By Greg Baum
Not so long ago, the captain of the biggest giant-slayer at the World Cup was opening the batting in the Geelong competition. It was the first summer of COVID, Melbourne club cricket was shut down, but Richmond coach Shannon Young arranged some games for Scott Edwards at Highton because it was outside the metropolitan area.
Hayden Murrell was playing-coach of Highton then and well remembers the century Edwards made against reigning premier North Geelong in round one. “He was sweeping the medium-pace and seam bowlers. They just didn’t know where to bowl to him,” Murrell said.
He also remembers Edwards’ insatiable work ethic. “I’ve never seen a bloke work harder in my time in cricket,” he said. “He completely lived and breathed cricket.” When Premier Cricket resumed, Edwards proceeded to win the Jack Ryder Medal for the best player of the season.
Edwards’ story is like his batting technique, original but successful.
Born in Tonga when his father was working there, he grew up in Blackburn and has played for the past 11 years for Richmond. His paternal grandmother was from the Netherlands, so at 15 he acquired a Dutch passport, partly to keep the family connection alive and partly for travel opportunities, but not explicitly for cricket.
Upon finishing school, he played a season in the Netherlands with Alex Ross, once of South Australia and the Strikers and Heat, and a few years later he was a year-round cricketer, dividing his time between Richmond, Rotterdam and wherever the Netherlands happen to be playing. An apprenticeship as an electrician fell by the wayside.
He said he did not develop the Dutch connection as a back door into international cricket. It simply opened for him.
At 22, then Dutch coach and former WA wicketkeeper Ryan Campbell drafted him into the national team as wicketkeeper. “It all happened pretty quickly,” he said.
Last year, he became captain and last week he led the Netherlands to their biggest ever win, strangling South Africa who on either side of that fixture thrashed Australia and England.
Edwards made 78 not out, took the final catch and was man of the match, but what keen eyes noticed was the extra leg bye he stole from the last ball of the Netherlands’ innings while South Africa were appealing for lbw.
In media conferences, Edwards often speaks of “total cricket”, which has echoes of total football, the flexible and dynamic game pioneered by powerful Dutch teams with and under Johan Cruyff last century.
Edwards has been told that the South Africa win made some sports bulletins in the Netherlands, as the last story, but a threshold none the less.
There are about 6000 active cricketers in the Netherlands. Half the 10-team senior competition play on turf, half on mats laid on soccer pitches. The best players are semi-pros mostly from Australia and South Africa, but Edwards assesses the standard as roughly just below the level of Premier Cricket in Victoria.
Edwards himself is one of four on a modest full-time contract with the Dutch board. His Dutch club rents a house for him and four others, but when he is back in Australia or on tour, it reverts to student accommodation.
He doesn’t gild the lily about the status of cricket in his half-homeland. “Most people when you say what you do think it’s croquet, or that you’re riding horses around,” he said.
“It’s the second biggest sport in the world and probably 80 per cent of the country don’t know what it is.”
Yet somehow, the Netherlands have crafted a team good enough to knock out the West Indies in qualifying and now to humble South Africa. They say they’re not done yet.
The names on the scorecard tell part of the story, of a mix of provenances, now all doubly Dutch. But Edwards said that was not all. Under new coach, South African Ryan Cook, they’ve engendered a new approach.
“We’ve tried to bring an attitude of seeing ourselves as equal to all the teams we come up against,” he said.
“We’re quite a young squad. We’ve got three 20-year-olds here and probably half the squad are under 26. We’ve played a lot of cricket together. We understand how to play as a group.”
The South Africa game reinforced what they had been telling themselves anyway; that contrary to popular theory, they did not have to play the perfect game or hope from a shocker from their opponent to win.
“If we play good enough cricket, we can beat any side,” Edwards said.
“It doesn’t have to mean that they played poorly or we played unbelievably.”
The Dutch came away from that game not in awe of themselves, but with a list of things to work on.
Edwards’ unorthodox batting technique is characterised by a penchant for the sweep, even against pace. Another peculiarly personal tic is the way he often takes his bottom hand off the bat as he hits the ball without any loss of power or placement.
He said it was the game that came most naturally to him growing up on artificial pitches in suburban Melbourne. “I didn’t get a whole lot of coaching until I was 16,” he said. “A lot of it is instinct.”
That initial year in the Netherlands living with Ross, the so-called “sweepologist”, further embedded it.
“I picked up a lot from him,” Edwards said. “From there I’ve tried to have my take on it. It’s one of the strengths of my game. It’s finding a way to score runs. It’s never been the prettiest technique, but I’ve found a way to make it work.”
Young, his only coach throughout his time at Richmond and his one-time employer in a coaching business, has watched for a decade as others have underestimated Edwards because of his unconventional ways.
“Unfortunately, as much as the game has changed, people still look at technique and make their judgments,” he said.
“He averages 40 in international cricket. There’s some wonderful players around who don’t average 40 in international cricket.
“I’m firmly of the belief that he’s the most underrated player in the world.”
Young revealed that before he became an arch-sweeper, Edwards fancied himself as having the best cut shot at Richmond, until University’s Fawad Ahmed taught him otherwise on his first XI debut.
He also highlighted another of Edwards’s quirks, that he is right-handed in everything, but throws the ball to the field with his left arm. He said it still earns him stick at Richmond.
Wherever he’s been, Edwards has made his mark beyond the field.
Murrell said that in his short stint at Highton, Edwards made a point of involving others in whatever he was doing. “He left a lasting impression on our club,” he said.
Young said that as a leader at Richmond, Edwards was vigilant about emerging cliques in the club. First XI or fourths, he insisted all were the same. Both friends say that no part of Edwards’s rise in stature and status has gone to his head.
Edwards does not know any of the Australians personally, though he thinks he might have once played against Glenn Maxwell in club cricket.
He’s been asked often if he would find it strange to play against Australia at cricket and says it’s honestly inconsequential for him.
“I’ve never really put too much thought about it being Australia,” he said.
“We’ve played so much cricket against full member nations recently that it’s worn off. “We’re pretty clear on the goals we want to achieve in this World Cup. Whether that’s playing against Australia, Afghanistan or England, it’s about finding a way to win the game.”
The Dutch will be prepared. Several times this tournament, they’ve been seen poring over sheets of paper produced from the pocket of a senior player while waiting for the next batsman to come in.
“We’ll have a few plans in place,” Edwards said. “Then it’s about going out there and playing a good game of cricket and giving ourselves every chance to win.”
A group of about 20 of Edwards’ family are flying in for this game and the next two. Young is making a hit-and-run visit for the Australia game, wearing a T-shirt he had made by stitching together the front of a Dutch shirt and the back of an Australian shirt. Murrell will text best wishes.
Edwards and the Netherlands won’t expect favours, nor offer them. They’ll be going Dutch.
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