Patrick Demaerschalk was a happy man on Saturday morning. As we chatted in the pavilion at Kampong's Maarschalkerweerd ground in Utrecht (no relation), the captain of the Continental Women's XI he had brought together from six different countries was outside, memorising her players' names and finding out which roles they would play in her side.
‘A year ago I was an idiot with an idea', Demaerschalk says. ‘And now here we are, ready to take on a representative Dutch side.'
The idea had formed during last summer's women's tournament in Berlin, in which teams from seven countries had taken part.
‘I realised how seldom most of the women get the opportunity to play in an all-female team,' Demaerschalk explains, ‘given how few women are active in cricket in their own countries.'
So he formed the idea of setting up a combined team, which would give the most talented women players from Europe's smaller cricket-playing countries - including those where the numbers are so small that forming a national women's team is simply impossible - an opportunity to play together against challenging female opposition.
The team which journeyed to Utrecht comprised women from six different countries: Hungary and Austria, neither of which had been able to field a team in Berlin, Belgium, Denmark, France and Gibraltar.
‘It's wonderful how easy it is to put such a team together,' Demaerschalk observes. ‘A few e-mails get an immediate, positive reaction, and the women and/or their parents are prepared to drive hundreds of kilometres - or in some cases travel for hours by train - for a weekend of cricket in another country.
‘We have nobody here from Germany or Italy, because players are either involved in their own domestic competition or have other commitments, but in the longer term I would like to see a pool of, say, 25 players who could be invited to take part in series such as this one - a bit like the Barbarians in rugby.'
Talking to the women themselves, it's not hard to see why they have seized the opportunity with such enthusiasm.
The Continental XI's captain, Hungary's Claudia Balogh, plays much of her cricket in men's teams - including the Hungarian national side - and the women's club she helped to form in Budapest must play against the men's clubs or go on tour.
‘A chance like this, playing against a women's side which includes Dutch national team players, can only be good for the development of my game, and I will take what I learn here back home, where I can apply it in the growth of women's cricket in Hungary.'
Balogh's position is luxurious by comparison with that of her team-mate Andrea-Mae Zepeda, one of a handful of women players In Austria. For her, too, the weekend in Utrecht was about developing her cricket skills in a competitive but friendly environment, against players who enjoy opportunities for coaching and playing denied to women and girls in Europe's newer cricketing countries.
Women's cricket may be a little more firmly established in Denmark, where after a gap of fifteen years the national women's side returned to the scene in 2013, but for Camilla, Line and Anne Østergaard, all from the Fredericia club, the problems include the long distances spent travelling in order to find female opponents, and the difficulty of persuading male cricket administrators to take women's cricket seriously.
This strikes a chord with most of the women in the group, for whom growing the women's game is a social as well as a personal priority. It would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of the reinforcement of their enthusiasm and commitment which are generated by Demaerschalk's initiative.
For the Dutch women as well, the weekend provided an opportunity to take on unfamiliar opponents. Women and girls from six different clubs made up the teams in the two matches which beat the unseasonal and at times dramatic weather, and they ranged from teenagers from the Lionesses programme to more experienced club players and members of the national side (these categories are not mutually exclusive!).
Current internationals Sterre Kalis and Lisa Klokgieters, who jointly captained the home side, were, indeed, essentially the difference between the two sides: Kalis made 118 runs across the two matches without being dismissed, while Klokgieters picked up crucial wickets, including three in the final innings which got the Continental XI's run chase off to a disastrous start.
Demaerschalk, however, was delighted that his team had been confronted with this challenge, and that they had responded with steadily-improving performances with the ball and a batting display in the second match which saw them edge ahead at the halfway mark.
For some of the Continental XI players the next major commitment will be this year's successor to the Berlin tournament, which is scheduled to take place in Jersey next month. The Østergaards will, however, be back in the Netherlands next weekend, when their national women's side will take on a series of Dutch representative teams in preparation for the Jersey tournament.
One thing is certain: Demaerschalk has correctly identified a need for such opportunities for the most talented and enthusiastic women players from across the Continent to play together against challenging opposition on as regular basis as time and money permit. It is to be hoped that this was the first of many occasions when his Continental XI take the field together.
Photos: © Sevil Oktem