ICC World Cup: How Roelof van der Merwe plotted his former team’s downfall

Netherlands shows Associate countries can do better with a helping hand from the ICC

In the South Africa vs Netherlands match, van der Merwe (in orange) celebrates after claiming a wicket  (photo: ICC/Getty Images)
In the South Africa vs Netherlands match, van der Merwe (in orange) celebrates after claiming a wicket (photo: ICC/Getty Images)
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Gautam Bhattacharyya

Until one nippy evening at the Dharamsala Stadium, on 17 October, the Dutch were known as a mainly footballing superpower who also played cricket.

After their stunning upset against South Africa, the team which looked like a serious title contender after its first two games, the cricket fraternity may be reconsidering Netherlands now. 

The 50-overs World Cup, still looking to properly capture the public imagination even in a cricket-crazed country like India, has now seen two major upsets in three days. If asked to rate between them on a scale of 10, one has to elevate the Netherlands' feat much higher than Afghanistan's — especially given the Dutch team is an Associate member with only three players on a professional contract.  

While Rashid Khan & Co are no strangers to the big world stage, the Dutch relied more on a can-do attitude and a small core group of exceptional performers.

What’s more, when Scott Edwards, captain and Player of the Match for a game-changing 78 (off 63 balls), said later that they were here to win matches and look at a possible tilt at the semi-finals, one got an insight into their brave mindset. 

So how good is Netherlands as a team — or was it more a case of the Proteas having a rare off day?

While Edwards showed a great deal of cricket sense to take the Dutch innings deep with the help of his number eight and nine batters after slumping to 82 for 5 at one stage, the seasoned Roelof van der Merwe also deserves his moment in the spotlight.  

Merwe, one of the oldest players in this World Cup at 38, has been living his dream of playing in at least one 50-overs World Cup. Born in the ‘rainbow nation’ of South Africa to a Dutch mother, the left arm spinner-allrounder was a member of the SA national squad in two T20 World Cups, before changing shirts in 2015. He was also a member of the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the early days of the Indian Premier League (IPL).  

‘’At the time of making the decision to switch, there wasn’t much opportunity for me to break into the South Africa team. It was the best decision for my family,’’ van der Merwe said in an interview on arriving in India.

After starring in a 64-run partnership for the eighth wicket with his skipper, where he contributed 29 (off 19 balls), van der Merwe came on to bowl in the powerplay to provide that change of pace — and succeeded at removing rival skipper Temba Bavuma early. His 2/34 off 9 overs on a helpful track played its part in choking up the South African chase.          

Incidentally, it was the Dutch who shocked South Africa only last year too at the T20 World Cup in Australia, though it’s their first-ever win in this format of the World Cup. They last figured in the 50-overs showpiece in 2011 in India, though their maiden appearance was way back in 1996, when the event was jointly hosted by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. 

In all these years, they have played just 10 ODIs against India, England and Australia — of which three were against England, in Amstelveen last year.

The chances for an Associate country to get a look-in in the 50-overs showpiece has shrunk further since even the 2019 edition, with the number of teams in the tournament having been whittled down to 10 (the top eight ranked teams and two qualifiers).  

The Dutch, to jog one’s memory a little, had overcome teams like the West Indies, Ireland and Scotland in the qualifiers to come this far. It will be interesting to see if they can build up some more on the good work!   

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