Trying to grow cricket on 7 standard pitches

Trying to grow cricket on 7 standard pitches

New Delhi: On Wednesday, when the Netherlands cricket team took the field against India in a league match of the cricket World Cup, each of the 11 Dutch cricketers on the field represented 545 cricketers back home.

Only 6,000 people play cricket in the Netherlands—compared with the millions in India—and the country itself has a population of a mere 17 million, around the same as New Delhi.

These may not be numbers that figured in any match analysis after the Netherlands-India match, but they do reflect the challenges faced by a team from a country where cricket is still young. The Dutch have lost all four matches they have played so far, although they did put up a good fight against the English.

“The struggle and battle against other sports is huge," said Richard Cox, chief executive of Koninklijke Nederlandse Cricket Bond, the country’s cricket board, referring to the popularity of soccer in the Netherlands.

Although there are about 70 cricket clubs in the Netherlands, only seven have standard cricket pitches. “You can imagine; a lot of these players learn the game on artificial surfaces," Cox said.

Then, there’s the amount of money the Netherlands spends on cricket; the national team has an annual budget of $1 million (Rs4.5 crore). In contrast, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) spends around Rs15 crore on the annual salaries of two dozen cricketers.

Like many boards in countries where cricket is yet to become popular, the Dutch one is almost entirely dependent on development aid from the International Cricket Council (ICC), the sport’s global governing body. The team did manage to sign a sponsorship deal (for an undisclosed amount) with the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, the co-operative behind Amul, for the World Cup, but it is unclear whether this will last beyond the tournament.

Despite its meagre resources, the Dutch board will have to find a way to compensate players for the loss of their salaries; most have taken two months off their day jobs to play in the World Cup. Only three Dutch players are professional cricketers. Strike bowler Mudassar Bukhari is a manager at a Burger King outlet; wicketkeeper Atse Buurman is a fitness trainer; even the team’s manager Ed van Nierop runs an advertising agency.

Associate members of ICC such as the Netherlands face an uncertain future in the cricket World Cup with the governing body considering restricting the number of competing teams to 10.

“It is a worry," said Cox.

ICC’s spokesman James Fitzgerald said plans to prune the number of teams for the next World Cup are aimed at ensuring the championship has “fewer one-sided matches".

Still, at least one of the associate members has had its share of glory in the current edition of the World Cup. The Irish team shocked a much-stronger English side by successfully chasing a total of 329. “These games prove that there is a role for the associates in the World Cup and the governance committee need to think very carefully about the future of the whole of the game internationally," Cox argued.

ICC distributes the money generated from the World Cup and from selling television rights to its full members and associate members in different proportions, with the former receiving the lion’s share, but it does do its bit for the latter. “The associate and affiliate members receive investment (both cash and in other forms through the ICC paying for them to travel and take part in events) under the ICC development programme and other sources," said Fitzgerald. “The development programme is currently investing around $300 million in cricket outside the full members, a figure which is more than any other sport apart from soccer."

Meanwhile, ICC has asked its associate members to increase the number of professional players in their teams, Cox said. Earlier this year, the Indian Premier League franchisee Kolkata Knight Riders bid $150,000 for Dutch all-rounder Ryan ten Doeschate, for three times his base price.

In the team’s very first match in this edition of the World Cup against England, he scored 119 runs out of a total of 292, took two wickets and was man of the match.