For starters, they aren’t thinking of themselves as Associates. They want to play as equals with the big boys. For de Leede, there’s no bigger motivation than that.
“We want to make the semi-finals,” he announced ahead of their first game against Pakistan in Hyderabad. It may seem a fanciful dream to many, considering Netherlands haven’t played an ODI since the World Cup Qualifiers in June.
They arrived in India late September for two warm-up games against Karnataka, and the nature of pitches proved a challenge. In the first game, they slumped to 3 for 8, before making 114 in pursuit of 266. In the second, they made 295 and lost by one wicket.
Netherlands had both their World Cup warm-ups against Australia and India washed out; and Mitchell Starc blew away their top order in the little play that was possible. It was a reminder of what they can expect when they face Shaheen Afridi and Haris Rauf.
Several first-choice players had missed Netherlands’ glorious run at the World Cup Qualifiers to honour their English county contracts. De Leede was among those who made it to Zimbabwe thanks to Durham making letting him go play.
“We obviously don’t get to play together as a team very often because guys are spread out,” he said. “But I think the learnings we can take from Karnataka was, first of all, it was nice to play together as a team and try and adapt to Indian conditions.
“Obviously, it’s one thing training in Indian conditions, but then another thing going out and playing and seeing what it’s like in a game. Then you know lack of game time. It was a shame that the warm-up games got rained off. But I think in the nets, we try and replicate game scenarios and try and be as competitive as we can when bowling to each other, when facing each other.”
In the first match of that series, Netherlands nearly chased down Pakistan’s 314 but fell 16 short. In the third ODI, having restricted Pakistan to 206, they were 108 for 3 before collapsing to lose by nine runs.
“I think the experience of the whole Super League, having played against bigger nations, was fantastic for us,” de Leede said. “And obviously, Pakistan, having played them last year in Rotterdam in three ODIs, it’ll be nice to sort of be familiar with the team and the players and stuff, having played them before.
“I think that will help us a little bit. But obviously, you know, they’ve evolved. They’ve gotten better. They’ve got different skills now as well, even with Shaheen [Afridi] coming back, who didn’t play that series.”
Twice during the press conference, de Leede was asked to be “realistic” in terms of setting expectations.
“We want to make the semi-finals,” he said both times. “If we want to get there, we’ve got to win four or five games. So, we’d have to take down one of the big teams. But that’s (semi-finals) our main target. And if we get there, we play our best cricket. Amazing. But if we play our best cricket and we don’t get there, I reckon we can still be proud of ourselves.”
How will they approach their quest to make the final four? Play with a nothing-to-lose approach or set high goals and try to get there?
“I think probably a mixture of both,” he said. “I don’t think any of the teams have got anything to lose. They’ve got something to gain, which is winning the World Cup. I think for us, obviously it’s special being back for the first time since 2011, but we’ve set our goal high which is making the semi-final. I don’t think if we don’t make it, we’re a failure or anything like that.
“I think if we don’t make it, but we have played our best cricket, we can still be proud of ourselves. But by setting the goal to make the semi-final, I think we can probably do more than what people expect from us.”
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo