CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - World Cup spots for minor nations are at a premium with only 10 teams in next year’s edition and the return of Ryan ten Doeschate significantly improves the chances of the Netherlands grabbing one at this month’s final qualifying tournament.
The free-hitting 37-year-old, discovered by former England captain Graham Gooch, is widely regarded as the best cricketer from a non-test playing nation and last year led Essex to the county championship.
His return to the Dutch side for the first time since the 2011 World Cup is a huge boost to their hopes of taking one of the two qualifying berths away from the 10-nation tournament that starts in Zimbabwe on Monday and runs to March 25.
“The Dutch association asked to me help out in the bid to qualify and I thought I’d give it another go and I’m really pleased that I did,” the South African-born all-rounder told Reuters in an interview.
Ten Doeschate was due to play in South Africa’s Global Twenty 20 competition at the end of last year but when it was cancelled he went with the Dutch team to Dubai where they successfully won a place in the final qualifiers in Zimbabwe.
“I had a great time in Dubai and was amazed at how much the standard had improved and how the set up had changed,” he added.
“There is much improvement. I don’t think the number of games you get granted is a measure of how much you have improved.
“Having a first hand account of things after being absent for six years, I can assure you the Dutch team has improved drastically. I can honestly say that I think all the Dutch boys are up to county cricket standard.”
The Netherlands are paired with former World Cup winners West Indies as well as Ireland, Papua New Guinea and the United Arab Emirates in Group A in Harare.
The top three advance to a second round against the top three from Group B, which comprises Afghanistan, Hong Kong, Nepal, Scotland and hosts Zimbabwe, with the top two overall going to the World Cup in England next year.
“It will be tough to qualify, but we certainly have a squad that can play consistently good cricket,” he said. “An upset now wouldn’t be of the scale it was 10 or even five years ago. Zimbabwe and the West Indies are the obvious hurdles but there is a lot of tough cricket to be played with the likes of Ireland and Afghanistan.”
The Dutch previously played at the 1996, 2003, 2007 and 2011 tournaments.
Ten Doeschate scored two centuries in 2011, against England and Ireland, and his hard hitting has made him a sought-after team mate in the myriad of limited overs and Twenty20 competitions across the globe.
But his role in leading Essex to winning the Division Two and Division One titles in county cricket in successive seasons has emphasised his prowess in all forms of the game.
“It is the standout moment for me. Particularly after being promoted in 2016. It’s different to winning other competitions, like an Indian Premier League,” he said.
“It felt like the reward of a life’s long labour. Also being emotionally attached to the players, the staff and a lot of other people who are involved with the club over a long period of time makes it more special.”
He will be back again for the coming season after which he will be hoping the World Cup beckons.
“As long as I’m adding value at Essex I’d like to keep playing,” he said.
“I’m also acutely aware that there’s a right time for change and I don’t want to be hanging on when there are young players coming through. We have a good crop of youngsters simmering on the verge of first class cricket, so it’s more up to them than it is me.”
Editing by Nick Mulvenney