Home > Cricket > World Cup 2003 > Columns > Peter Roebuck
Day of the minnows
March 03, 2003
Ordinarily Jan Feiko Kloppenburg works in a large law firm in The Hague. Every morning he reports to office and shuffles through papers containing the private language that lawyers use. Now and then he puts on some orange clothes and plays cricket for his country.
Hitherto, he had not been especially successful and his highest score in this tournament was 18. Considering he was missing work and receiving only $50 a day he might have been miserable but amateur cricketers do not think like that and the Dutch have been having the time of their lives.
To a man they wanted to play against the Australians in Potchefstroom, though the pitch was wet and there were two points for an abandoned match.
On a hot morning in Bloemfontein, Kloppenburg became the first Dutch batsman to score a hundred in an official one-day international, a tulip succeeding in the city of roses. A tall man with a fondness for driving over the top, Kloppenburg celebrated his fifty in style and upon reaching three figures swung his bat so that it resembled a windmill in a typhoon and hugged his partner so hard that observers feared he might not breathe again.
At the crease he was a man surprised to discover he could bat as well. Released from self-imposed limitations, he stepped down the pitch to drive the slower bowlers over long-on and bent to thrash anything wide over point. Few 28-year-olds have enjoyed themselves as much without breaking a law.
Nor was Kloppenburg's day complete. As the Namibians set off in hot pursuit of a distant target, the tall opener was thrown the ball and responded by taking four wickets for 42 in his ten overs, a spell that helped Holland to secure its first victory in the World Cup finals. Every cricketer yearns for days like this; even dry as dust lawyers have their dreams.
Klaas-Jan Van Noortwijk was not far behind. In civilian life he works for ABN Amro as a financial advisor. Now he emerged at first wicket down only because Bas Zuiderent, once a child prodigy and these days a struggling professional with Sussex, had hurt his head in a collision before the match. Zuiderent scored 50 against England as an 18-year-old in Holland's only previous World Cup finals in 1996. Van Noortwijk hit the ball hard from a short back-lift and directed his attentions over the mid-off. Not long after his comrade, he became the second Dutchman to score a hundred in the World Cup, whereupon he reacted with the restrained pleasure expected from seasoned batsmen. Noortwijk reached his century in 111 balls, 15 fewer than his partner and promptly stepped down the pitch to strike the biggest six of the innings. Helped by some sloppy fielding and wayward bowling from the Namibians, the pair added 228 in 243 balls. Afterwards the financier was so stiff he could not field.
Thanks to this stirring partnership Holland was able to end its campaign on a high note. Alas its captain and longest-serving player, Roland Lefebvre, had hurt his groin and could not take part in his farewell match. In his time, Lefebvre played for Somerset and Glamorgan, bowling his slippery mediums with an effervescence also detected in his work at the piano and conversation. Along the way he has twice beaten makeshift England teams and played in two World Cups so he has much to remember.
In retirement, Lefebvre will help to promote the game in his home country while representing non-Test playing countries at the International Cricket Council and continuing his physiotherapy business and raising his family. Lifting the game in Holland is not easy because it is a soccer-playing country and it is hard to get the game going in schools. Roland says it is difficult to sell the game to youngsters but points out that countries where the game is strong also have their problems.
Holland has not been overwhelmed by any opponent. Jeroen Smits, the tiny wicket-keeper, impressed the Australians so much that Adam Gilchrist said they should be meeting in the Dutch dressing-room, a compliment that meant a lot to a rising cricketer. The team is composed entirely of homegrown players. In the past most of the runs were made by expatriate West Indians and Australians.
Not that it has all been plain sailing. The day before their match in Bulawayo, the Dutch were told by their government to withdraw from the fixture. An official described the nastiness of the ruling party in Zimbabwe and said the team must not play. Unsurprisingly the cricketers were nonplussed by these last minute manoeuvres. The Dutch ambassador had wanted to accompany the team in their hotel but was instructed not to provide any assistance for the players.
Accordingly the cricketers found themselves caught in a conflict between their foreign affairs and sport departments. The match was played amidst controversy at home. Inevitably the players felt bewildered and let down.
Meanwhile Robert Mugabe appears in Paris and trade continues apace.
Happily such thoughts were pushed into the background as the lawyer and financier cut loose. The two Dutch batsmen had the day of their cricketing lives.