The Netherlands came back from a seemingly hopeless position at the Mission Road ground in Hong Kong on Thursday to claim a thrilling 5-run victory in the first of their two crucial World Cricket League Championship matches.
In the end it was Hong Kong’s relative inexperience at this level which told, as they collapsed from 285 for three with six overs left, needing just 46 from 36 deliveries and with seven wickets in hand, to fall six runs short of their target with the final pair together.

This hard-earned victory was vital for the Netherlands’ hopes of winning the Championship and with it a place in the ICC’s new 13-team ODI League, as the second match on Saturday will also be.

Fortunes fluctuated throughout the day, but it was Michael Rippon’s final over, the 45th of the Hong Kong innings, which really started to turn the game in favour of Peter Borren’s side.

He came back into the attack with Anshuman Rath and Nizakat Khan apparently set to capitalise on a record-breaking third-wicket stand of 197 between Rath and his skipper Babar Hayat, and removed the 19-year-old opener with his first delivery, caught by Ahsan Malik Jamil on the midwicket boundary, and then removed Nizakat with his next, the catch at long on being taken by Van Meekeren.

Rath had made 134 from 121 deliveries with 13 fours and two sixes, but in truth the Dutch would have had some cause for grievance had it proved a winning hand. He twice appeared to edge deliveries from first Rippon and then Roelof van der Merwe into the gloves of Wesley Barresi – he was on 24 the first time and on 43 the second – but was given not out on both occasions.

He showed maturity, however, in putting these incidents behind him, and his partnership with Babar, who hit a splendid 107-ball 83, seemed certain to have set up a comfortable home victory.

At this point, to be fair, the Dutch were mostly to blame for their own misfortunes. They bowled untidily early on, Viv Kingma’s first over including two wides and two no-balls and going for 19 in total, they were again unable to stem the flow of boundaries, they spilled a couple of crucial catches, and the ground fielding also left something to be desired.

So there is plenty for the Dutch coaching staff to work on, but nothing can be said against the determination with which the team hauled themselves back once Rippon had secured those critical breakthroughs.

Van Meekeren, too, claimed two wickets in an over, and in all Hong Kong lost six wickets in the space of 27 deliveries. The situation demanded cool heads, steady accumulation and the occasional four, instead of which the home side’s middle and lower order persisted in holing out on the boundary.

Borren marshalled his bowling well, and the final over began with 10 runs needed. Unaccountably, Nadeem Ahmed turned down three easy singles, and although Van Meekeren conceded two more wides six were still needed from the final ball. It went straight to a fielder, and the Dutch were home.

It was a lot closer than had seemed likely for much of the Dutch innings, as they compiled their highest-ever total in a List A match. But even their 330 for seven was eventually perhaps 20 or so short of par on the small Mission Road ground with a good batting pitch and a fast outfield.

The foundation of their effort was an aggressive 88 from Stephan Myburgh, who came back from a disappointing Intercontinental Cup match to step up when Rippon was out without scoring in the second over, not playing a shot to a ball from Aizaz Khan which jagged back and took him by surprise.

Myburgh and Ben Cooper, the latter taking up where he had left off in the four-day game, added 82 for the second wicket in just 14 overs, and after Cooper was out for a 37-ball 43 and Barresi came and went, Myburgh and Van der Merwe put on 71 for the fourth.

The left-handed opener was finally caught at deep backward square when he seemed on course for a well-deserved century, but Van der Merwe and Borren maintained the momentum with a stand of 60 in eight-and-a-half overs.

All the Hong Kong bowlers were taking some punishment, and the boundaries continued to come thick and fast. Borren was out sweeping, not for the first time, when he had contributed a 36-ball 40, but a total of around 350 still seemed on the cards.

A great deal hinged on the experienced Van der Merwe, but when he had smacked Aizaz Khan for the fourth six of his innings and moved on to 62 (from just 53 deliveries), he tried to repeat the feat off the next ball and was caught by Jamie Atkinson on the straight boundary.

That slowed the momentum somewhat, and with Aizaz Khan and Ehsan Nawaz bowling relatively tightly at the death only 48 came from the final six overs. Pieter Seelaar followed his first-class century with a 43-ball, unbeaten 50, and the Dutch had set Hong Kong the imposing target of 331 to win.

As it proved, it was just enough, and no more.