Snowcapped mountains, palm trees and Warnesque spin bowlers. Quite what part of the Netherlands we were in we still have no idea but it hosted some thoroughly good cricket!
On the first morning (Or afternoon, it was a day/nighter) we were untroubled at 54 without loss just one ball before the beverage break and looked destined for a big first innings total. Ben Duckett, not content with just liquid refreshment, couldn’t resist a nibble however and out of nowhere we were one wicket down. His replacement at the wicket, another Ben in the form of the recalled Ben Stokes then went on the attack to carry us to 102-1. In the blink of an eye though that became 108-4! Stokes dragged on after striking a punchy 39, Jos Buttler (4) executed an awful leave for the second time in the competition and Haseeb Hameed, who made 39 in 56 deliveries more than it took Stokes, was caught both in two minds and behind. Moeen Ali looked in excellent touch once again but fell for 34 before captain Joe Root and wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow batted brilliantly to brighten our outlook.
The Yorkshire pair lifted us from the wreckage of 158-5 to 287-5 when Root (62) was bowled courtesy of a Buttler-like leave soon after tea. That was Root’s sixth half-century of the North Western Hemisphere Test Championship (A competition best) but his top score remains 77 not out.
Bairstow’s batting bloomed however and the white rose flowered amongst the tulips. His innings of 104 was a composed and truly masterful innings that in part made you frustrated at how poor his batting returns have been in the competition up to this point. Let’s celebrate the now though. It was a class knock that demonstrated ability, intelligence and application.
Sam Curran (10) and Stuart Broad (1) joined YJB in departing in a hurry before we declared on 345-9 from 75 overs. Chris Woakes finished unbeaten on 16 alongside debutante Jamie Porter on 5.
The Dutch openers, not a fifty in sight in their Test careers to date, then danced to the floodlit wicket. Darren Toonen, top score 16 and averaging 4.25 in four Tests was worked over by England’s new new ball pair of Broad and Anderson prototype Porter but got off the mark with an edge for four.
Having reached an average enhancing 7, he nicked via pad towards Root who sprinted forward from the slips and helped Essex man Porter become a Test match wicket-taker. Our hosts had reached 32-1 when at 9pm the floodlights were switched off to conserve energy. The NWHTC actively supports and promotes efficient energy usage and environmental respect.
On day two Netherlands progressed to 67-1 before opener Shaun Mortier, having compiled a career best 42, was outstandingly caught behind by Jonny Bairstow off the bowling of Ben Stokes. Due to a lack of bounce on the wicket, Bairstow was stood up to the stumps but somehow managed to cling onto the pink ball high to his left. Nobody had expected to have to wait until round five for Ben Stokes to claim his maiden NWHTC wicket but he was finally up and running. Keen to make up for lost time the Durham tyrant then had Dutch captain Warren Beelen caught by Bairstow again for a second ball quack quack.
From 67-3 Netherlands moved onto 75 before the controversial episode that sent shockwaves throughout the cricket community. Batsman Bryan Long, on 1 at the time, pulled the ball behind square and never left his crease. Moeen simply lobbed the ball back towards the stumps and by accident rather than design it dislodged the bails. There was no appeal from our team but the umpires took the decision upstairs. Despite replays clearly showing that Long was in and had never left his ground, ‘OUT’ appeared on the big screen. Captain Joe Root, backed by his teammates, politely but passionately protested with the umpires. This is not how we want to take wickets! Umpire Symons insisted that Long must leave the field of play however and despite further protestations from our players, Netherlands slumped to 75-4. I’d like to reiterate that none of our players appealed for the wicket and the team were unanimous both at the time and now that Long should not have been given out. It was disappointing officiating and a unnecessary stain on the inaugural North Western Hemisphere Test Championship.
Feeling aggrieved, the bottom of the table side regained their composure and recovered to reach 107-4 before Moeen, legitimately, accounted for Maxwell Rabe. Rabe batted well for 18 but nicked behind a ball that spun off the blades of green grass protruding terra firma more than the blades on a Dutch windmill! Broad then gave Bairstow yet another dismissal when he tempted Pluto Schmidt to play away from his body and edge behind. Pluto might not be a planet anymore but Schmidt’s bowling (3-48) was out of this world. Unfortunately his batting failed to launch!
