Make no mistake, the Dutch have not disgraced themselves in any way – far from it – and they’ve had their moments in both games. But their ability to keep the pressure on is under the spotlight.
This is going to be the challenge for Netherlands throughout this tournament, and they know it. They’ve already come through a World Cup Super League, where they played series against five of the teams they will face at this World Cup, and lost them all. In the aftermath, they said the learnings from those defeats helped them at the qualifying tournament, where they beat a Full Member (West Indies) and qualified ahead of two others (Zimbabwe and Ireland). But now that they are at the big dance, they can see that it will take more than what they did in Harare three months ago to cause similar upsets.
For a start, they seem to be setting up their game incorrectly in choosing to chase in both their matches. Fielding first, without the kind of potency of attack that some of the teams at this tournament have, means they are chasing the game – literally – all the time. If they are given the opportunity to decide what to do in future games, they may want to consider setting the target, even if the opposition attack is intimidating, in order to establish a different kind of control.
And even in the Pakistan game, it only worked briefly. Netherlands had Pakistan 38 for 3 inside the first 10 overs before a 120-run partnership between Mohammed Rizwan and Saud Shakeel laid the platform for the lower order. Against New Zealand, it took 12.1 overs before the Dutch got the first wicket and they then allowed New Zealand to score at more than six runs an over throughout the middle period.
“Match-ups” and “blueprint” are the kind of tactical buzzwords you hear on commentary and analysis shows and occasionally in team meetings but from the noises other teams are making, they also talk about being adaptable and flexible and that vocabulary was not present in Ackermann’s post-match press conference. Perhaps he just wasn’t asked about it. But for argument’s sake, if Netherlands are not thinking a little out of the box, now is a good time to start, because the big teams will keep coming and they will have to find ways to compete more evenly with them.
It’s still far too early to come to too many conclusions about the way Netherlands will go in this tournament, and a common trope is that they are bound to upset someone, but to do that small improvements are needed quickly. In chasing big scores, they have yet to properly challenge and they understand that if they are in the same situation again, they can expect it to be just as difficult.
“Sometimes you’ve got to try and take it as deep as possible, but then the rate keeps climbing. These bowlers do make it difficult for us,” Ackermann said. “They’re not just going to give us easy boundaries in the middle overs. We lost by 100 runs today but I think we just gave them too many runs. We shouldn’t have chased 320. Maybe 280 – 290 would have been a decent chase today. We needed to set a firm base.”
And that suggests improvements with both bat and ball are needed before Netherlands next game, against South Africa in a week’s time.