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Exclusive: The Netherlands skipper Pieter Seelaar opens up about his aspirations for cricket in his country and the challenges of leading a young squad

posted on 2018-11-01 01:44:51
posted by Niharika Raina


The Netherlands skipper talks about his side getting back the ODI status, what it means to be in the ODI league, memories of the memorable day at Lord’s in 2009, his progression as a cricketer and his vision for Netherlands in future.


When The Netherlands faced Nepal for the first of their two ODIs in Amstelveen in August this year, it was a huge moment for them. They had lost their ODI status back in 2014 during the Qualifiers for the 2015 World Cup, but they didn’t let it take them down and the results which followed were staggering.

The Netherlands became the winners of the ICC World Cricket League Championship, winning 10 out of its 14 games to claim the 13th and final position in the new ODI league. This move means that it will now play 24 ODIs against Full Members starting from 2020 till 2022 to stand a chance for playing in the 2023 ICC Cricket World Cup qualification to be hosted by India. Having lost ODI status about four years ago, this development marks a big step forward for Dutch cricket.

Pieter Seelaar, the skipper of the side after Peter Borren announced his retirement, gave a small speech to his team-mates before they stepped on the field. “In my speech before the game, I told the guys what it had taken for the team to get back to the ODI ranks once again. It has been a ride full of emotions, bad and good.” His words to the five debutants in the first-ever ODI playing for their country that day were purely motivational “I told the debutants that this is a day they won't forget, but at the same time it is "another day of cricket". I emphasized the fact that they are not just playing for themselves, but for everyone who has been a part of their journey.” Pieter recounts in an exclusive chat with CricXtasy

Looking forward to the future, the 31-year old is pretty much upbeat about the fact that The Netherlands will get a chance to play against the Full-Member nations. “It's an immense opportunity. Over the course of my whole career, spanning 13 years I haven’t played so many games against the Full-Member teams. Now to have that guarantee, and to gain so much experience, it is going to be invaluable to us”.

CHOOSING CRICKET OVER FOOTBALL AND LORD’S 2009 MAGIC

It is no surprise that football is the dominant sport in The Netherlands, with the nation being the runners-up in the 2010 edition of FIFA World Cup. For an 18-year old Pieter, it was a tough choice to make. But he chose cricket. “I had to make a decision between football and cricket at that age. I wasn’t the worst footballer around and played at the youth system of a professional club. But cricket had my preference because I like the game a lot more, and I happened to be a little better at it (chuckles).”

Pieter would progress through the Dutch ranks and finally made his ODI debut against a strong Sri Lankan side in Amstelveen in July 2006. He had almost made his debut in the first game but missed due to a bizarre reason. “It was a two-match series against Sri Lanka. I missed out on the first ODI (where Sri Lanka scored a record 443) because I was late at the game! So, I got my chance in the second game. Sri Lanka had all their big guns playing, Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Jayawardene, Russel Arnold and Lasith Malinga. To be completely honest, I didn’t know who they were, but I definitely knew their names after the game! I remember it was a very flat wicket and there was a big crowd. I think I went for 26 in four overs without taking a wicket and was bowled for a duck by Farvez Maharoof. It was a great experience to get my international career started from there.”

He made his T20I debut against Kenya in Belfast two years later but the most memorable T20I match of his career came in June 2009 during the ICC World T20 in England. The opening match against England eventually sent shockwaves across the cricketing circles as the Dutch won by four wickets on the last ball, courtesy an over-throw. Pieter, to his credit, conceded 33 in his four overs and took the wicket of Paul Collingwood.

“Obviously nobody expected us to win that game. Our preparation was solely around being the underdogs, enjoying the occasion and try to compete.  When you prepare for that, you hope and play your guts out for a good result. But I think somewhere in the back of our minds we knew we had a chance because, in the end, England was under pretty much the same pressure, and I think we exploited that very well”, recounted Pieter about the memorable moment at the Home of Cricket at Lord’s.

