Talismanic Borren still leading the fight
Peter Borren's shirt is covered in dirt. A few minutes earlier, in trying to run out a Hong Kong batsman, he had thrown himself at the ball and stumps. It was just another moment of Borren throwing everything he has into Netherlands cricket. According to him, Netherlands "fight hard", and it's obvious why they do.
The two most important people in cricket at Associate level are the creative CEO and the talismanic, inspirational, do-everything leader. The dream team in that regard was Ireland's Trent Johnston and Warren Deutrom. Netherlands still haven't had that creative CEO who makes things happen with little money and turns an amateur side into a professional contender. But they have Borren. And this is something they should be thankful for every series - rare as they are for his side.
In the first of Netherlands' two WCL games against Hong Kong, Borren was bowling the third over of the match, because Vivian Kingma's opening over went for 19. There was no fuss, no emotional moments, or angst, Borren just picked up the ball and did a quality, workmanlike job. If there is a hole in this team, if there is a job that needs to be done, if there is a moment when the team isn't focusing, the answer is almost always Borren.
When he was batting in the first game and Hong Kong tried to play on his masculinity by bringing up mid-on and mid-off, he smashed a ball into the softball stadium next door. He made 40 off 36 and ensured the good work from his top order meant something. Then, with the ball, he bowled 1 for 44 from his eight, including the partnership-breaking wicket of his opposite number, Hong Kong captain Babar Hayat.
At the crease with the ball, he's all bustling effort and mind games. For one whole over, he tried to buy a wicket by grunting hard for his slower balls, sometimes well after the ball had left his hand. His bowling is equal parts trickery and effort. And when it doesn't go his way, like an edge through the slips, he bellows.
Borren screams a lot. In angst, in passion, in perpetuity. "Come on lads." "We can get one here." "Turn six into seven", as he claps his hands viciously. He is like an angry ground announcer, such is his volume and consistency. If his team isn't doing well, he leads a screaming plea to get them back on song.
When he was out in this match, he had a two-minute discussion with both umpires about whether the ball was a full toss above hip high. The longer he talked, the more likely it seemed he would get his way. In the first game, when one of the balls had to be replaced, he was unhappy with the selection. The umpires knew it, his team knew it, Hong Kong - the team, city and country - knew it. Nothing is subtle with Borren.
When he bats, he hits the bat harder into the ground than other players. At Mong Kok, you can hear it clearly, as the sound bounces off the apartment building next door. And then there is his batting: part canny used-car salesman, part club cricketer playing to his absolute limit. When mid-on and mid-off came up again, it was clear he was going to go over them again. Not in a reckless way - it was intelligent and forceful, to make clear Hong Kong knew who was really in charge.
At one stage he was facing Anshuman Rath, who accidentally bounced him (Rath is a left-arm fingerspinner). Borren tried to heave it on to mainland China. The whole incident was a perfect illustration of the differences between the two sides. A Hong Kong batsman probably would have smashed it for six, but a Hong Kong batsman wouldn't have been facing a left-arm spinner bowling for the first time in the 42nd over, one who hadn't been bowling much recently because he had the yips.
Borren doesn't make mistakes like that. This Hong Kong team are very much in the image of their captain, Hayat. The effortlessly talented batsman who in both games (and the first-class Intercontinental Cup match) smashed the Dutch bowlers around beautifully. But the decision to bowl Rath, or being run out with a few overs to go because he was ball-watching, are things that Borren doesn't do. Hayat has captained two straight games where his team has scored over 300 in a chase, with plenty of wickets in hand, and he has no wins to show for it. If that was Netherlands, Borren would have dragged them over the line at least once.
If you had a cricket team that was bleeding from every orifice, had two broken legs, and a runny nose, Borren is the sort of man you'd want in charge of it.
Hong Kong, and most of the Associate world, would kill for a player like Borren. He plays like someone who has played all the cricket there is, despite being still relatively young at 33. He feels like he has been involved in cricket since the word Associate started being used, and he captains that way. "Captaincy is second nature to me, maybe because I've done it for so long now," he says. Simon Cook, Hong Kong's coach, believes that the Dutch win so many close games like these purely because of Borren.
They won the first WCL game by five runs and the second by 13, and just on pure performance Borren was immense. Scores of 40 and 49 at better than a run a ball, and both times he then had to make up for a poor opening bowler but still delivered his 18 overs at less than a run a ball, while taking crucial wickets.
But it was also the way he constricted Hong Kong in both games. They have a massively talented top order but Borren got them on both occasions to get behind the rate, knowing the young side would bottle it. He used his wristspinner, Michael Rippon (Man of the Match in both games) exquisitely. And Netherlands seemed to trust in what they were doing at all times, as a team, whereas Hong Kong are still a group of talented individuals. The main difference between these teams isn't talent; it's Borren.
Over the two games, he only got seven overs out of his secondary opening bowler but not only did it never even seem to bother him, if you hadn't read the card, you also wouldn't have thought this team were a bowler down. Borren just yells a bit, claps a bit, constricts the opposition, and throws himself through the crease a few more times than normal, and suddenly his team is back in front again. And then it's a fight, and when it comes to bare-knuckle-brawl-type cricket, there are few better in the world than Borren. Because of these two fighting victories, the World Cricket League is theirs to lose.
They have quality strike bowlers, are well drilled in the field and have a good batting line-up, but without Borren it's hard to see how they would have only lost one match out of ten so far in the league.
Those who denigrate Associate cricket often pick on the fact that players like Borren, who was born in New Zealand, are expats. But Borren is a true Associate hero, and his birthplace cannot change that. A player like Borren helps grow cricket in an emerging nation, and if you see the blood, sweat, and screams Borren puts into playing for Netherlands, his birthplace becomes completely inconsequential. The Dutch will hopefully improve and grow but in 20 years' time there still won't be a player who gives more than Borren has done for the men in orange.
On his own role he says, "I'm not that good at cricket, so I try very hard." The first part is unfair; the second part is an understatement.
Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber