Wednesday, 29 April 2015

The Ladies of Amsterdam

Women's cricket in the Netherlands is struggling or as we would say here, 'it is on its arse'. So the ladies of VRA Cricket Club in Amsterdam have got up off their arses, and decided to bare them in a calendar in order to raise awareness of women's cricket in the country, and naturally being the Middle Stump, this was something that grabbed our immediate attention. We caught up with Amsterdam photographer Nathalie Hennis, 29 and Anne van Nierop, 24 who are the creative forces behind the project, and here is a behind the scenes look at the shots that are making the whole cricket world sit up and take notice. A word of warning Stump fans...if you are reading this at work and you are summoned to the Human Resources department, sacked for gross misconduct for ogling naked Dutch girls, and get an earful off your wife when you get home for losing your job then it is your own fault, and absolutely nothing to do with us, gottit?

The ladies of VRA
VRA are one of the most famous clubs in the Netherlands, thanks to regularly touring the UK and hosting many English clubs who have sampled the delights of Amsterdam. The home of Dutch skipper Peter Borrens, they hosted the South African side last year, and boast two famous Dutch women players in Carolien Salomens and Maartje Koster in their ranks. Nathalie herself played for the Dutch ladies team, before her career as a photographer took over. They used to run three ladies sides, but now there are only seven in the whole country playing 45 over cricket. Lack of funding, the sluggish economy in the eurozone and a host of other reasons mean the sport is in trouble over there. Have a read of our interview with the VRA girls desperately trying to save their sport...

TMS: What is the purpose of the calendar?

NH & AVN: Cricket in the Netherlands, and especially ladies cricket, is quite a small sport. It is under pressure of bigger sports like hockey and football. Ladies cricket is almost on the edge of collapsing. People don’t know that you can play cricket in the Netherlands and how big the sport actually is in the world. Or they don’t have a clue about how it is played. We really want to convey our love for the sport and get people talking about it. We knew we had to come up with an accessible but grand idea, to really gain attention and to create a topic of conversation about cricket.

TMS: Who is the calendar for?

NH & AVN: The main goal of the calendar is to gain attention for the sport, and the female branch of it. People just don’t know how to find us, and how much fun it is. The general image of cricket is outdated. People just picture bearded old men, standing in the field all day and drinking tea. Cricket and sports in general are under financial struggle because of a lack of sponsorship, because of the economy. This also means that there is no money for promotional purposes, training equipment and investments in coaching for the ladies team.

A sneaky peek...

TMS: Who does it feature?

NH & AVN: Unlike what you might think when seeing the photographs, these women are not models! This project is made by, and features only VRA ladies, ranging from the age of 21 to 51. We as a team are very tight, we all know each other so well, that so there was no problem with undressing outside the changing rooms in front of each other. You can really see that all the ladies felt comfortable.  It was a very easygoing and fun shoot, we had a lot of laughs.

TMS: What is the highest standard that either of you two have played?

NH: Anne has been playing for three seasons now and I got introduced to the game about ten seasons ago.
I was hooked on cricket. So next to trying to play every fixture possible, joining men's teams and practising a lot, I got selected for the Dutch team. Through the seasons I became captain of our club team and the Dutch Development side and had the opportunity to join the Dutch XI to the ECB competition in the UK. In the past two years I have decided to put my main focus on my freelance photography career, as it was challenging to combine the two at that level.

TMS: How strong is ladies cricket in the Netherlands?

NH & AVN: Currently there are around ten teams nationwide but only seven teams play 45 over matches.
This is quite different to the stories we hear about women’s cricket a decade ago. Our club used to have 3 ladies teams. It’s not that we want to get back to this number, but we would really like to see more women playing and enjoying this sport. It’s always important to any sport to have new people joining to raise the level of quality. 

TMS: How does it compare to England?

NH & AVN: Well, we have been lucky to tour to the UK a few times to play against English sides.
To play cricket in the country where it originates from is very special to us, maybe to Dutch cricket players in general. We usually play three fixtures against local club teams and we feel like the level is comparable. But also knowing the level of cricket they play in the ECB divisions,  we might struggle playing against higher teams. Our team does exist of former internationals mixed together with newbies and actually al levels in between, we do always have very thrilling matches. This showed when we were playing the Grey’s Inn men’s team last tour. 

Anne on the left, Nathalie on the right

TMS: How strong is men's cricket in the Netherlands in your opinion?

NH & AVN: There’s a lot more variety in men’s cricket, because there are so many men playing.
For example, at our cricket club we have a high number of social sides and four men’s teams.There is a national league and a lot of fixtures get organised with touring teams that love to travel to Amsterdam. The national team is doing quite well. The last three T20’s they played against the English side they beat them. 

TMS: Thanks for reminding me!

NH & AVN: Like the Dutch women’s side, the Dutch men are also enrolled in county cricket in the UK.  Although the men managed to compete on a very high level, with the new World Cup legislation this might be in jeopardy.

TMS: Any famous players at VRA?

NH & AVN: Carolien Salomons and Maartje Koster, two team mates of ours, have played for the Dutch side for quite some years. Both are exceptional all rounders and have often been captain’s of club and the National side. In our men’s squad we have known a lot of recognised cricket players. Best known must be Peter Borren, captain of the Dutch men’s side.

TMS: Are the models cricketers?

NH & AVN: You’d think that, haha... but no, we are all cricket players from our team as mentioned above.
We wanted to show the Dutch public the beauty and strength of a female cricketer. This by stripping off distractions like clothing and working with the shapes of the muscles and giving respect to the female body in all it’s glory.

Away swinger?

TMS: What do you love about cricket?

NH & AVN: Strategics, the excitement, hitting runs, bowling wickets, taking catches, having fun on the field with the team, the challenges and being out all day as long as it’s not raining or drizzling.
Also the whole atmosphere around and off the field is what makes it such a good way to spend your summer.

TMS: Who are your favourite current players?

NH & AVN: We’ve had the privilege to host the South African team at our club last season and we’ve spend some time with them. So we might be a bit biased ;). AB de Villiers, David Miller, JP Duminy, Dale Steyn, but of course we think Stuart Broad, Collingwood and KP are hot as well.  But if you’re asking about female players we admire we’d have to say Elyse Perry and Charlotte Edwards and Carolien Salomons.

TMS: Where can our readers buy one? 

NH & AVN: You can order your Amsterdam Cricket Ladies Calendar through our website.

TMS: How do you think this calendar will go and who would buy it?

NH & AVN: We would love to think that the calendar in the way we created it will attract cricket lovers as well as photography enthusiasts and general public. It’s a very accessible way to integrate cricket into your home without it being too in your face. The fun part of the calendar, besides the whites less photographs, is that we decided the calendar with the first month of the Dutch cricket season, May. 

The Middle Stump recommends this calendar to our readership. Not only will it give you a chance to admire the artistic form of Nathalie and Anne's work, but you will also be helping to fund grass roots cricket in the Netherlands. Good luck ladies, and we hope that the calendar goes well!