Edwards leads from front as Netherlands nail their big moment

You don’t get to choose how you win a game of cricket, regardless of how seismic the result. Netherlands know that much.

A first victory in any format over South Africa in last year’s T20 World Cup was confirmed when Anrich Nortje flayed the final ball of a botched chase to deep extra cover for four. It took nothing away from the achievement, but such moments deserve screentime for the victors, not shots of a lonely ball on a pointless journey into some forgettable advertising boards.

Thankfully, their second over the same opponents – a first ODI World Cup win against a Test nation – made amends. A succession of air shots landing in no-man’s land suggested the Dutch might be due another un-highlightable highlight. Until Logan van Beek banged one in short to Keshav Maharaj, and Scott Edwards took the resulting catch. South Africa were bowled out, 39 shy of their target. And Netherlands were, rightly, the centre of attention.

This dismissal will sit alongside the replays of Ryan ten Doeschate and Edgar Schiferli scampering that second run after Stuart Broad’s missed run out. Just like those two, van Beek and Edwards have cemented their place in history.

Their contributions make them all the more worthy of sharing that final money shot. Having missed the game against his native New Zealand with a hamstring injury, van Beek’s 3 for 60 was essentially a series of hugely significant moments. The destructive Heinrich Klaasen was caught around the corner at deep fine leg, before an offcutter struck David Miller’s off stump – the moment the Netherlands went from “believing” to “knowing”.

It was Edwards, however, who took them to “believing” and facilitated “knowing” from a hopeless place. South Africa won the toss, opted to bowl first, and were coasting to victory as early as the 21st over when Netherlands’ captain arrived at the crease with the scoreboard reading 82 for 5. He finished unbeaten on 78, lifting his charges to a score of 245 for 8 with vital assistance from Roelof van der Merwe and Aryan Dutt. He then nailed every tactical call behind the stumps to cap off a remarkable night in Dharamsala.

Edwards’ team-mates will tell you he leads from the front. “One of those guys you just want to follow,” is how van Beek put it earlier this month. Maybe it should not be a surprise someone who flirted with an electrical apprenticeship is a handy conductor.

The stats show as much too: averaging 48.12 since becoming captain in 2022 after Pieter Seelaar’s retirement, and guiding the Dutch through the qualifiers for this tournament earlier this year with 314 runs at 62.80.

Even so, you wondered how much leading could be done from No. 7, especially having called on the line-up to give a better account of themselves after successive failures to start the competition. A “free role” has seen Edwards assume every spot from opener to No. 8. With van Beek returning to the XI, he took the decision to move himself down to seven in his 38th ODI innings, which felt like a waste of his talents. And then all of a sudden, Netherlands were five down. Maybe he knew all along.

The rescue act was as calculated as it was calm, and essentially all about pride at the start. His third sweep off Keshav Maharaj – one of seven boundaries slapped to the leg side – took him to 25 and, more importantly, beyond Extras (24) as the top-scorer at the time. That was both a summation of South Africa’s dominance with the ball, and a nod to their error-strewn finish to come.

Born in Tonga and raised in Australia, Edwards’ grew up idolising Adam Gilchrist. Beyond keeping wicket, there is not that much in common between the two. Edwards loves sweeps and seems too polite to whisper a few somethings into a batter’s ear. But the acceleration when he sensed South Africa were losing their way, signposted by smashing a short-length delivery outside off stump from Kagiso Rabada over square leg with disdain, was a Gilchrist-like assertion of dominance.

He has a long way to go if he wants to replicate the confidence of the Aussie great. Stands of 64 with van der Merwe and 41 with Dutt brought 105 from the final nine overs, though Edwards shied away of taking credit for any of it, even while holding the Player of the Match award. He praised van der Merwe’s striking to unusual areas, then mused that Dutt’s six-heavy 23 meant his part in the stand was minimal: “It was pretty easy on my behalf – I just got him on strike.”

The strings pulled in the field were of equal importance against a batting line-up that had already shown itself to be one to fear. The reduction to 43-over innings because of the morning rain required recalibration, given only three bowlers could bowl nine overs (two a maximum of eight) along with the threat of dew in the second half. So recalibrate he did.

Edwards opted for seven overs of spin in the rejigged nine-over powerplay with a view to restricting the scoring of openers Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma by taking pace off the ball. Not only did it limit South Africa to 39 with just two men in the outfield, but the bonus of de Kock’s wicket – pouched by Edwards – came with the last ball of Colin Ackermann’s three overs of bit-part offspin.

Once the field went out, the seamers played a fuller part with a straighter line of attack, utilising the variable bounce evident in the first innings but not used all that much. Edwards had clearly made mental notes while batting, and along with those written down on a piece of paper stored in Max O’Dowd’s pocket, gave the Dutch a palpable sense of control they did not relinquish.

They were altogether more disciplined – eight extras to South Africa’s final tally of 32 – more willing in the field and braver in their approach. All character traits embodied by Edwards, even if he would go on to shower others with praise in his remaining media engagements.

As it happens, the three catches taken moved him to 50 ODI dismissals, beating the previous Dutch record of 48 held by Jeroen Smits. It was an extra, deserved feather in the cap of a skipper who had not just overseen Netherlands’ third – and best – victory at an ODI World Cup, but given them reasons to believe they can break further ground in the competition, knock off some other big-timers and add a few more clips to that highlight reel.

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