Tales & treasures from cricket’s glorious past
The cricket broadcaster and former Middlesex captain on a summer which marked a turning point in cricket’s balance of power, and the year she turned English
Not many people will have heard of Tim de Leede. Fewer will count him among their first cricketing heroes. But he was mine. Owner of a sports shop by day, destroyer of international cricketing giants in his spare time, the powerful all-rounder was the embodiment of Dutch amateur cricket in the Noughties, of a nation scrapping to compete in an increasingly professional world.
By 2009, with de Leede two-years retired and cricket slipping lower down the Dutch sporting agenda, the Netherlands were pit against England as the rankest of outsiders for the opening game of the World T20 at Lord’s. England were expected to launch the tournament in an explosion of six hitting and athleticism, demonstrating the thrill of T20 cricket. What we got was more dramatic than anything anticipated, just not in the way expected.
We knew that T20 cricket was fast-paced, exciting and capable of attracting a new breed of fans; what wasn’t necessarily factored in was just how unpredictable it could be. The Netherlands’ nal-ball victory over the hosts, a scrambled run to an overthrow, showed its potential for giant-killing.
“It wasn’t quite the butcher, baker and candlestick-maker, but it was the repo man, the restaurateur and the insurance broker who embarrassed England in an astonishing start to the World Twenty20,” wrote Mike Atherton in The Times. “This was the greatest night in Dutch cricketing history – and one of England’s worst.”
De Leede might not have been there, but his legacy of the underdog amateur was. The Netherlands had beaten England before, in 1989 and 1993, but that was a different age, when the gulf between amateur and professional cricket hadn’t fully emerged. It had grown exponentially since. The advent of T20, however, suddenly provided a means to close that gap, if only fleetingly. The Netherlands would beat England again in their next and only T20 encounter since, in 2014. In this format they have a 100 per cent record against England.
While the IPL had started the previous year and the first World T20 a year before that, this was perhaps the first time the format was taken seriously in its own right; to host both the men’s and women’s nal at Lord’s was momentous.
India, so often the country to which work is outsourced, had reversed this by effectively outsourcing the lucrative IPL to South Africa earlier in 2009 following security concerns at home. A new world order had been born.
The tournament was such a success that the biggest news story ahead of England’s home Test series against West Indies was that Chris Gayle had the gall to turn up only two days before the first match, having come straight from the IPL.
As an expat English kid introduced to cricket on the volatile coconut matting of Dutch football-cum-cricket grounds, 2009 also marked a turning point in my own relationship with the game. While I revelled in the triumph of the Dutch, that summer I became English. Having represented the Netherlands based on residency qualifications as a young teenager, when I moved back to England in 2007 I joined Somerset – but as their overseas player. Never has a resident overseas possessed quite such a plummy accent, nor likely been quite as underwhelming a player. Justin Langer, then playing for Somerset men, I was not. It meant that any ambitions to represent England had been put on hold, at least until 2009.
Come that summer I was now English, and England Women had just done the double: a World Cup win in Australia and the World T20 title at Lord’s. Just as many attribute female enfranchisement in 1918 to women filling the factory workers’ void where men could not, England’s women cricketers were quickly filling a limited-overs trophy cabinet the men had yet to touch.
It was my chance to stake a claim for a place in this coveted England set-up. I felt ready. The cricketing gods, however, were not. After a broken arm in pre-season and county batting and bowling averages that would have satisfied most had they been reversed, by the time the Ashes arrived in early July, any early aspirations of improving my international average of nought were looking remote.
As the men’s first Ashes Test drew to its dramatic close in Cardiff, the match-saving exploits of Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar offered some hope that batting was a skill even the most unlikely might be able to, if not master, at least improve upon. Still, the mood in the car was a solemn one as I joined my Somerset teammate, the then seventeen-year-old Anya Shrubsole, with her father Ian on a day-trip to watch the women’s Ashes Test at New Road. While I was quietly contemplating my own life choices, Anya, already a World Cup winner, was seething at not having been considered for the Test. The outrage, the emotion, the teenage fragility – I’m still not sure how Ian survived that journey.
The match itself hardly even registers. It would be the last women’s Ashes series in England to be decided in this arcane manner – one Test between the two nations whose fixture list featured barely one long- form international match per year. As the game petered out to a draw, what was more signifcant was that this result, England retaining the Ashes as winners of the previous bout, meant they reigned supreme as holders of all major titles available to them.
Such global dominance – with their talismanic captain Charlotte Edwards leading the way on the field and Clare Connor, the ECB head of women’s cricket, equally driven off it – was unprecedented. This team would become the cornerstone of a new era of women’s cricket, from which a fully professional game has been borne; the success of the 2017 World Cup marking the most recent stepping stone in this journey. The New Road Test may not have had much of an immediate impact, but something must have clicked. Come August, with a disappointing county season behind me but with England’s men in the midst of an enthralling Ashes series, finely poised at 1-1 after Australia’s bounce-back at Headingley, anything seemed possible. I was named captain of one of the four teams competing in the Junior Super Fours, an under 19 competition featuring the best young players in the country. I finished as the tournament’s leading run-scorer and wicket-taker, hitting an unbeaten century in the final which featured several dropped catches and a wagon-wheel with a magnet seemingly stationed at square-leg.
Recently there has been much conjecture surrounding the rationale of favouring young cricketers, brimming with potential, over seasoned, proven stalwarts in international and first-class selections. I was one of those upstarts. Propelled into the England Academy on the back of a season where the stats couldn’t have been more contrasting – flourishing in age-group cricket, floundering on the county circuit – mine was a brief stint at the top.
If, on a personal level, 2009 started in frustration but ended in triumph, the same could be said of another young cricketer who would go on to enjoy a far more successful international career. The abiding image of England’s defeat to the Netherlands was of a disconsolate Stuart Broad, head in hands in disbelief. Fast forward two months and Broad’s ve-for, including a golden spell of four wickets for eight runs, saw him crowned Man of the Match in the series decider at The Oval. It was to be the start of Broad’s love affair with the Ashes and I, for one, was hooked.
It was a summer of hope – some of it later fulfilled, other bits less so – which proved that cricket, despite its fusty image, could and would change. It was now just a matter of how far and how fast.
• A version of this article was originally published in the December 2017 print edition of The Wisden Cricket Monthly.