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Talentdevelopment in the slow lane: an ode to the Zomi philosophy 


ACC 222/4 

MOP 175/8 

[door Joost Bakker] Last Sunday, I made my maiden fifty. In this cricket bio doubling as match report, I want to praise the environment that made this possible. I apologize beforehand if it gets too sentimental at times.

I started playing cricket in the early 2000s, when my flat mate Alexander Swaneveld brought me to a Hippopotamus Cric family tournament. I had played football and tennis before, so I liked ball sports, but cricket was very new to me. I enjoyed the laidback culture, and instantaneously made fame by kicking in the HIC windows using a football when the post tournament celebrations were long underway.

From then, I started playing more regularly for Hippo in a team operating in the long-forgotten Koch class. I played together with expat cricketers, like Robert Wolfe, Neil Wall, Haney Zaidi, Duncan McNab, Nagesh Danturti, and Richard Matchett. These fellows all seemed to know a lot about this sport, speaking in incomprehensible cricket jargon, mixed into the even more incomprehensible language from their native lands. I wasn't very good at cricket, could not bowl at all (no change there), but my enthusiasm chasing balls was appreciated, and I very much enjoyed it all.

I took a break from cricket between 2004-2007 to work in Berlin and Paris, but upon coming back contacted my old friends to pick up where I left. It turned out Hippo had ceased to exist, and my team had joined ACC, playing 3rd class cricket. The core of the team was the same, but I met many other players, like Robert's baby brother Richard, Dicky Broggel, Patrick Phillips and the team's captain Mike Walsh. Obviously, little had changed in the language department.

From then, I was a permanent member of ACC4 or ACC5 or whatever we called ourselves. When the Zomi class was founded, we joined, but the culture never changed: fanatic in the field for a win, just as fanatic in the third innings. But most importantly: everyone should enjoy the game on Sunday. No wins at the cost of people being alienated from the team, by batting 11, and running from long-on to long-off in between overs.

My lack of talent in bowling and my failure to crack the 10 runs barrier in batting did not stop me from simply enjoying each Sunday's opportunity to run around in the green. It was Marvin Watts who suggested I give keeping a try, if only to be able to face more balls and with that the chance to improve my batting. I enjoyed the keeping but remained quite afraid of the ball. I bought my signature black face mask, that I first wore only when standing up, later permanently, after a screaming ball deflecting off the pitch-grass border hit me on the chin, (thanks for that too, Marv!)

But my batting did not improve much. Sporadically, I scored now in the 10-20 range, with an outlier at 27 in a Halfway game. And then, the pandemic came. The 2020 season was delayed, then slowly started with internal competitions. Late September, social distancing rules were tightened again, followed by partial and full lockdown, and even a curfew. Nothing to do but work from home, taking the same evening walks around the neighborhood. But the restrictions left open the possibility to do sports in the outdoor in small groups with distancing. Surely aimed at yoga in the park, they could equally well be applied for training my batting in the nets. Together with Lotte Heerkens, I developed a routine to cycle to 't Loopveld on Saturdays around noon for batting practice with our friend Bola, the ACC bowling machine. From November on, each weekend we played endless sessions, practicing fast bowling, slow bowling, sometimes even sweeps or ramps. Frequently, we were visited by elder club members, bemused at seeing cricket on New Year's day or on a drizzly February afternoon. But we only missed two Saturdays, when Holland turned into an arctic tundra, and skating the canals was a safer option. Bruised and battered by Bola, we would finish with a beer or Schrobbelèr (don't ask) in the dusk under the club house cover.

When spring came, other cricketers started training (Girish' gang was there from January) and my first season after winter training was a different one from the previous: I could make cricket runs rather than edges slipping through. In the fabulous Umer league, the intra-ACC training competition, I made a mark by winning Zomi the game coming in on the last ball with a two-run cover drive, the shot I had practiced all winter! During the season, I kept batting consistently, but no breakthrough yet. Winter nets were not pursued as intensely as the previous, as the lockdowns were short, and other entertainment became available. This year, my latest skipper Bart persuaded me to start as an opener. In the first game at HCC my 15 runs were a good support for Berend in a 58 run partnership, with lots of aggressive running. Without Berend, against Kampong and VCC at home, and R&W away (2/loss, 8/win, 4/loss, respectively) my scores were meagre.

This Sunday against MOP, my partnership with Berend was renewed, and what a cracker! From the start aggressive running combined with solid batting. Instructed at the 17th over drinks to calmly proceed we both kept scoring: a 73-ball 75 score for Berend is not unusual, but my moment of glory: I finally cracked the 30 runs mark. By a mile. An audience full of knowledgeable people called my 57 runs, including three 4s, but many quick singles, a 'solid 50'. Having become quite tired, I was aware of the number 49 on the old, soon to be replaced scoreboard, but I can honestly say nerves were numbed by fatigue. We batted together for 24 overs, raking in a 149 run partnership, before stupid indecisiveness made me run out Berend. I then scored another few runs before fatigue overcame me, and my innings was ended by a clean stumping.

broken image

So what is the moral of this story? 1) invest in training. Nobody in their right mind would have seen me make a fifty were it not for the hours and balls I had to spare two winters ago. 2) the inviting and nurturing culture at ACC, and in the Zomi and Zami teams in particular. The inviting nature of these teams, open to anyone with an interest in cricket makes them a jewel to ACC, a statement I am sure the captain of ACC1 with a Zomi pedigree can confirm. Without the continuing support and interest of my team mates, I would not have stayed around this long. It is often argued that the only social cricket is cricket that leads to wins, and I do not deny that wins are important. But not at any price: the quick, short term success of a win is for competitive cricket. Allow that starting bowler to bowl ten wides an over, but protect him from himself, and balance him with an experienced bowler that can help bend the game toward a win.

It is a fine line, where wins are thrown into the equation with the individual, making everyone feel important to the team. It is for navigating this fine line that I thank my captains past and present, and in the best way I can: by showing that the development of the cricket spirit in the social teams will pay off in the long run.

PS1: in my vanity I forget to mention Teun 'Bonnie' Kuilboer's 4 wicket haul, Roelof 'Dr Flow' Balk's 25, Bart 'der Führer' Sandberg's 24 and Ezzat 'Tazzie' Muhseni's 12 no. Next time the report will evolve around you!

PS2: my Pakistani PhD student says he scored a 200 run in a test match. I should never have asked... At least *I* have my PhD already.