Among the hundreds of episodes which make up a cricket match, a small number take on a particular significance, the moments upon which the course of the game is defined.
Seldom has this been truer than in Thursday’s second one-day match between the Netherlands and Zimbabwe in Amstelveen, which the tourists won by six wickets with an over to spare, and which crucially turned on two such episodes.
The first came of the last ball of the 23rd over of the Dutch innings, Peter Borren having again won the toss and – notwithstanding Tuesday’s dramatic collapse – again decided to bat.
This time, Wesley Barresi and Stef Myburgh got their side off to a terrific start against some erratic Zimbabwean pace bowling on a pitch as friendly as a Labrador retriever. They had actually taken their opening partnership past the total managed by the entire team on Tuesday when Myburgh, on 77, lofted Graeme Cremer to long on and, after some juggling, Ryan Burl claimed the catch.
Myburgh hesitated before leaving, the umpires checked on whether Burl acknowledged that he had crossed the boundary in completing the catch, and when the fielder denied this, the Dutch opener had to depart, having faced just 70 deliveries and hit 13 fours and a six.
Photographic evidence (right) subsequently showed, however, that six should have been awarded, and the momentum of that opening stand might well have continued.
Instead, the tempo of the innings slowed as the spinners, Cremer, Sean Williams, and especially Sikandar Raza, bowled a further ten overs or so with excellent control, Raza picking up the wickets of Ben Cooper and then Barresi, who made a fine 91-ball 67.
Michael Rippon and Roelof van der Merwe added 44 for the fifth wicket, but it took them almost ten overs to do it, and when Raza added Van der Merwe’s scalp the Netherlands were on 212 for four with ten overs left.
Rippon eventually left for 36, and the fact that the Dutch finally reached 291 for six was mostly due to an excellent unbroken stand of 56 between Logan van Beek and Sikander Zulfiqar, who made 31 and 28 respectively.
Raza was the most successful of the Zimbabwean bowlers with three for 40 from his ten overs, while there were two wickets for Cremer and one for Williams.
It was a competitive total, but the Dutch needed early wickets if they were to defend it successfully.
Solomon Mire and Hamilton Masakadza began briskly, 35 coming from the first six overs bowled by Timm van der Gugten and Shane Snater, but when Borren brought Paul van Meekeren into the attack he struck immediately, bowling Masakadza with his second delivery.
And then came the second of those critical moments, when Craig Ervine, top-scorer in the Zimbabwean chase on Tuesday, got a thick edge to the second ball he received and Borren, at first slip, put down the chance.
With a major thunderstorm advancing steadily on the ground, Mire and Ervine soon began capitalising on this stroke of good fortune, and with Mire launching a savage attack on the unfortunate Van Meekeren’s fourth over, they were well ahead on the DLS system when, halfway through the 20th over, the heavens opened.
A delay of almost an hour and a half followed, and by the time a resumption was possible thirteen overs had been lost and the target reduced to 229, at a required run rate of 7.3 an over – scarcely demanding with nine wickets in hand.
Mire and Ervine achieved that and a little more, and by the time Rippon bowled Mire for 82, made from 71 deliveries with eight fours and a six, just 69 were needed from almost ten overs.
Ervine now went after Rippon, hitting him out of the attack, but when he had made 77 he drove Van Beek hard to extra cover, where Borren took a brilliant instinctive catch. It was too late to turn the course of the game, however, and although Van Meekeren was rewarded with another wicket when Raza top-edged him to Myburgh on the third man boundary, Williams and Burl eased their side to victory with one over remaining.
It had been a greatly improved performance from the home side, who will go into Saturday’s final match in Voorburg with much more confidence, but in the end they were left to regret their defeat in a match which they could, and perhaps should, have won.