By the time international cricketers turn 35, they start facing vexing queries about retirement. Media sittings, thereafter, tend to get littered with hackneyed twilight-of-your-career questions.
This, however, is not the case if you are a 35-year-old Virat Kohli. Or a 35-year-old Sybrand Engelbrecht. The India talisman is still scoring in heaps, while Engelbrecht, believe it or not, is just getting started.
Kohli, with 543 runs, is the top run-scorer for the Men in Blue in the ongoing ICC men’s ODI World Cup, and Engelbrecht, with 255, has accomplished the same feat for the Netherlands.
It is highly unlikely that Kohli and Engelbrecht’s paths would have ever crossed, the latter having made his ODI debut in CWC23. Kohli has played only two internationals against the Netherlands—an ODI during the 2011 World Cup and one T20 during the 20-over World Cup last year—and Engelbrecht had not featured in either of those games.
But the duo has been involved in a cricketing confrontation, and Engelbrecht vividly remembers the moment. “I never got the chance [to remind Kohli of the dismissal] and doubt if he remembers me,” Engelbrecht tells Sportstar.
On March 2, 2008, India was up against South Africa in the rain-marred U-19 World Cup final. Kohli, off to a sedate start, tried to break the shackles against Pieter Malan with a six over extra cover off the second ball of the 23rd over. He decided to go after the medium pacer again two deliveries later, but a perfectly timed jump from the fielder at backward point cut his innings short at 19.
“He is the danger man in the field,” said Alan Wilkins on air of the Protean No. 8, who had broken into a celebration. Interestingly, the legendary Jonty Rhodes of South Africa, arguably the greatest fielder to have graced the game, also wore the same number.
15 years later, the shirt number and its colour have undergone changes. The green-and-yellow is long gone, his bright orange shirt reads ‘Engelbrecht 72’ now.
Born in Johannesburg, Engelbrecht made his First-Class debut for the Northerns in October 2007. After a successful outing in Kuala Lumpur’s U-19 WC, where he took five catches in three matches, Engelbrecht went on to represent the Cape Cobras (2008/09-2014/15) and Western Province (2009/10-2016/17) in FC, List A, and T20 cricket.
He steadily gained the reputation of being a gun fielder and was soon drawing comparisons with Rhodes. Engelbrecht says, “Rhodes was absolutely an inspiration. For me, he will always remain the best fielder there ever has been.”
His reputation grew further when he helped the Cobras post a famous win against the Barbados Tridents in the 2014 Champions League. Called into the side as a replacement for JP Duminy, Engelbrecht defended 11 runs in a Super Over.
But he was called out for a suspect action in December 2015. And although he corrected it in two weeks, the Cobras let him go in 2016.
Engelbrecht, with a degree in finance and a post-graduation certificate in project management, decided to close the doors on his cricket career. He signed up for a job at Fairtree, a leading investment management company.
“When I walked off at the end of 2016, I was content with my career and the effort that went into it. I decided to start a new career in finance,” he says now.
A few months later, he got married to Cecilia. The couple was later blessed with baby Jan during the COVID-induced lockdown. Everything seemed to be finally falling into place.
In January 2021, life decided to throw in a bonus spin on the jackpot wheel. Fairtree, eager to expand its offshore businesses, asked Engelbrecht to lead its Netherlands project.
And somehow, he ended up making amends with old friend cricket. It was like falling in love all over again.
“I wanted to make new friends and integrate in my new community in the Netherlands and found the Voorburg Cricket Club (VCC) a good area to do so. I had no intention of playing at the highest level but the competitiveness in me got me back in. I wanted to stay fit and healthy. My family and especially my wife are phenomenal. Since I told her about this opportunity, she has been supportive. I am truly grateful for that,” Engelbrecht says.
That Fairtree is a sponsor of the Dutch men’s cricket team and Kobus Nel, the company’s CEO, is all about fostering a sporting culture. Engelbrecht was soon captaining VCC at the highest level in the Netherlands — the Topklasse. He represented VCC in three national finals in a row, winning the latest edition earlier this year.
As Engelbrecht continued to check the right boxes, it was time for Netherlands head coach Ryan Cook to act. Cook, who had earlier worked with Engelbrecht at Cobras, knew his ward’s strengths, but the latter had to satisfy the ICC’s residency qualifications to turn up for the Oranje.
The paperwork took time, and Engelbrecht had to miss the World Cup Qualifiers in June. “It was going through the proper channels. (I referred to) the questionnaire by the ICC, and it really went by the book. I became eligible after the ICC approved (my case) in July,” Engelbrecht says.
In August, Engelbrecht made a late bid to make the World Cup squad, impressing Cook with an unbeaten hundred for the Netherlands ‘A’ in a 50-over game against Guernsey. “Cook and the entire Netherlands management have created an environment that people want to be part of. The Board and management do their best to keep this environment where everybody in his or her role tries to give their best,” says Engelbrecht.
On October 9, he finally received his ODI cap from assistant coach and former South Africa international Heino Kuhn ahead of the match against New Zealand in Hyderabad. His best knock of 70 came against Sri Lanka, a game where he broke MS Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja’s record for the highest seventh-wicket partnership in ODI World Cups with VCC teammate Logan van Beek.
“We didn’t realise that (we had broken MS-Jadeja’s record) for a second when we were out in the middle. We had no clue about whatever record. We were just focusing on laying the foundation for a competitive total,” Engelbrecht says about the 130-run partnership.
Although the Netherlands has been officially knocked out of the World Cup, this has been a campaign to remember for Engelbrecht and his teammates. The side defeated South Africa and Bangladesh. Engelbrecht hopes these wins will provide the impetus for a cricketing revolution back home, where the tournament doesn’t even have an official broadcast partner.
“We really hope to inspire more young people to take up this wonderful game we play. The more visibility we create back home, the greater the chances of us getting to the ground to continue playing. I hope we can be an example to many young cricketers. It is possible to realise your dreams in cricket,” says Engelbrecht, who will return to being a global investment specialist and commercial director for Fairtree’s hotel management group once the flight touches down in Amsterdam.
But before that he has another date with Kohli at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Sunday.
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