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Cape cricketer’s cup runneth over for Netherlands

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South African Michael Levitt opened the batting for the Netherlands in its four T20 Cricket World Cup games in June, and set social media abuzz with the spectacular shot he played against Sri Lanka.

Levitt, a South African College High School alumnus who attended Herzlia Constantia until Grade 4, describes the World Cup in the United States and West Indies as “a great experience”.

“When you grow up watching the World Cup, you get a taste of what it is and how special it is,” Levitt told the SA Jewish Report. “To be part of the World Cup experience that you used to watch as a youngster on TV is pretty surreal and something that you can kind of get addicted to.”

Levitt qualified for a Dutch passport as his grandfather on his mother’s side was born in Harderwijk, Holland. He moved to Holland in March 2023 after joining Voorburg Cricket Club in Den Haag, where he’s currently staying. He made his international debut in February this year, scoring a half-century against Nepal to become the second Dutchman to achieve such a milestone on debut. In the following game, he scored a sensational 135 against Namibia to record the highest score by a Dutchman in T20s.

Levitt decided to take up the opportunity to play for the Netherlands as opposed to waiting to see if he would get a chance to play for South Africa. “As a youngster, my goal was always to play cricket at the highest level I could, and when this opportunity came about, I wanted to jump on it. I didn’t want to look back at my career and say, ‘I really wanted to, or I really should have taken an opportunity.’”

Levitt went into his first World Cup without putting massive expectations on himself. “As a youngster, I just wanted to take every learning opportunity and hopefully build a learning base for the next World Cups to come,” he said.

He scored 50 runs from his four World Cup matches, his top score being 31 against Sri Lanka. He admits a few more runs would have been nice, “but the amount of experience I gained being around senior players and playing against guys who I used to look up to is enough for me. I learnt a lot that I could take into future international fixtures.”

The Dutch team shared a hotel with the Proteas ahead of its match in New York. Although the Netherlands and the Proteas have quite a good rivalry, the Netherlands winning its encounters in the 2022 T20 World Cup and 2023 ODI World Cup, Levitt found everyone friendly off the field. “Having so many South Africans, you can chat with them a lot easier,” he said.

Levitt, who felt extra excitement playing against South Africa, liked the high quality of cricket at the World Cup because “it forced you to be at the top of your game. One mistake as a batter, and you were in the sheds already.”

He got cricket fans talking on social media with the spectacular shot he played off the bowling of Sri Lanka’s Maheesh Theekshana. “There was a strong wind blowing towards the cover boundary and the ball was coming in quite quick, so I tried to play it like a medium pacer,” Levitt said. “I just tried to watch the ball as close as I could, give myself room, and a free swing to access the cover boundary.”

The shot, which some fans said had shades of AB de Villers, goes back to the pre-season camp he had at the Gary Kirsten Cricket Academy in Cape Town in January. “We were working on giving myself room against spinners and trying to open up the offside, being able to free the arms where I feel quite strong.”

Levitt, who counts multiple Western Province cricketer of the year awards and playing for his high school’s first team at the age of 14 among his many cricketing achievements, says transitioning from the academy to playing at the World Cup in a matter of months was easy as it had prepared him well.

Reflecting on the lessons from the World Cup, he said, “Don’t be too hard on yourself. Just know that your time will come when it’s right. Look at the opportunity that’s been given to you, and take it with both hands.”

His mom and grandfather live in Harderwijk, about 90-minutes’ drive from Den Haag. “My mom was keen when I was trying to get the Dutch passport because she saw it as a good option to explore later on,” he said. “She still has a strong connection with the Dutch, and my grandpa still tells us stories about when he was younger.”

Levitt is seeking to stay in the Netherlands long-term, but will visit his family in South Africa, especially to escape “the full cold and snow” of the Netherland winters.

The Dutch team found out about Levitt’s Dutch passport after his good friend’s dad told Ryan Cook, the Netherlands head coach, about it. Levitt was working as a physical education teacher in England, where he had shone in the Middlesex Premier Cricket League, when he received a message from Cook asking if he was keen to play cricket in the Netherlands.

“It didn’t take me too long to decide. I met Ryan when I was back in South Africa. He put me in touch with the Voorburg Cricket Club, where I’m playing. I went back to England, handed in my notice, and moved to Holland.

“If I had to stay in South Africa, with the talent in the country, it would probably take another 10 years before I maybe was selected unless I had some blinder of a season,” he said.

But Levitt isn’t writing off playing for the Proteas one day. Numerous cricketers have played for two countries, such as Levitt’s fellow South African-born Dutch-capped cricketer Roelof van der Merwe, who previously played for the Proteas.

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