If the old coaches’ adage that the training should always be tougher than the game has any merit, then the Netherlands’ three-match warm-up series in Zimbabwe, preparation for the vital World Cricket League Championship games against Kenya in East London next week, can probably be deemed a success.

Playing as a ‘KNCB XI’ against a Zimbabwean team which bore a close resemblance to the full side, Peter Borren’s men lost the series 2-1, as they had done when Zimbabwe visited the Netherlands during the summer, and they again kept their best performance – or took advantage of their opponents’ poorest – when the series had already been lost.

The Zimbabwean batsmen, led by an opening stand of 102 between Hamilton Masakadza and Solomon Mire, piled up 347 for nine in the first match, with Mire going on to make a 107-ball 128 before he was caught and bowled by Fred Klaassen.

He was one of three victims for the Dutch left-armer, but the latter’s ten overs cost 80 runs, and only Borren, with two for 45, was able to keep the scoring within bounds as Sean Williams hit 62 from just 49 deliveries and Sikandar Raza chimed in with a 25-ball 36.

At 37 for five the KNCB side seemed to be headed for a humiliating defeat, but then Borren counter-attacked, and he and Zulfiqar added a defiant 159 for the sixth wicket before Zulfiqar was stumped for 58.

Borren departed soon afterwards, having made 115 from 116 deliveries with 11 fours and three sixes, and the innings closed on 254 off the final delivery of the scheduled 50 overs, giving the Zimbabweans a solid 93-run victory.

The margin was even more convincing two days later, as the home side cruised to a nine-wicket victory after Borren won the toss, elected to bat, and saw his side dismissed for 181.

The top order again failed, and when the skipper was trapped in front by Donald Tiripano for just 7 the Dutch were on 31 for four.

Pieter Seelaar made a dogged 28 and Max O’Dowd contributed 24, but the top-scorer was Sikander Zulfiqar, whose 33 helped the side to get past 150.

Tobias Visée made 29, while there was a promising first knock from 17-year-old Bas de Leede, who demonstrated his composure with an unbeaten 24 which included a six off Richard Ngarava.

The Zimbabweans made short work of the chase, taking just 26.4 overs to knock off the runs, Seelaar taking the only wicket when he had Masakadza caught behind by Visée for 33.

Chamu Chibhabha (78 not out) and Craig Ervine (60 not out) quickly posted the remaining runs to close out the series.

In Sunday’s final match, after Raza had elected to bat first, Viv Kingma and Paul van Meekeren, paired together for the first time on the tour, seized the initiative, reducing the home side to 40 for five in the space of nine overs; the two pace men finished with two for 27 and three for 21 respectively.

Malcolm Waller (37) and Sikandar Raza (42) steadied the ship somewhat with a sixth-wicket stand of 73, but after Waller fell to a direct hit by Sikander Zulfiqar, Michael Rippon and Quirijn Gunning cleaned up the tail, taking two wickets apiece as the Zimbabweans were dismissed for a meagre 129.

That left the KNCB side to face a tricky 14-over session until lunch, in the course of which they lost O’Dowd, Wesley Barresi and Rippon in making 48 of the 130 they needed for a consolatory victory.

Young De Leede, not out at the interval, was run out soon afterwards, but Ben Cooper and Borren took the total to within 15 of their target before Cooper edged Mire to keeper Peter Moor and departed for 44.

This brought Seelaar in to join his captain, and the side’s two most experienced players, with over 400 international caps between them, finished the job with almost 20 overs remaining, Borren lofting Raza for six to end on 48 not out.

To end with a five-wicket victory – the third time in a row that the Dutch have won the final match after going two down in a three-match series – will no doubt lift the squad’s spirits as they head for East London, but in truth the Harare leg of the tour was less about results than about the development of the side.

Missing Stef Myburgh, who flew home at the start of the week after the birth of his first baby, Roelof van der Merwe and Timm van der Gugten, and with Kingma, Zulfiqar and Seelaar all coming back from injuries, coach Ryan Campbell can be reasonably happy with his charges’ efforts, although the lack of runs at the top of the order will be a concern.

The greater sharpness evidenced by the combination of Van Meekeren and Kingma is reassuring after the hosts reached 238 for three and 189 for one in the first two matches, while the batting of Zulfiqar and the promising baptism of Bas de Leede bode well for the future.

But Campbell, and his coaching team strengthened by the addition of Trevor Penney and Alan Donald, have plenty of work ahead of them to ensure that the players are completely ready for the two matches against Kenya.