FPJ Exclusive: 'Hard To Explain How Loud It Is And How Passionate They are About Cricket': Paul Van Meekeren On Playing In Front Of Indian Crowds

FPJ Exclusive: 'Hard To Explain How Loud It Is And How Passionate They are About Cricket': Paul Van Meekeren On Playing In Front Of Indian Crowds

Netherlands bowler Paul Van Meekeren speaks exclusively to Free Press Journal ahead of T20 World Cup 2024.

Aayushman VishwanathanUpdated: Monday, June 03, 2024, 05:06 PM IST
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Paul van Meekeren. | (Image Credits: Paul van Meekeren Twitter)

A fighter and warrior in true sense, Netherlands' strike bowler Paul van Meekeren made a name for himself in the last two ICC events as the Dutch startled the cricketing world with their spirited performances. Hailing from a humble background and going through a handful of trials and tribulations, Van Meekeren fronts up with a smile on his face and enjoys the game he fell in love with aged around 12.

As he and his colleagues embark on yet another global event to showcase the Netherlands' prowess, Van Meekeren spoke exclusively to Free Press Journal ahead of T20 World Cup 2024:

Here are the excerpts from the interview:

1) Can we please start with your cricketing roots? When did you start taking interest in cricket and when did you know you wanted to take it up professionally?

My dad played cricket. So, I kind of grew up with it, played football and cricket growing up mainly, started at the age of 4 or 5. I always enjoyed the game, but football was always the sport that I enjoyed more and switched the game around 11 or 12. I made it to the Dutch age-group teams and I really fell in love with the game around the age of 12. My main dream was to play for the Dutch team. There was no specific pathway to being a professional cricketer. I made my Dutch debut when I was 19, when I was 23, I started my move to UK, played county cricket. The Dutch team was handing out contracts, especially to the younger players.

I tried in UK and I was very lucky that within a few months I signed a professional contract for Somerset. I also played for Durham for a month and two years for Gloucestershire. So, I’ve been lucky to have the career that I had in professional cricket and make a living out of it. Within the Dutch set up, we are moving in the right direction, handing out more full-time contracts as well.

2) Have you considered playing county cricket full time?

When I was in contract with counties, that was my number one priority since it paid my bills. Roelof van der Merwe and Colin Ackermann couldn’t play in this World Cup because they had to prioritize county contract over Dutch cricket. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the situation we find ourselves in Dutch cricket. If you have a professional cricket somewhere, it secures yearly wage and more income that sometimes takes priority. I’ve been quite lucky that even though I’ve been in UK for some years, I didn’t play that much first-team cricket.

Even during the summer, I was available quite a lot and during the winters, the counties are a lot more flexible. So, anything in the winters, I was able to go and play. Every World Cup until this one was played during the off season, so everyone was glad county contracts were available after World Cups. This year, not all players who are involved with the Dutch team were available because of the County commitments.

3) A tweet of yours from November 2020 went sort of viral during the 2023 World Cup about you delivering Uber Eats. How challenging was that phase for you?

I’m going to say it wasn’t that challenging. One because I’ve got a very positive outlook, my glass is always half full. There are not many problems in my life. If something pops up, I always find a solution. If there’s something you can’t control, there’s no reason to be upset about. So, it was during the Covid time, a lot of people had been through a lot worse, lost loved ones as well.

I’m very lucky that I never lost someone close around me. In that case, I just had to find something to pay my bills. I was looking for something flexible and could work around any potential opportunities in cricket. It did go viral that winter during the 2023 World Cup. I’m lucky to be able to play cricket for a living and obviously, Covid was a bit trickier and I had to find other ways to keep up the income and it is one of those things.

Some people go running or to the gym to clear their minds to feel good about themselves. If I go to the gym, I feel worst and I hate it. For me, getting into Saturday evening, putting some Dutch Radio on, even though I’ve lived in UK, I’ve got that habit of listening to Dutch radio. For me, that was a relaxed work and no stress. I enjoyed it, it was a way to clear my minds, no worry nothing else. Orders came in, it tells you where to go. It was very chill and relaxing, to be honest.

4) Netherlands was one of the most talked-about teams during the 2023 World Cup, given how they punched above their weight. How was your experience playing in front of those passionate Indian crowds?

We knew it was going to be special and there is no better place to play if you love the game. The passion for the game is unheard of. If you try and explain it back home how passionate they are about the sport, there is no way you could explain it. The only way you can understand it is to go there as a player or go to the stadium. Otherwise, it’s so hard to explain how loud it is and how passionate they are about cricket. So, that was pretty special.

