Former gap PE teacher Levitt set to light up T20 WC for Dutch

Netherlands’ highest individual T20I scorer played a key role when his side beat former champions Sri Lanka in a warm-up match. All eyes will be on him during the marquee event.
Michael Levitt will be one of the key players for the Netherlands.
Michael Levitt will be one of the key players for the Netherlands.Credit | Instagram

CHENNAI: From being a gap PE teacher in England only a couple of years ago to the highest individual T20I scorer for Netherlands, all-rounder Michael Levitt's life is nothing short of a miracle. The 20-year-old from South Africa moved to the Netherlands only in March last year and has taken giant strides since then to make it to the Dutch national team.

Even as the hard-hitting right-hand batter is gearing up to feature in his first T20 World Cup, his extraordinary journey in the last 14 months is enough to mesmerise all and sundry. Levitt took instant decisions and developed as a cricketer by leaps and bounds during this period. And when he got an offer from Dutch coach Ryan Cook, he gave a one-month notice period to the school he was working for to move to the Netherlands.

"Two summers back I think I was playing cricket in the Middlesex Premier League. During that time I was pretty focussed on trying to get into a county set-up probably through Middlesex, the club I was playing for. When I realised it's quite hard. To be honest I have to probably stay there for three years to become local and get eligible to play as an overseas player. It became not an obstacle but it was quite tough. I was prepared to stay there for a full three years, study and find a job and probably look to live there and next minutes, Tuesday morning I got a message from Ryan Cook. He asked me about my Dutch passport and if I was keen to play cricket for the Netherlands," Levitt, who also bowls right-arm medium pace, told this daily.

Everything unfolded at a fast pace since then as Levitt visited his family in South Africa and also met Cook in the country before relocating to the Netherlands. "I didn't take too long to think about it. I messaged straight home and told them about the offer. A couple of months later I went home for New Year and talked to my family and got back to Ryan. Met him over a cup of coffee. He just explained the route forward, explained the programme and gave me a few clubs I can play at. From there contacted Voorburg Cricket Club. Moved over there in March 2023 after handing one month notice to the school I am working at and the rest is history. Had a pretty decent club season, got selected to be a travelling reserve for the Zimbabwe Qualifiers (ODI World Cup). After that I just tried to put my head down and work hard. Now I find myself sitting at my first T20 WC."

But all has not been hunky-dory for him as he did not find himself in the national fold for the ODI World Cup played in India last year. Levitt was disappointed but that phase gave him time to improve as a cricketer and more importantly as a human being. "Yeah I think missing out on that ODI World Cup was a natural disappointment. But then again you go back and look at the guys who have been chosen and you look at yourself. You can see what you need to be and where you need to be, what you need to improve on. That time was just a reconstruction time, just go back to basics, try and improve things I needed to improve which was mostly off the field. I think it would have been disappointing for everyone but more important is how you come back. Logan van Beek (Dutch international) always sums it the best whenever he says quite often ‘I get knocked out seven times and get back up eight times’. So that served as motivation for me to come back better and stronger."

Given the hard yard he has put in, Levitt hit the ground running as he scored a fifty in his maiden T20I against hosts Nepal in Kirtipur earlier this year during the tri-series with Namibia being the third team. But his best came in the second match when he hammered Namibia bowlers all round the park to score the highest individual T20I score by a Dutch batter. Levitt scored a 62-ball 135 to surpass the record set by his fellow opener Max O'Dowd three years ago.

"I remember that innings pretty vividly but also some parts of it are pretty blur because I think I was in such a deep zone. I got off to the pretty slowest start of the tour. I remember looking at the scoreboard with myself on 22 off 24 and just looking for any momentum I can ride. I remember taking that one over down from their left arm bowler and then I thought this is the time to go for it. After that I tried to ride the momentum as far as I could. A couple of balls came in the middle and it gave me more momentum. What helped was that the Nepal field is quiet at a high altitude. Just got the ball in the air with decent contact and it was going most of the time. I just took on another over and everyone started clapping. I looked at the scoreboard and I was at 135 and I didnt know what they were clapping for. Maybe I thought Sybrand Engelbrecht and I, with whom I was batting at that time, probably reached 200 run partnership or landmark as such. Only after I got off the field did I realise, I was told by Max himself, who was the previous record holder, that it's the highest individual total by a Dutch batter which I am grateful to and probably can tell my grandkids one day."

A lot will be expected from him when the Dutch start their campaign in the World Cup. He has already given glimpses of what he can offer when he breezed to a 28-ball 55 against former champions Sri Lanka in a warm-up match at Lauderhill a few days ago. He along with offie Aryan Dutt (3/20) made sure the Netherlands shock Sri Lanka by 20 runs. Levitt credits his coaches for his rise. "Credit can only be given to coaches and mentors who helped me along my way such as my head coaches, batting coaches and bowling coaches here with the Dutch team. Alongside my coaches and mentors at VCC and in a big way the Gary Kirsten Academy as I said they had nothing but my best interest at heart. They have seen areas in my game where I can develop and improve and have hopefully a long career in the shorter formats. I can see my style of play is quite aggressive and free flowing, I like to take on bowlers and just ride the momentum as long as I can to stay on the top of the bowlers."

The Dutch side now has a history of creating upsets in the big events. Levitt also wants his team to reach as far as possible. "All teams are here to make it as far as they can by putting up their best performance. There are teams here which have capabilities to cause massive upsets and that's the beauty of T20 cricket. It is such a short format that one or two overs can change the momentum of the game. Yeah I think there are quite a few teams that have the capability and power to go all the way. So it will be quite exciting to see who does that. Obviously, we have the goals to make the final, to go as far as we can and will give our best shot. I am sure other teams will also be looking to do the same thing," he signed off.

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