Dutch courage a decade in the making

10 March 2016

Netherlands captain Borren was left to rue what might have been // Getty

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Captain Peter Borren epitomises the fighting spirit of the Netherlands, who had the chance to spring the upset they so desperately craved

Peter Borren is a gutsy cricketer, who embraces his limitations but conceals them with canniness and resourcefulness. The game of bat-and-ball means the world to him: he is a self-described cricket nuffy.

But he doesn’t get to play it nearly as much as he would like.

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"Just want to play cricket," Borren tweeted a few months ago.

Shorn of ODI status until 2018 after losing two matches in the World Cup qualifiers in January 2014, the Netherlands are thriving in the 2015-17 Intercontinental Cup, winning two of their three matches to date, and have won all four of their completed matches in the 2015-17 World Cricket League Championship. They were joint winners of the World T20 Qualifiers last year, too.

But what Borren craves is making a splash on the world stage.

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It is a feeling he has tasted fleetingly before. At Lord’s in 2009, the Netherlands defeated England from the final ball of the opening game of the WT20. On an intoxicating night in Sylhet five years later, the Netherlands contrived to chase down 190 in 13.5 overs – with no fewer than 19 sixes – against Ireland to progress on net run-rate. So thrilling was the victory that players were nonchalant about another win against England, this time by 45 runs.

Yet that win, two games after the Netherlands had come within seven runs of defeating South Africa, was the last game they played against a Test nation for two years.

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When the Netherlands were drawn in Bangladesh’s group, Borren knew they would have to turn over the Tigers to ensure it was not the only game they would play against a Test team until the World Cup qualifiers in 2018. To give themselves the best chance of doing so, the Dutch arrived in India three weeks before the opening game. The Netherlands possess a side much in the image of their captain: savvy, and capable of overcoming more talented sides through their capacity to excel in crunch situations.

Borren has been at the heart of that success. Growing up in New Zealand, he played in an Under 19 World Cup but did not think he would make it as a professional cricketer. He moved to the Netherlands, the land of his father, and never ended up moving back. He has devoted his life to Dutch cricket. They, and him, have come a long way since his Netherlands ODI debut in 2006, when his medium pace hemorrhaged 94 runs in 10 overs against Sri Lanka.

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He has been a common thread in the Netherlands’ triumphs since, making 30 in the win at Lord’s, promoting himself to opener and harrumphing 31 in 15 balls against Ireland, and suffocating England with shrewd bowling changes and his off-cutters.

Against Bangladesh, he glimpsed an opportunity to secure the Netherlands’ third Test scalp in three appearances at the World T20.

Bangladesh have developed into an outstanding side, as they proved in reaching the final of the Asia Cup, but here was a prime chance to upset them. Bangladesh had only one full day to prepare for the altitude in Dharamshala and a wicket that, with more pace and carry than is the norm on the subcontinent, was well-suited to the Netherlands’ pace bowlers. 

Timm van der Gugten and Paul van Meekeren proved as much, sharing 5-38 from their eight overs. For his part Borren bowled just a solitary over of medium pace. In typical Borren style, the worst delivery of the lot, a rank short delivery outside off-stump, claimed a wicket.

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The Netherlands were left needing 154 to win, a testing target but eminently gettable. It was still that way when Borren arrived at the wicket with the Dutch 2-53 at the start of the ninth over. 

It was a situation calling out for Borren’s guts and underrated skill against spin. He promptly reverse-swept a couple of fours in his first over at the crease, showing that he would not be fazed by Bangladesh’s battery of spinners. In the next over, from Shakib Al Hasan, Borren charged down the pitch with impunity. The ball missed his bat, grazed his pad, and slid agonisingly past the stumps and then the keeper, too. A reprieve.

Borren was an angry man the very next ball. Running for a dicey single, he was accused of deliberately running in front of the ball, and Bangladesh appealed for obstructing the field. A few nervy moments ensued before he was given not out. Another reprieve, not that Borren would recognise as much.

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With five overs left, the Dutch still needed 54 to win, but had seven wickets in hand. It was the moment for which the Netherlands had been waiting two years.

So Borren took it upon himself to seize the day. He is not the sort to be intimidated by reputation, and set about hoicking Shakib to midwicket. Borren hit a two in the region, then deliciously timed the next delivery for four. Another two followed. He attempted more of the same from the fourth ball, but the upshot was a routine catch to midwicket. It was spilled: another reprieve for Borren. 

Here was Borren’s opportunity to clinch another memorable win. But only two balls later the same shot gifted another chance to the same fielder. This time Nasir Hossain took it.

The Dutch kept on swinging, and kept on fighting. They always do.

It was not enough.

"Eight-run margin here, and I can find so many different moments to make up that eight runs," Borren lamented.

Unless Ireland or Oman can beat Bangladesh to give the Netherlands a second chance to qualify, Borren will not stop thinking about those eight runs any time soon.

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