Saturday 13 August 2022

Howzat! The Netherlands gears up for a summer of first class cricket

The club house and extension. Photo: DutchNews.nl

A mower is moving slowly over the main pitch at Amstelveen cricket club VRA, while the birds sing. In the background, the sound of an electric drill within the club house is the only noise to disturb the rural peace. Even the planes heading for Schiphol are quiet.

But in three week’s time, the green will be filled with fans, marquees and television crews as VRA kicks off the biggest season of international cricket the Netherlands has ever seen, hosting first the West Indies and then England as part of the CWC Super League series of one day internationals.

The club, sandwiched between the hockey giants of Amsterdam, Pinoke and Hurley and which dates back around 100 years, has just 350 members but is thinking big.

‘It was either go bust, downsize or really go for it,’ says club treasurer Peter van Gulik during a guided tour. ‘So we decided to expand and update our facilities, in the hope of attracting teams looking for pre season training facilities, as well as offering cricket-related events to companies and groups.’

Funding

The money to fund all this has come from contributions, donations and some sponsorship, as well as loans, and it will take four of five years to be sure the gamble has paid off.

Today, the 1930s clubhouse on the edge of the green is perched in front of a massive indoor hall, where the Dutch teams now train all year round. The indoor training facility hall is top of the bill, developed according to English cricket board specifications, with international-standard lighting, three pitches and includes a gym. 

The club itself is being extended with new changing rooms, a big, state-of-the-art kitchen, offices and relaxation areas to meet the needs of the modern game – and the International Cricket Council.

With just weeks to go before the West Indies arrive, much is still bare concrete, and the club’s board have been drafted in to help the electricians and builders finishing the job.

We’ve been working on the project for two years, through the Covid lockdowns,’ says board member and volunteer Theo Lindemann, as he checks the boxes of tiles piled on a table in the bar area.

We’ve been digging for the drains, overseeing the drilling of 125 piles to support the hall and now finally, we are finishing the venue for the international matches.’

Global game

With an estimated 2.5 billion followers worldwide, cricket is second only to football. Not so in the Netherlands, where a little over 5,000 people play the game, and many of them are international workers from the traditional cricket-playing countries.

The current board room. Photo: Dutch News

VRA itself has seven senior teams and a women’s steam playing in league competition, plus three recreational teams and a growing youth arm.

The club is home to 23 nationalities, many of whom are drawn from the international community in Amsterdam and Amstelveen. First team player Vikramjit Singh is a relatively new addition to the Dutch squad, who will have their mettle tested by some of the best teams in the world this summer.

Van Gulik hopes that the summer’s internationals will help boost the sport and take it to a wider audience. The Netherlands, he points out, does not play test match cricket, only 50 overs or T20, and that is making the game more attractive to more people.

‘A match does not last all day. You are not gone from 9 am to 8 pm so we hope the T20 will encourage more people to come to the games. It is also more exciting to look at,’ he says.

Tickets

So far ticket sales are going well, and will be bolstered by the thousands of English fans who will make the trip over the channel next month.

‘When England plays, they play in a stadium with 60,000 to 100,000 people with all the facilities and now they will be coming here… to just a little cricket club,’ says Van Gulik. ‘It means we have to have the facilities to meet the ICC demands and we have to live up to that.

‘But we must not forget our members who play recreational cricket and just want to have a good time. It is their club and they want to be able to play every day as well. So we have to take that into account too.’

VRA kicks off the cricket season with the West Indies on May 31, June 2 and 4, followed by England on 17, 19 and 22 June. New Zealand are in town for two games in Voorburg on August 4 and 6, and the season wraps up with Pakistan on August 16, 18 and 21, hosted by VOC in Rotterdam.

‘There has never been a more important year with more important games in the history of Dutch cricket,’ says Van Gulik. ‘We have been working toward this point for many years and we have a lot to live up to.’

You can buy tickets for all the games on the KNCB website

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