The Dutch have scripted cricketing history by defeating the in-form South Africans by 38 runs in a rain-truncated game in Dharamshala. Against all odds, the Dutch out-batted and out-bowled one of the tournament favourites, to register their first win in 50 over World Cups.
We tell you the history of cricket in the Dutch Isles and the circumstances which kept them in the fringes of world cricket.
Cricket grows out of elite Dutch schools
Cricket probably first came to the Netherlands with British traders in the mid to late 18th century. But it truly spread in the country via elite Dutch schools where English teachers were not uncommon.
The first written reference of the game being played in the Netherlands comes from 1845, from the highly exclusive Noorthey boarding school near The Hague. With its gentle rhythms, emphasis of intellectual acumen alongside physical prowess, cricket was considered the perfect game in a school where the cream of the Dutch society, including King William III, sent their children.
While definitely not unique to the Netherlands, this air of exclusivity would go on to be a defining feature of Dutch cricket and possibly one of the many reasons why it fell off the sporting map in the country.
By the 1870s and 1880s, enthusiasm for cricket in schools translated into the formation of the first cricket clubs, beginning in Deventer in 1875. The Hague Cricket Club was founded in 1978 and in 1880, an English teacher opened the first club in Haarlem, which remains a cricketing centre in the nation today.
The 1881 tour and the formation of a cricket association
In 1881, the Uxbridge Cricket Club, from London, became the first team to tour the Netherlands. While the Uxbridge tour drew considerable interest, the Dutch team – a ragtag bunch of rich men – lost by an innings, despite fielding a total of 22 players.
In fact, Dutch players looked completely out of place. This was because unlike in British colonies, where the English imposed their rules of the game, cricket in the Netherlands developed far more randomly. Different clubs followed their own rules and ideas of the game.
“For instance, the Deventer club adopted a gentlemanly approach … Scoring behind the wicket was considered unfair and given the derogatory label ‘Spanish hitting’, referring no doubt to the Duke of Alba who had been the despised governor during the years of Spanish Habsburg control,” Tim Brooks wrote in Cricket in the Continent (2016).
Against a proper English side, this was a recipe for disaster and embarrassment. But crucially, it also placed the Netherlands in a unique position in the world of cricket.
Within two years, the Nederlandsche Cricket Board (NCB) was founded in order to ensure “proper administration” of the game. The first national tournament was held in 1884. After the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), which took charge of the game in England in 1788, the NCB was only the second international cricket association in the world – founded a full nine years before one came up in Australia.
The golden years
At the turn of the century, Dutch cricket had not made the progress that the NCB’s formation had promised. Cricket remained highly exclusive, with high costs as well as club membership restrictions detrimental to the game’s growth.
“Competition from other sports, especially those requiring less facilities and equipment, also saw the game stop being played in many of the gymnasium schools,” Tim Brooks wrote.
But World War I (1914-18) brought in an influx of talent – mostly British soldiers stuck in the neutral Netherlands – to the Dutch leagues. While these soldiers went back home after the War ended, the war years saw some high quality cricket being played in the country.
Along with more tours as well as some reforms in the domestic organisation of cricket, the sport was on a steady upward trajectory in the country, with standards and interest rising.
The 1930s are termed by many as the golden era of cricket in the Netherlands. In 1933, the MCC was invited to the Netherlands to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the NCB. In a major upset, the hosts won, chasing down 133 in under an hour. By 1935, the standard of play had increased so much that Dutch XIs won as many games as they lost against the touring South Africans, while being dominant against other continental teams.
The myth that World War II ruined Dutch cricket
It is often believed that World War II was a death knell for Dutch cricket: that the War and the Nazi invasion (1939) undid all the progress made in the previous years. This is not true.
Unlike in England, the Dutch did not stop playing cricket in the War years. “The most English of sports, [cricket] was a demonstration of defiance against Nazi occupation and cultural suppression.,” Tim Brooks wrote.
Post War too, the game steadily grew, with new-found government support, a greater number of teams, and a steadily growing standard of cricket being played.
Why the Netherlands remain “minnows”
Rather than the Nazis, cricket in the Netherlands was doomed by the growing popularity of football, its own elitism as well as fundamental issues with how cricket was (and is) run.
In 1954, Dutch football was finally professionalised, truly opening up the game for the masses. While football had always been more accessible than cricket, now you could play football to earn a living. To this date, this is not true for many Dutch cricketers.
Moreover, Dutch cricket remained steeped in elitism. “… Despite an increase in teams … cricket was still run by gentlemen for gentlemen,” Tim Brooks wrote in his book.
But most importantly, cricket was perhaps always doomed to be a niche sport in the Netherlands and for no fault of the Dutch themselves — there is a reason why all Test playing nations today were a part of the British empire.
The precursor of the International Cricket Council – the Imperial Cricket Conference – was formed in 1909. As cricket historian Derek Birley notes, the ICC was little more than “the MCC’s colonial branch” – with its goal not to grow cricket globally but to govern it, specifically in the colonies.
ICC afforded only three teams – England, Australia and South Africa – “Test status” and not for meritocratic reasons. Subsequently, more countries were allowed to play Test matches but these countries were always either colonies or former colonies of Britain. Moreover, till 1965, only members of the British Commonwealth were even admitted to the ICC.
It is this exclusion that doomed Netherlands cricket for years to come. At a time when international football was still in its infancy, inclusion as a Test playing nation could have transformed the development of cricket in the country.
“Had the I in ICC been International rather than Imperial … [the Netherlands] would have enjoyed regular, high profile international matches,” Tim Brooks wrote, adding that it “would have surely led to an increase in standards and performances.”
This is an updated version of an older explainer.
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