He further added, “the game was a bit of a roller coaster really. England had a great start, but couldn't capitalize on their good start. So, coming off the field chasing 170-odd, we really started to believe. But at around the 10th over mark, when Pete (Peter) Borren was starting to turn it on, I had some eye contact with Kevin Pietersen (who was rested), who gave me a wink and imitated a 'scared' face! That's when I realized we were actually ahead of the game and had a real shot at winning.”

In July this year, The Netherlands participated in MCC Tri-Series at Lord’s, with the MCC team, led by Mahela Jayawardene and Nepal, led by Paras Khadka, in the mix. Pieter sees a lot of difference in the team which beat England in 2009 and the team which played in July. “In terms of personnel, I'm the only one left, with Tendo (Ryan Ten Doeschate), out of that team. Also, back then, we (and the whole of Associate cricket) were amateurish, as compared to now. The game is a lot more professional now.”

Also read: Nepal skipper Paras Khadka on his side's ODI debut and their first-ever international win

He also talks about the 2014 World T20 campaign in Bangladesh, where the Dutch chased 190 against Ireland in less than 14 overs to qualify for the main stage. In the event, they ran South Africa close but fell short by six runs, were bowled out for 39 by eventual champions Sri Lanka and signed off by skittling out England for just 88, pulling off yet another upset after 2009. “In terms of enjoying your game and performing on the big stage, a big yes. We felt that we had something to prove after losing ODI status only a month before. But it was very enjoyable and I have some fond memories of our time in Bangladesh.”

ADDING TO SKILLS AND BEING AT HELM

Pieter started off primarily as a left-arm spinner but is now recognized as an all-rounder, who chips with vital runs. What triggered this change in him? “It comes down to two things basically. I got hit in the head whilst batting, so I needed to up my game to prevent that from happening again. The second fact is that the game has evolved a lot and as a spinner, you really need to be able to bat - unless you are a mystery spinner, or an out-and-out fast bowler.”

The Netherlands also saw a change at the helm as Peter Borren announced his retirement earlier this year and Pieter was selected to take over as the captain. “I got called in for a meeting when we started the pre-season. At first, I thought it was a meeting about me personally for the upcoming season, but turned out to be a whole lot different.”

It’s been only a few months since taking charge but Pieter doesn’t see any change in himself yet. He explains “Well I have definitely evolved in the way I manage my players. During the games as well but mainly in off the field stuff too. You can't keep everyone happy, and you have to manage so many different characters. I am a pretty chilled person and I like to captain that way too.”

Pieter also says that being an Associate cricketer is tough and more so if cricket is the only way of living. “It's tough because you dedicate your life to be a sportsman, but it's hard to get the recognition. We are not paid very much (compared to other full-time cricketers), and a lot comes from the drive within. But we are also able to make our hobby our job, so it’s not that we should be complaining too much”.

He also believes that the ICC needs to change its stance regarding the participation of Associate Nations in World Cup, which has been reduced to just ten for next year as well as for the 2023 edition. “I think the whole Associate community is playing its part now. In the last two years the performances against the bigger teams have been a whole lot better, and definitely more consistent. That is the way we should keep going forward, to work harder, being humble and keep putting strong performances together, so the ICC will change their mind and we might see the Associates in the World Cup yet again”.

Pieter also acknowledges the support of people who keep Dutch cricket going on, especially with regard to his family and friends. “It's been absolutely fantastic. My parents co-incidentally are the team’s number one fans. And they always keep me grounded. When it comes to friends, it's always nice to see them, because they don't have a clue about cricket, so I can get my time away from cricket and they don’t give me a hard time about my game (laughs).”

Pieter signs off with his vision for Dutch cricket as its leader. “My vision is to be able to keep competing at the highest level. For me it’s important that now we have gained ODI status and being the 13th team in the ODI League, that we do not settle for this. I'd like the team to keep progressing, and hopefully, at the end of 2023 we are not 'number 13', but maybe inside the top-10. Fingers crossed!”



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