Ahead of their ninth and final World Cup fixture, against India in Bengaluru, Cook looked back on the growth of his side over the past two months with fondness, while also giving an honest account of their shortcomings.
“It goes without saying that the guys have put in some really good performances both individually and as a team, both batting and bowling and fielding,” he assessed. “So, I think everyone has gone in a respect for the way that we’ve played our cricket and the style in which we’ve gone about it.
“And that’s been really pleasing to see from a coaching perspective. The guys have improved a lot in terms of all their different habits that they have in their training and refining our processes and the tournament has been very good for us in that regard.”
Prior to the World Cup, Cook had implored the bigger teams for some game time. When they didn’t get that, they were forced to come to India in October without having played an official ODI since their heroics at the Qualifiers in Zimbabwe in June. But now, things are looking up.
“I have actually had a few teams’ coaches approach me and ask about our schedule and how potentially they could fit into their schedule, so that bodes well,” Cook revealed. “But I know the international schedules are quite full.
“But again, we would obviously love to play as many teams as possible. We’ve shown that we can compete for long periods of the game, and obviously by playing games against these teams, we’re going to be able to compete better for longer.”
Cook admitted the scrapping of the ODI Super League – of which Netherlands were a part between 2020 and 2023 – was a big blow. However, there’s hope yet, with the ICC set to discuss the issue at its annual conference slated for later in the month.
As things stand, the Super League isn’t part of the next cycle, with the participants for the 2027 World Cup to be decided based on the ODI rankings. This means there is no imperative for teams to play a set number of matches in the next four years. Associate nations, like Netherlands, will be hit hardest as they aren’t guaranteed a fixed number of games (it was 24 in the Super League cycle).
“Yeah, I think the Super League was really influential for the players and they often refer back to those as reference points that they’ve had playing in different countries, playing against some of the top teams in the world,” Cook said. “And I think it’s probably one of the reasons why we sit in the position that we’re in today to be competing at the World Cup.
“The guys get better playing better opposition[s] and obviously the more of those opposition[s] we can play, it will be handy for us. I think we had a situation where after the qualifiers we had no cricket against any – we just had Karnataka that we played against.
“And probably in hindsight, we missed a couple of fixtures to refine our skills and get ourselves going in terms of quality fixtures that we had. Those two games [against Karnataka] were really good, but probably not quite enough for preparation for a World Cup like this. And that was no fault of our own. We tried our best to try and get as many fixtures as we could. But obviously, as we said, the schedules are quite packed.
“So, yeah, the Super League is obviously a blow for us, but again, there’s nothing stopping a bilateral series happening between two countries in ODI cricket or in T20 cricket as we move towards the T20 World Cup as well. They will be up against the good teams again and obviously we’ll be trying to prepare as well as we can for that tournament.”
Cook was also forthright in talking about Netherlands’ shortcomings, without using their circumstances or scheduling as an excuse. “We need to be better for longer, whether that’s with the bat or with the ball,” he said. “I think we’ve shown glimpses of great periods of play. Some of those periods have been 20-30-40 overs long, but an ODI is 100 overs long.
“In the field, I think the guys have stuck with it really well. I think we’ve shown ourselves to be one of the best fielding teams in this competition. And they put a lot of pride into that. And we put a lot of time and effort into that because it is one area that we can compete in. And you’ll see it every training session that we have. We always do fielding and the guys are always improving that aspect.”
Cook was particularly effusive in his praise for the group’s camaraderie and commitment, which has helped them tide over some tough losses. “I’ve been very proud personally of the effort that all the guys have put in,” he said. “We are on the last leg [of the tournament], but you would never know that by being in and around the team.
“You’d never sort of see a dull moment, the connection between the group, the cohesion, the unity that we stand for is probably even stronger than it’s ever been. So, I think that goes to show the kind of culture that we have and how we are learning and how it isn’t so much about the results as it is about the progression at this stage of our development as a team.”
Netherlands came in wanting to shed this tag of being called Associates. This, Cook felt, had the potential to undermine their belief and play a certain way. They spoke often about the semi-finals being a realistic goal. While that couldn’t be achieved, Cook was happy that they will leave India knowing they’re a far better team than the one that arrived mid-September.
“Yeah, I mean, obviously, would we have wanted to sort of be in those semi-final spaces come tomorrow? Yes, I’m sure we would have. But I think the guys take valuable lessons away and the relationships that we’ve been able to develop have been really strong. I think we’ve also learned a lot of lessons around how we should prepare for these types of conditions.
“We came out to Bangalore [Bengaluru] twice, which was a great experience for us. And that was sort of a mind-opening and eye-opening experience for everyone. And yeah, if we’d had a few more games in the subcontinent, I think probably we would have come in a little bit better prepared. But nonetheless, we had what we had and the guys, as you say, have been putting in the full effort that they can every game that they play, every training session that they come to. So very proud as a coach in that regard.”
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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