(Photo: Getty Images)
By Paul Eddison
Australia have shown the depths to which a toxic culture can take a side but the other side of the coin is the positive culture that made Essex the surprise successes of last season.
Ask any Essex player about the driving force for their Championship win and you can guarantee the name Ryan ten Doeschate will quickly follow.
The Netherlands all-rounder is not only one of, if not the, greatest cricketer to represent an associate nation, but has also become such an integral part of the set-up at Chelmsford that the title of captain seems to sell his influence short.
Under the stewardship of Chris Silverwood last season, and Anthony McGrath this, ten Doeschate, 37, leads from the front. And despite last year’s Division One title, his goal remains to establish the county in the top tier for the long term, by making sure the right culture is in place.
He said: “It’s about getting the balance right. First and foremost, we have to try to defend the Championship which would be a phenomenal achievement but the more intangible thing is driving the culture at the club.
“It’s important for me, making sure the young guys understand what it means to play for Essex and making sure those guys are better every day.
“All the guys around the club are prepared for the new season. I don’t think many of the guys in the squad need too much motivating. Apart from having some fantastic cricketers, they all understand cricket and have been around it enough, we don’t have too many young guys kicking around.”
While many at Essex are quick to praise their skipper, he in turns credits cricket chairman Ronnie Irani for his role in setting the tone. And in a season in which they lost Silverwood to England, with assistant McGrath taking on the top job, that experience, along with such as Ravi Bopara and James Foster, has made for a smooth transition.
“We have Ronnie here, he’s always driving guys and making sure we’re never slacking,” added ten Doeschate. “So there’s a big group of guys with a lot of knowledge. There’s no desperation that we have to do this, we have to do that. That’s definitely not my management style and most of the people at the club are pretty relaxed.
“We are lucky that Mags (McGrath) came in at the exact same time that Silvers took over so those two are reading off the same page. He’s stepped in beautifully. The rest of the backroom staff have been there a long time so it doesn’t feel like a massive change although obviously Silvers is a big miss.”
One of the perks of the Champion-ship success has been a pre-season Caribbean tour with Essex completing their preparations for the season with the Champion County clash against the MCC in Barbados, finishing today.
Retaining the title and keeping things fresh is not easy, but ten Doeschate believes the trip has helped. “It’s been really good,” he said of the tour, which also saw the team enjoy a day on the waters on a catamaran to relax.
“We’ve worked pretty hard, had a good time away from the cricket as well and we’re happy with the way that everyone is shaping up.
“We’ve used it as the last stepping stone in our preparation. It’s not as easy to get up for a game that doesn’t have a bearing on any competition but it’s a great privilege for winning the title, and we’re using it as another game to drive individual progression and keep adding to team ethics and the team goals that we stand for. We want to all be aligned on those things.”
South African-born with Dutch heritage, ten Doeschate came out of international retirement over the winter, rejoining the Netherlands ranks for the first time in six and a half years.
The man with the highest average in ODI history, 67.00, ahead of Virat Kohli, Michael Bevan and AB de Villiers, helped the Netherlands top the ICC World Cricket League Championship and was then part of the side that took part in the World Cup qualifiers.
It was an experience that ten Doeschate enjoyed, although he hopes the ICC will see sense and change its attitude to associate nations.
He explained: “I really enjoyed it. I think that break and the changes the team have made in that time, they deserve a lot of credit in the way they have moved forward.
“And it’s not just them but the other associate teams as well. From when I played six years ago to now, there was a stark contrast in ability, it’s a professional level now. The results in the games between the Test nations and the associate nations show that.
“A lot of teams had the chance to beat the West Indies, obviously Afghanistan beat them twice, Scotland were fantastic, the Netherlands themselves, the boys have really applied themselves and take a lot of pride. After winning that cricket division one league, to not qualify was very disappointing but the cricket we played at times was most enjoyable.
“Like anything, the time lapse between making a judgment call and the teams improving hasn’t helped the associate nations. If you stuck 12 teams in that World Cup now, you wouldn’t have teams getting absolutely bundled.
“You could easily chuck Scotland and the Netherlands in there or Ireland and Zimbabwe as well, so that’s a bit unfortunate.
“I’m still hoping that the ICC will put more emphasis on really growing the game and giving these guys opportunities. A lot of these people don’t play for money, it’s really from the heart, and they just want the chance to play in these competitions.
“If they can live up to the standard and we don’t have games that seem pointless because one team is thrashing the other, I don’t see why it shouldn’t happen sooner rather than later.”