As we reach the end of another decade (according to most people at least, however erroneously), a decade in which the Dutch men’s team started as one of the top three or four Associates and finishes as the Associates’ sole representative in the ICC Super League and winners of the World T20 Qualifier, one might conclude that the 2010s were a period of steady, unchallenged progress.

One would, however, be wrong.

In the cutthroat world of Associates cricket, where a couple of bad days can have disastrous consequences, there was a point at which the Netherlands’ hard-won status threatened to plummet like a winged gamebird, with permanently damaging financial as well as on-field implications.

2010 began with the Dutch facing a formidable schedule: having posted a famous T20 victory over England the year before, they would start the year with another T20 qualifier in the UAE, after which they would take part for the first time in the English 40-over competition and host the second World Cricket League Division 1 tournament.

The T20 format brought the greatest successes of the decade but also some of the greatest frustrations: with only two teams going forward from the qualifier the Netherlands finished fourth in 2010 and third in 2012, and it was not until 2013, with the main tournament expanded to include six qualifiers, that their fifth place saw them through to Bangladesh.

There they distinguished themselves, beating the UAE and Ireland in the first phase to reach the main competition, and after some bruising defeats dismissing England for 88 in a sensational conclusion to their tournament.

They qualified again in 2015, losing only to Afghanistan and Oman in the group phase and beating Ireland in the semi-final before the final, against Scotland, was rained off; all the same, they were on their way to India.

There the weather again took a hand: with only one side from each of the two preliminary groups now reaching the tournament proper, the rained-off match against Oman, following defeat by Bangladesh, saw the Netherlands eliminated, a 12-run victory over Ireland in the final first-phase game, which had been reduced to a 6-over thrash, providing scant consolation.

There was a four-year wait until the next qualifier, played in the Emirates earlier this year, and this time the Dutch at last won the tournament outright, avenging their only defeat in the group phase, at the hands of Papua New Guinea, with a seven-wicket victory over the same opponents in the final.

Whatever the incidental disappointments of the T20 format, the real crisis for the Dutch side came in the 50-over game, where a poor World Cup qualifying tournament in New Zealand in 2014 saw them slump to seventh and, for three years, lose their ODI status.

Although this failure hinged on just two defeats, by Namibia and then, in a hectic run-chase, by Kenya, it was a dramatic wake-up call for the KNCB, facing significant loss of income and the knock-on effects of the mishandled termination of national coach Peter Drinnen’s contract three months previously.

But in truth, the signs had been there for some time: the Dutch had finished only fourth in the WCL Division 1 tournament they hosted in 2010; despite some notable individual performances, notably by Ryan ten Doeschate, the 2011 World Cup had been a disappointment; and while there had been some outstanding victories over English counties during the four seasons of the Netherlands’ participation in
the ECB 40-over competition, the side had never achieved real consistency, and the final year, 2013, had also been disappointing.

The test of character, however, is how one bounces back from adversity, and under Peter Borren’s fine captaincy the Dutch did all that could be asked of them.

The first task was to claim a place in the WCL Championship by finishing in the top two in the Division 2 tournament in Namibia in January 2015, and after a shaky round-robin phase, in which they lost to Nepal and to the hosts, they nevertheless did so, going one better by beating Namibia in the final.

This kept them firmly in the top tier of the Associates, and they underlined the point by going on over the next three years to win the competition, losing just two of their 14 matches along the way and thus regaining their ODI status and becoming the sole qualifiers for the new 13-team ICC Super League.

These later years of the decade also saw a marked improvement in the Dutch performances in the four- day, first-class, now apparently late lamented, Intercontinental Cup, where after having failed to win a single match in the 2009-10 and 2011-13 editions of the competition, they won three in 2015-17, finishing a respectable third.

Who were the outstanding personalities of the side during a decade in which the Netherlands played an unprecedented 228 matches?

Among the batsmen, Ryan ten Doeschate’s two centuries in the 2011 World Cup surely rank among the highlights, but he was unavailable for most of the decade, and it was Wesley Barresi who made the most runs – 4534 of them across all formats, at 25.47.

Stef Myburgh, Peter Borren, the Cooper brothers Tom and Ben, and Micky Swart all topped 2000, while among the outstanding individual performances that live in the memory stand Eric Szwarczynski’s 98 against South Africa in Amstelveen in 2013 and the extraordinary unbroken 288-run partnership for the sixth wicket by Ben Cooper and Pieter Seelaar in Hong Kong in 2017.

Mudassar Bukhari’s 195 wickets at 24.00 make him the outstanding bowler of the decade, although his performances are rivalled by those of Ahsan Malik Jamil, who claimed 139 at 19.78 and a strike rate of 23.73 before his career was cut short by suspension for an illegal bowling action.

Nor should we forget Paul van Meekeren, one of the very few Dutch-produced players to make a real impact during the 2010s, who has taken 99 wickets in just 89 games to date.

But the most notable figures of the decade are the two captains, Peter Borren and his successor Pieter Seelaar.

Borren’s contribution goes well beyond his 3565 runs and 108 wickets (four of them at the cost of one run as he bowled his side to victory over Scotland in an ICup match in 2015): his 117 catches are testimony to the fact that he was the finest fielder in Associates cricket for much of the decade, while his leadership through good times and bad, and his advocacy of the Associates game in post-match
interviews, were also outstanding.

Seelaar has proved a worthy successor: in the side at first as a slow left-armer, he worked hard on his batting when his bowling became less reliable, and he has developed into a genuine allrounder, batting as high as five on occasion, and leading with growing confidence. Happily, his bowling has also recovered a good deal of its old magic as he has taken on greater responsibility.

Nor should we forget the role of the national coaches, Peter Drinnen in the first third of the decade, Anton Roux in the middle, and Ryan Campbell more recently: three very different men, each helped to create the side which goes into the 2020s with a mission to bridge the gap between the Associates and the Full members, and not only the most recently-elevated ones.

There are, of course, some genuine concerns, not least the Netherlands’ persistent inability to produce a group of home-grown players who are able to hold their own on the international stage.

Campbell tried a dozen Dutch-born players in 2019, but apart from Seelaar, Van Meekeren and the injury-prone Viv Kingma, none seemed ready to become a regular member of the side.

The size of the player pool, the nature of the Dutch domestic competition and above all the absence of a demanding A-team programme all contribute to the problem, but in the end it all comes back to money.

And that’s a subject for another article.