Paul van Meekeren is an overnight millionaire. Well not quite. Not in the traditional sense, at least.
But since the Dutch international bashed out 160-odd characters on Sunday he has made a sizeable impression on the cricket community and the human spirit itself after a wretched 2020.
In a light-hearted, quip – tongue firmly in cheek – van Meekeren explained to the Twittersphere that he was heading out to deliver takeaway on the day he should have been contesting a world final.
The response was overwhelming, his phone lighting up with thousands of likes and hundreds of well-wishing comments.
“It has been an interesting 24 hours. I thought I was sending out a light-hearted, funny tweet about how the Dutch team was supposed to be playing in the T20 World Cup Final in Australia” he told The Cricket Paper.
“I wasn’t aiming to get pity but the amount of support has been fantastic – the overwhelming majority has been really positive. It was a bit of banter but it has snowballed into something so much bigger. My phone just went crazy with Twitter and Instagram. It is crazy that a small innocent tweet gets so big and gets so much exposure – it had close to 1m impressions. It shows the power of social media and has been an eye-opener.”
But dig beneath the surface and van Meekeren’s tale one filled with intrigue.
Four seasons on the books at Somerset yielded 16 but his hopes of earning a new deal were scuppered by injury.
After his release at the end of the 2019 season, he went on to star at the T20 World Cup Qualifiers late last year, grabbing 15 wickets as Holland qualified the main event.
The plan was to spend this summer impressing potential new suitors but then the world intervened.
Finding himself at a crossroads he decided to dabble in the gig economy.
“I went into my reserves financially and this winter I started to run out. There were a few opportunities floating around but all those counties are furloughing again. That has stopped and so I was looking for a flexible job that means that if and when the chance comes to train indoors I can make it.
“My passion is cricket and it would have been 100 times better to be in Australia right now, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to pay the bills. I’ve been doing Uber Eats for a week and enjoy it. It has been therapeutic and takes my mind off any bad thoughts. It is a different challenge and a way to keep myself busy in the lockdown. I am not the only cricketer in the UK or the world who is in a similar position.”
The fast bowler is only the fifth Dutch-born county cricketer.
Brexit means he could well be the last, but he at least arrived in time to be eligible as a local.
But there remains an obstacle; he is not yet “ECB qualified” meaning his signature does not come with a financial bonus for a prospective employer.
To aid his chances van Meekeren is currently trying to gain UK Citizenship.
But the legal waters are muddy and he keeps a watchful eye on time spent abroad.
“In the first few years I used to go back to Holland whenever we had time off,” he explained “I never really fully understood that to get citizenship you can’t spend an average of 90 days outside the UK for the five years before applying. I have spent so many days away that I cannot really go back home at the moment.
“I print a calendar and highlight the days I have been overseas. I have to keep close track of those that are cricket related and those that are private. I am working with a solicitor to try and get dispensation for some of the cricket-related days which is work. It is a grey area but if we can get dispensation for the international days I will be fine for my citizenship. Otherwise it will be touch and go.”
The west-country locals nicknamed van Meekeren “the Smiler” for his unrelenting positivity and beaming grim.
That outlook shines through even on the phone and when asked about time away from loved one he remains pragmatic.
“You cannot get everything you want in the world. For me to be a professional cricketer and do what I love, I am happy to make the sacrifice. My friends and family all support what I do and follow me closely. I knowing that they will always there for me if there are tough times, and likewise me for them. If I am really struggling I only have to make a phone call and they will jump on a plane.”
Although unable to pull on the Orange jersey this year, van Meekeren has been working hard to develop the game in his homeland.
Dutch cricket is soaring and he is keen to ensure matching strides are made off the pitch.
Until now there was no PCA equivalent and during he took matters into his own hands, setting up the Dutch Cricket Association with current teammates Scott Edwards, Roelof van der Merve, Tobias Visee.
Feiko Kloppenburg – the first man to score a 100 and take four wickets in a World Cup clash (v Namibia in 2003) – is also on hand to lend some experience.
“A few have us have spoken in the past about establishing a players association but we never really did anything,” he explained. “But in lockdown we established the Dutch Cricket Association. It is all about representing the international players and fringe players who are in the summer and winter squads. We wanted to get something going to help the game grow in Holland. We want to work together with the Dutch cricket board to look after the players and the game in our country. We are right at the start but it has been brilliant. Hopefully in the future we can get cricket really on the map in Holland, and give the guys the best opportunity to play at the highest level.”
All being well van Meekeren will fly to India at the end of 2021 for his second T20 World Cup.
His side will face Bangladesh, Scotland and Namibia for the right to contest the Super 12s.
With two sides progressing their chances are increased but they will still be trying to exact sweet revenge against the Tigers who knocked them out last time around.
“We see opportunities and back ourselves to get a top two spot. Our chances would have been better on Australian wickets and Shakib Al Hasan is back next year which is makes them stronger Last time we narrowly lost but it was a game we should have won. We put ourselves in a strong position and a bit of inexperience perhaps cost us the game.
“But the guys are now four years older and hopefully we can take that experience into the game. We have guys getting some serious opportunities at county level. It is very exciting times and hopefully we can get some good quality cricket under our belt so we are not undercooked going into it. I am confident we can upset a few teams in the next couple of years. We can definitely give them a run for their money even with Shakib.”
That loss was all the more galling as the Dutch had been ahead of the eight-ball at the halfway stage before falling agonisingly short in their chase.
Having taken 2-17 with the ball, his services with the bat were unrequired. Van Meekeren is adamant that is no bad thing.
“I shouldn’t be batting in T20 cricket,” he laughs. “I always get a bit nervous and tend to not watch the game. I try and stay away – I do not give the nervous vibe to the guys in next! I go into the changing room and pop my head out to see how we are going every now and then. I quickly go back in. It is a good sign when you are in the changing room alone as it means the batters and no one comes in as it means the batters are outside doing a great job!”
Tragically, Paul lost one of his closest friends in the summer after a battle with cancer. It would have been his birthday this month, and Paul and his pals are taking part in Movember in order to “stand up for mental health, suicide prevention, cancer treatment and the health of men in general.