Two-and-a-half years of grinding their way through the gauntlet of the WCL Championship reaped sweet rewards on Wednesday when Netherlands secured the tournament title with a match to spare after an eight-wicket win over Namibia.
Since losing the ODI status at the World Cup Qualifier in January 2014, Netherlands captain Peter Borren has been the face of a side desperate to regain opportunities, having lost funding as a result of the crippling blow they suffered against Kenya nearly four years ago. Having now won the WCL Championship and the spot in the upcoming 13-team ODI League slated to start in 2020, Borren was overcome with emotion as his side’s win, combined with Hong Kong’s win over Papua New Guinea, secured their ODI future with 24 ODIs against Full Members now guaranteed through 2022.
“We’re pretty excited about winning this World Cricket League,” Borren told ESPNcricinfo. “It’s been three years of hard work. We’ve come from Division Two and then come here. To win this tournament, we’ve had a lot of good games obviously to get in this position, today being one of them. The fact that we put in such a comprehensive performance today on the day that we managed to win the World Cricket League is very satisfying.
“What was my feeling on that last run out in the PNG-Hong Kong game? Just absolutely ecstatic. It’s been a nervous couple of days leading up to this, so absolutely ecstatic and the group is [too]. It’s well deserved but cricket’s a funny game. It can go any way, so very satisfied to be in this position.”
Their journey through the WCL Championship almost ended before it began at the Division Two tournament referenced by Borren, which was held in January 2015 in Namibia. Three days into the six-team round-robin tournament, they were 1-2 after a narrow two-wicket loss to Nepal, and a 188-run blowout at the hands of Namibia put them in a perilous position due to the net run rate tie-breaker.
A win over Kenya on the fourth day kept their hopes alive of a top two finish and a spot in the WCL Championship, but at 2-2 they were still behind Namibia and Nepal, both at 3-1. On the final day, they produced one of the most stunning performances in WCL history. They routed Uganda for 79 before chasing the runs in 6.3 overs, wiping out their net run rate deficit with Nepal. They still needed help from 1-3 Kenya, the team that had outdone them a year earlier in New Zealand, who were playing Nepal. Kenya came through, chasing down a target of 195.
For Borren, the biggest transformation that has taken place since the loss to Kenya in New Zealand has been improving the squad’s depth in the face of injuries, retirements, or unavailability.
“I think we’re a stronger squad than we were then,” Borren said. “It’s very difficult to pick 11 guys to play each game but not just that we’ve also got some very good players who are not here. That wasn’t the case three or four years ago.
“So for me, obviously the success is extremely satisfying, the fact that we’ve won this World Cricket League but also satisfying is the fact that in those three years there’s been a lot of hard work done behind the scenes in terms of Dutch cricket in terms of the fact that we’ve probably got 22 or 23 guys now who could possibly play and that’s a lot different than it was four years ago.”
One significant part of that squad remodelling has been Roelof van der Merwe. Coming into the squad in mid-2015 just before the World T20 Qualifier in Ireland and Scotland, the left-arm spinning allrounder has been a key cog in the team’s renaissance since making the switch from South Africa.
Perhaps even more than his handy batting and bowling, it’s the intensity van der Merwe shows on the field that has given Netherlands a lift. The 32-year-old says he has been pleased to be a steady contributor to the WCL campaign in which he scored a team-best three fifties in eight innings as well as taking 12 wickets in ten matches, including 3 for 54 in Wednesday’s victory.
“A lot of tension was brought up into today and into this trip,” van der Merwe said. “Coming out on top and winning the World Cricket League today was an awesome experience.
“For me coming in, I was welcomed into the team. Everyone was happy that I was with the team. I wanted to contribute to the team and I’m glad that I could over the past two years. Looking forward I would like to keep doing that. It’s a great bunch of guys so I think we can go very far.”
Asked what he’d remember most about the day, van der Merwe touched on the 236-run stand between Wesley Barresi and Ben Cooper, which set a record for any wicket in the WCL Championship. Cooper scored his maiden List A century while Barresi also crossed three figures for the second time in List A cricket and passed Bas Zuiderent during the knock to become Netherlands all-time scoring leader in List A cricket.
“I think obviously the two hundreds that have been scored in a very crucial game, I think that’ll stand out for me,” van der Merwe said. “But also up top on the balcony was a pretty special moment seeing the joy come out of everybody. I’ll remember that for a very long time.”