ICC MEN’S WORLD CUP, 2023
This is a dream come true for Sybrand Engelbrecht, who returns to the international stage after 15 years ©Getty
Sybrand Engelbrecht retired from professional cricket in December 2016.
Almost seven years later, at the age of 35, he made his international debut. At the World Cup, no less.
Sybrand’s enduring worldwide image was something he managed to capture during the 2008 Under-19 World Cup at some point back. It’s the only image of him that even broadcasters can recreate, and it’s a moment he recalls as often as he rolls his eyes and reminds himself, “I’m a little older now.” There’s certainly more to him, his life and his cricket – all of which have faded from the public eye in the last 15 years.
After playing 54 first-class, 57 List A and 45 T20 matches in the South African domestic league and realizing that his career would not see much growth in the near future, he decided to change his focus. A month after quitting cricket, with a degree in finance and project management, he took a corporate job at Fairtree Business School.
“It was a gap in those years when I didn’t have much to do with cricket. It wasn’t really until my family and I moved to the Netherlands (in 2021) that I picked up a stick again. It was the easiest way for us to integrate into the community and meet new friends. When I picked up the stick, I missed it and fell in love again.
“My wife stopped working because we had a small child. He was six months old when we moved. We are very, very happy to be there. It’s a good place to live. The community we live in is fantastic, we have made some very good friendships and the cricket players are absolutely world class. I’m very, very happy to be here.
While playing for Voorburg Cricket Club, he played in three consecutive finals of the Division 1 Topklasse tournament. However, it was not certain whether he would qualify to play for the national team.
“We are consistently doing well as a club. We integrated and built a strong base, a strong foundation in the club. In our club we have a lot of guys playing in the Dutch squad. It’s always been fantastic to test my skills against these guys and help them, try to guide them, learn and help them wherever I can.
“I suppose it was always in the back of my mind (playing international cricket) but it was never the main goal. It was never: ‘Oh, I want to play for the Netherlands.’ This became more obvious when we started to find out if I was eligible or not. We started this right after qualifying (in 2023). I did some research and told some stories. We thought I was close, so we checked with the ICC and they said, “OK, you qualify.” A week later I made my debut in the Netherlands A team and I just got into the environment, the team and received the blessing from the company to gain the right knowledge – first to get to the World Cup and integrate with the whole team. They have been fantastic, they have relieved me of all the work so I can focus on hitting the cricket ball.
In his debut match against New Zealand, Engelbrecht didn’t have much to offer the Netherlands. He had no role with the ball and by the time he came to bat, the chase was off the field and the process itself was just a formality.
But whether it was to prove his physical prowess or his excitement, there was a spring in his step as he pushed for quick singles and deuces. Doing old things right. He still works full-time and is probably not sure how long he will be able to play cricket at international level, but he is confident that the game is progressing for the Dutchman.
“I’m quite disappointed with the result (against New Zealand). We are heading in the right direction, but as a team we need to learn a little faster. Personally, it’s a dream come true [for me]. Every youngster who plays cricket wants to play international cricket and to do it at the World Cup is truly special. This is a moment I will look back on with fondness. But the important thing for me and us as a team is that we learn, develop, try to be better and win some games. It’s special. But at the same time, we really want to come here, compete, push and show that Dutch cricket is heading in the right direction.
“[In Netherlands] It is not as professional as the structures and systems in South Africa. Much less capital is involved. However, the environment created by the management team, led primarily by Ryan Cook, has been nothing short of phenomenal. The culture and values they have instilled in the team are fantastic. I really think we’re not living up to our potential yet, but Dutch cricket is on the right track. With a little capital and a little time, we can be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come. It’s not even close to that of some of the larger countries, but we’re working incredibly hard to make a bigger impact.
For now, he is preparing for his next assignment – against South Africa on October 13 – during which he will meet some familiar faces.
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