NEARLY all the sporting talk in Holland this week will be of the Elfstedentocht, the world's largest and longest ice skating race. Almost none will be about the World Cup, the planet's largest and longest cricket tournament.
"Are you kidding?" Roland Lefebvre, the Glamorgan and Holland medium- pacer, said, clearly surprised at how naive some people can be about Dutch sporting priorities. "The country will come to a stop for the race. Wondering if conditions will be right is just about the only topic of discussion. They haven't even heard about the cricket."
This seems a trifle unfair. True, it is 10 years since the Elfstedentocht, the Tour of the Eleven Towns over 200km with 15,000 competitors, has taken place in its country of origin because there are rarely enough sufficiently icy lakes. But this is the first time ever that Holland have played in the cricket World Cup, for which they qualified by finishing third in the ICC Trophy.
"We could win a match or two but I don't think it would make any difference to the state of the game in the country," added Lefebvre, the second Dutchman to play county cricket, after Paul-Jan Bakker. "People won't know what it's about. That problem needs tackling at the grass roots."
The general lack of awareness of their very existence has not dimmed the team's enthusiasm. They arrived in India yesterday knowing that a victory in a group match over one of the Test-playing nations - England, New Zealand, Pakistan or South Africa - might not cut much ice in Rotterdam but would send a chill around the rest of the cricketing world.
Nor is it an entirely fanciful prospect. Holland, with a base of 5,000 club cricketers, have an experienced, well-balanced side replete with the sort of player so sniffed at by purists and so essential in limited- overs contests: the bits-and-pieces all rounder. …