pieter Seelaar and Michael Rippon Borren has two experienced spin options who both add something with the bat, though the conditions are against them with the ball. Newcomer Thijs van Schelven is another promising spin option if the going is tough for the former two. The pace component will be rounded out by youngsters Viv Kingma and Paul van Meekeren, who have been training at Tuks Academy in Pretoria for the Dutch Winter but found it tough going in the warm-ups, neither finding reward across the four games. The more seasoned Jeroen Brand is another possibility, having finally broken into the national side off the back of a phenomenal domestic season. Brand found little more reward in Pretoria however, and indeed the Dutch pace line-up is somewhat short of wickets going into the tournament, though Roux does not exepect that trend to last;
"Our quicks have been working hard over the past few months and I'm absolutely positive that some reward is around the corner for them. We will have to adapt to conditions and get the most out it together as a bowling unit."
Also inspiring great confidence from his coach is young keeper-batsman Rahil Ahmed, who's shown great promise coming through the Dutch youth system and put in some fine performances in the North Sea Pro-Series;
"I'm looking forward to his growth as a cricketer and as a person in the next few seasons. He has all the tools and plays an exciting brand of cricket, and fits in well with our team. It's up to him now on how he wants to go about his training and package it all together. If he really wants to, he could dominate associate cricket for a long time."
Nonetheless it will be hoped that the senior Dutch batsmen shoulder the brunt of the responsibility, few will wish to see a repeat of the last time the men in Orange started a tournament as favourites. Here they are once again firm favourites, but far from invulnerable. The Dutch batting line-up still tends more the dynamic than the dependable and the absence of Swart and Cooper will limit Borren's options somewhat in the middle overs. Much will be asked of Mudassar Bukhari as he leads a young pace attack into a crucial tournament, one where the future trajectory of Dutch cricket may be set.
Netherlands WCLd2 Fixtures
17 Jan - Netherlands v Canada (United)
18 Jan - Nepal v Netherlands (United)
19 Jan - Rest/reserve day
20 Jan - Namibia v Netherlands (Wanderers Affies)
21 Jan - Kenya v Netherlands (Wanderers)
22 Jan - Rest/reserve day
23 Jan - Netherlands v Uganda (Wanderers)
24 Jan - Final (Wanderers), 3rd v 4th play-off (United), 5th v 6th play-off (Wanderers Affies)
All matches are scheduled to start at 09.30 local time