With International Cricket taking a short hiatus as the IPL gets underway, those keeping an eye on events in Windhoek were treated to a cracker of a match. Namibia’s Intercontinental Cup clash with the Netherlands paid fitting tribute to the ambition and talent of both teams.
A classic to-and-fro match kept secret the winner until the evening session of the final day, showcasing what can be achieved when two sides of equal ability take each other on. Both teams sit comfortably at first class level, each with a sprinkling of players who could take their game to the next level.
A Timm van der Gugten blitz with the ball and a ruthless, counter-attacking century from Raymond van Schoor lit up the first day and set the tone for the match. Louis Klazinga and Christi Viljoen would grace any first class bowling attack, while even with a target of 320 to chase on the final day, Tom Cooper’s presence at the crease kept the game firmly alive. Cooper is a fine talent and I still believe that in the not too distant future, the Oranje cap will be replaced by a baggy green.
It was a timely reminder of the quality that exists away from the top table, given ICC chief Dave Richardson’s comments in a TMS interview during the New Zealand – England test series (Asked about opportunities to develop into test nations, Richardson declared that the Associates were ‘pretty content with two spaces to qualify for the World Cup’). Granted, you couldn’t describe the match as ‘test standard’, but to suggest that all the Dutch and Namibians care about is qualifying for a world cup is downright insulting.
Four day cricket against sides of similar ability is intrinsic in developing the ability to compete against the best in the world, regardless of format. Suggestions that Associates should only focus on the World T20 ignores the fact that these nations need to develop core skills to begin with, and the best way of doing so is in the longest form of the game. If the match in Windhoek is an sort of indication it appears that the Associates are moving very much in the right direction and with the right mindset.
It also raises the question of the potential for if not a second tier test competition, then at least a more focused approach to 4/5 day cricket amongst the Associates. There would be numerous hurdles to overcome, of course. Broadcasting rights to Scotland v Namibia may prove a hard sell as well as attracting larger sponsors than those already involved. Complete professionalisation of the second tier would also be required to allow regular, meaningful series to take place at a high enough standard – a difficult task given the modest finances and second jobs held by Associate cricketers.
Still, there is scope to improve the current structure and provide a better platform from which a step up to test level could be made. The likes of Ireland, Scotland, Afghanistan, Netherlands and Namibia are not test standard as of yet and it is disappointing that the ICC appear intent on keeping it that way. The Intercontinental Cup offers high quality match-ups between sides that show no fear and an abundant of talent, it’s time they were given more support.