Our hosts then displayed some Dutch courage with a partnership of 61 between the defiant Shuman Engels (19) and Bradley Claessens (91). Ahhh, the classic inverted innings! Engels was athletically caught at short leg by Moeen off Sam Curran before Claessens suffered his heartbreak. Having passed fifty for the first time in Test cricket, the left-hander was within sight of a hundred when a bowling change caught him off guard. To the second ball of a new Stokes spell, he edged to Hameed in the slips to end his dreams of a Test ton, for now anyway. Shane Snater (5) then fell in the same over, a fifth catch for Bairstow to give him more NWHTC dismissals than some of the Dutch batsmen have runs! Last men standing Klassen (17 not out) and van Meekeren (2) lifted the Netherlands to a respectable 212 before Jamie Porter (2-55) terminated the innings. Stokes was by far the pick of the bowlers with figures of 4-55 and wickets taken at crucial times.
Come our second dig, messrs Duckett and Hameed, as has been the case many times before, looked at ease in reaching 44-0 before Duckett fell in the first over of spin. The left-hander looked sprightly in making 24 and executed a glorious reverse sweep for four before being dismissed the very next ball. He looked good, built up everybody’s hopes but got out. It was all too familiar and Ben will now be better served returning to domestic cricket. That is the harsh truth but we can persist no more.
Stokes was then superbly caught and bowled by van Meekeren for just 6 before Hameed and Root set about repairing the damage. The pair combined for 61 before Root (32) dragged on in Toonen’s first over. Unfortunately there then followed a horrible little episode late in the day. Hameed, struggling with injury, was slow to get on his bike and thus run out for 61 before Buttler (7) fell in single figures again. After a promising start to the competition, he’ll need a good showing in the first stage of the Global ODI Invitational to be in with a chance of retaining his Test spot. Moeen (8 not out) and Bairstow (4 not out) survived until the close. We finished day two on an underwhelming 147-5 but a healthy 280 runs to the good.
The following morning was pretty inglorious with Moeen soon run out for 29. Run outs have crept into our batting and need eradicating quickly. Bairstow (23) was then caught behind off a horrendous swoosh off Snater. Woakes (13) also edged to Engels and Broad was caught and bowled for 1 with both men falling to van Meekeren (3-70). We were keen to get on with things on day three, what with the threat of rain and an opportunity to potentially have an extra couple of days rest ahead of the ODIs but our batsmen could’ve applied themselves better. Thankfully Sam Curran (27 not out) and Jamie Porter (11 not out) lifted us to 239-9 and we declared at drinks. Curran’s innings included an all run five! Netherlands were left requiring 373 for a duck breaking win in the competition.
As in the first innings the home team made some sort of start by reaching 22 without loss before messrs Broad and Porter accounted for openers Mortier (11) and Toonen (12). Then in the first over after lunch, captain Root handed the ball to Sam Curran. Curran, our leading wicket-taker in the competition but a little quiet in recent innings, promptly clean bowled first innings hero Bradley Claessens (5) with his and the session’s first delivery, had the luckless Long caught in the slips for a golden duck and despite Rabe negotiating the hat-trick ball, Curran sent him back to the pavilion for just 2 with the final delivery of the over. Curran didn’t stop there, soon trapping Dutch captain Beelen (9) plumb LBW before Stokes got in on the act when Schmidt (20) nicked behind. Schmidt had lifted the homeside from the wreckage 47-6 to a slightly more respectable 76-7 and looked a good player on both sides of the wicket.
Snater (11) then dug in with Engels to help the hosts pass three figures before being clean bowled by Moeen. Next man Klassen didn’t dig in as like Curran, Moeen (2-22) struck twice in as many deliveries.
Curran then returned to claim his third five-wicket haul (5-29) of the NWHTC. Van Meekeren had held out for seventeen deliveries but edged to Bairstow for only 1 in the first over under lights. Gloveman Engels, who applied himself extremely well, was left undefeated on 38 from 83 balls. Netherlands were all out for just 112 meaning a crushing 260-run win for us. It was another positive result for us but we’d still like our batsmen to kick on more and apply a little gloss to our victories.
Our fourth consecutive win leaves us 10 points behind the unbeaten Scots and 10 ahead of Ireland at the halfway stage of the inaugural North Western Hemisphere Test Championship. Netherlands remain winless and on course for the wooden spoon. We now take a respite from the rigours of the longest format and turn our attention to the early rounds of the Global ODI Invitational. Look out for our squad announcement soon.