An interview with: Peter Drinnen

Peter Drinnen surely has one of the most unique CVs in world cricket. His playing career was cut short by injury after 5 matches for Queensland. Having never planned a career in coaching, he found himself in Scotland in the 90s. From there he progressed to Technical Director of Scottish cricket in 2003, selected by a panel which included Bob Woolmer. In 2006 he took over the role of Scotland national coach, leading them to the World Cup in 2007, before replacing Peter Cantrell in 2008 as the Netherlands coach. His experience in Associate Nation cricket, and its challenges, is probably unparalleled, and he leads a Netherlands team with some exciting players to the World Cup in Asia this spring.

After many years in Scotland, Drinnen seems to be enjoying his change of scene. He admits that there was a transitional phase, but says that it is a “fantastic country to live in, the people are great, and the quality of life is very, very good.” Lifestyle aside, what does he make of the Netherlands’ cricketing culture? “The game is growing, but it’s the pace that it’s growing at which is the frustration. There is a limited cricketing culture, and that’s the challenge we’re confronted with.” Drinnen is well-placed to offer comment and comparison on the challenges of coaching at this level.  “There are similarities but also differences with each country. There is a larger playing base in Scotland, whereas in the Netherlands playing numbers are behind. But core fundamental issues, such as limited financial resources are present in both countries, [from a coaching perspective] you have to be creative with your programming.”

It is because of this small player base that the Associate Nations tend to supplement home-grown talent with players from abroad. Ryan Ten Doeschate was born in Port Elizabeth, Tom Cooper in Wollongong, Australia. Essex batsmen ten Doeschate has been in outstanding form this year, while Cooper has scored 488 runs in only 7 innings. Most Associate nations take a pragmatic approach to this selection issue. For the Netherlands, “the ultimate goal is to have players coming through the Dutch system, but that takes time.” It may not take too long. Twenty-one year old Alexei Kervezee was born in Namibia, but raised through age group cricket in the Netherlands, and made his debut against Scotland in July 2005, aged only 15. Since then he has signed for Worcestershire and was a permanent fixture in the side throughout the 2010 season, proof that the Netherlands have the coaching ability to nurture young talent.

Indeed, Netherlands cricket is set to feature more prominently on the county scene with the country’s inclusion in the Clydesdale Bank 40 competition, something which Drinnen describes as “a massive plus for us.” Why so? “Quality opposition, quality wickets, and continual exposure to these things.” He emphasizes that what Dutch players require is regular competition at county standard. For this reason, Kervezee’s involvement with Worcestershire is something he considers positive, even if it means that his players aren’t available to turn out for The Netherlands. “At the moment I welcome any interest from counties. Due to our financial resources we can’t offer the players what they can, and it’s important that we develop strong links with them.” It is interesting that Ireland turned down a place in the CB40 to concentrate on their international commitments, but it seems there is no single vision for moving forward in Associate Nation cricket.

Despite their different approaches, both Ireland and The Netherlands will both head to the ICC Cricket World Cup in Asia this spring. Preparations for the tournament have been meticulous. In October, the whole squad came together for a skill based programme which lasted until Christmas. Conditioning started in mid-September, before a two week camp in India in November to familiarize the team with the conditions. Between now and the start of the tournament, the squad is “looking more at what we can expect to encounter from other teams.”

The competition has been restructured since 2007, with fourteen teams playing in two groups of seven. The 2007 tournament was notable for the fact that Ireland and Bangladesh progressed through difficult groups, with victories over Pakistan and India. In that tournament, one-off victories proved enough to send sides through, and some critics have suggested that the new format will make it more difficult for smaller nations to progress. For Drinnen, though, it’s a “good change, as it enables us to play more games, develop and improve our cricket, with fantastic training opportunities. We don’t often get those opportunities, and we really value these tournaments.”  And his tip for victory? “Who knows? I’m sure there are several teams that can win. You wouldn’t
write off Australia, England, South Africa or India. Australia will bounce back no doubt, England are a superb side at the moment, and Sri Lanka are a dark horse.”

Drinnen’s contract with the Netherlands is up on June 30th, and he couldn’t comment as to what his future plans with the KNCB were. He certainly foresees bright developments for Dutch cricket. “The side at the present time is well balanced as far as age is concerned, a blend of youth and experience.  It will progress without doubt.” As for Drinnen’s personal ambitions: “I want to bring up a young family, enjoy family life, and continue to enjoy the work that I do. I love coaching and I love working with this young Dutch squad.”