Sunday, 7 June 2009

England lose to Holland ... at cricket

I was surprised by a number of things during England's miserable loss to the Netherlands on Friday. Of course, the fact that England were thumped by the Netherlands was very surprising. An England XI captained by Mark Benson may have been beaten by Holland at Haarlem in 1993, but this was on a whole new plane of ineptitude.

But what I found most surprising was that I actually found myself wanting the Netherlands to win. As Darron Reekers and Tom de Grooth smashed England's attack to all parts of The Oval, I was willing them on. I actually smiled as the entire Dutch squad ran on to the pitch to congratulate Ryan ten Doeschate and Edgar Schiferli as they scrambled through after Stuart Broad's now-infamous shy at the stumps.

I first considered that this surprising development was perhaps because I didn't really care. This is Twenty 20 cricket after all. It's nothing more than a souped-up slog - none of the players take it seriously, so why should I? Didn't New Zealand play in comedy Seventies afros in a Twenty 20 game against Australia a couple of years ago? But then I remembered that I actually love Twenty 20 cricket, and cried when Gloucestershire lost on Twenty 20 finals day at Edgbaston in 2003. And this is England. I always thought I would support England in any sporting contest, from wife-lifting to cheese-rolling.

I have concluded that my non-support of England was actually to do with the opposition. Sure, England have sporting rivalry with Holland, but that comes from football. A history of mould-breaking tactics, skilful individual players (including the great Johan Cruyff), and success at the highest level - the Dutch aren't just good at football, they are very good.*

But cricket is different, isn't it? Don't we have the European monopoly on the great game? I imagine Dutch net sessions in scrubby parks, during which a passerby runs off with the only ball, and one of the bowlers is playing in black tracksuit bottoms because he lent his only set of whites to a mate the week before and he hasn't got them back. How can you not warm to a team like that? And they play in orange.

And also I still think England have a decent chance of winning the tournament. If Holland can beat England at cricket, surely anything can happen, however ridiculous.

*See Brilliant Orange by David Winner for an excellent study of Dutch football. Simon Kuper has a long piece on Johan Cruyff in this month's FourFourTwo magazine.

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