We came into the tournament taking it very seriously, wanting to make it to the semi-finals. Coming in as the only associate in the ten-team tournament, I think every game that we win, even if we are competing and making some close games, it would show how good associate cricket is and not just us. You’ve got Scotland, Namibia, who can compete at that level too if they get to play more bigger teams regularly. We had that opportunity recently in the ICC ODI World Cup league where we played against Pakistan, England, West Indies and New Zealand.

Even though, we didn’t really win any of the games, we did compete in a lot of those. You need to play 100 overs of cricket in ODIs and we might play really well for 50-60 overs, but we lose the other 40.

Just having that experience of playing in the 50-over World Cup last year, we’ve started playing 80-90 overs of really good cricket and that’s normally enough to win games. That’s what happened against South Africa and Bangladesh.

5) Any Indian food or cuisine you found yourself getting addicted to?

I really got into Biryani, funnily enough. Most Indian foods I know are curries. It was something different and I really got into the Biryani hype. I had heard the name before but I never saw what it was until then. I think it was a week when I had Biryani every night. So, that was definitely the standout for me.

6)  You've been involved in a few T20 leagues as well like CPL, ILT20, and BPL. Assuming you're looking forward to the day when IPL franchises also takes interest in you?

It would be awesome to get opportunity into the IPL. My last T20 World Cup in Australia sort of put me on the radar, I had a good 50-over World Cup in India. I had made the final auction in the last two years. Some of the teams put your name forward as a point of interest and I feel like I’ve got close in the last two years. It’s the best and the strongest league in the world. All the big players play in it, so it’s going to be tough to get into it, but if I have a good T20 World Cup in the next month, who knows next year could be the year.

7) Any IPL franchise in specific you dream of representing?

Any team. I just want to have that experience. I didn’t follow the IPL this year that much because I had a daughter about 3 months ago so and had to spend time with her. But in general, I follow IPL as a cricket fan and there is no particular franchise that I ally with or look up to the most. But yeah, it would be awesome to be part of IPL and see what’s there from the inside.

8) South Africa are one of the teams Netherlands are grouped with for the T20 World Cup. Having beaten South Africa in the last two ICC events, do you feel Netherlands hold some psychological edge heading into the upcoming clash?

Maybe, I don’t know. That’s a very good question. Half of their team have played in the IPL, so I don’t think they are scared of us. But I think they will take us more seriously than the last time if they didn’t take us serious then. From our point of view, there is a lot of confidence that we know we can beat them.

So, when we play them in New York, we work on our fielding a lot more and make ourselves secure, knowing a lot more that we can beat them than we did two years and last year in a different format.

9) How much is it of a confidence boost to have beaten Sri Lanka in the warm-up match?

Probably I should say, a lot of confidence. Obviously, we didn’t play 11 against 11. So, it was more about giving guys the opportunities. We said as a team that the result didn’t matter, but to beat them comprehensively – it was a 20-run win, so yeah, I should say it’s confidence boosting, with lot of guys stepping up and contributing. From a team perspective, we feel like we are in a really good place, to cause a few upsets, and get through the group stage.

We’ve got Bangladesh, we feel like we should’ve beaten them in the 2016 World Cup and definitely in Australia two years ago. That’s one of those games we know we can beat them. They just a lost a T20I series against America. So, we feel like there’s another game, we can win as well. Having South Africa in the group, gives us confidence that we can compete and hopefully, win. We should’ve beat Bangladesh the last two times and we beat Sri Lanka in the warm-up game, probably gave us a lot of confidence as well.

10)  Given how IPL 2024 was sort of a run-fest, do you feel the conditions in the USA and West Indies will produce high totals?

I feel it’s the unknown. I think India played in Miami, a few years ago against the West Indies and it was a high-scoring game. But I’ve also seen a few more games in Miami and it was low-scoring. I think this tournament is very unknown about what the conditions will offer, especially the games played in New York or USA in general. New York is a drop-in wicket and is a brand-new field, so we won’t really know until the first few games how the wicket is going to play and how it’s going to hold together.

West Indies also have a few question marks. We know it can be really flat and high-scoring, but we also know wickets can be quite low and turning. I think the scores are going to be unknown and we won’t know until the first half of the games are played, I guess.

11)  One prized wicket for you in this World Cup?

If you look at our group, the prized guy would be Heinrich Klaasen from South Africa. He is probably the No.1 T20 batter in the world, at the moment. He’s been incredibly consistent in the last 2-3 years maybe. So, if anyone’s wicket you want to take, it’s his.

12)  Any player from the Indian team you look up to for inspiration?

 I think as a bowler, Jasprit Bumrah has been someone who does well in all the phases he bowls. He is exceptional, his economy rate in the death is silly low, takes wickets throughout the 20 overs. His yorker is probably the best in the world, he’s got slower balls, pace. You want to try and be as good as him, but he is such a wonderful bowler, with the action and run-up he has. So yes, he is the bowler you look up to in the T20 format as a fast bowler.

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