Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 01/06/18
After a hectic start to the season the Topklasse is settling back to a more languid one-round-a-week schedule, but after the opening exchanges the table is already starting to take shape.
BdJ: Solidly in the middle of the pack are VRA Amsterdam who have bounced back from another poor start to win three of their last four games and move into fifth place. The Amstelveen side take on HCC at the Bos on Saturday, who are also on six points from six games. The Amsterdammers’ intimidating top order have yet to really fire on all cylinders, but they showed against Punjab last week they have enough depth to recover from early setbacks to post big scores. The sidelining of Viv Kingma has drawn some of the sting from their new ball attack though, and with his new-ball partner Quirijn Gunning struggling for rhythm a pre-season strength is beginning to look like a weakness.
Their opponents have looked no more consistent with the bat however, though Bryce Street has settled in well he is still no replacement for Jonathan Vandiar, and while Tonny Staal has grown into his role at number three the rest of the line-up remains brittle. The bowling attack similarly has relied on stand-out individual performances, most notably Ali Ahmed’s 8-36 against HBS, but none of them have performed consistently or as a unit. With neither team having really settled into the season yet one feels this one could go either way.
RL: In Peter Borren VRA have a seasoned matchwinner, whose six centuries in the top flight are five more than the entire HCC squad. Add to him Eric Szwarczynski, another former international, who has yet to produce his form of recent seasons, the explosive left-hander Ben Cooper, openers Daan ter Braak and 15-year-old Vikram Singh, and skipper Emile van den Burg, and you have a top six which ought to be the terror of every attack in the competition. Yet their performances hitherto have been inconsistent at best, while HCC’s bowling has been reasonably effective. It’s the Hagenaars’ batting, Staal apart, which gives rise to greater doubt, and with VRA’s bowlers performing more consistently than the batsmen, the home side start as clear favourites in my opinion.
BdJ: Meanwhile VOC Rotterdam host HBS Craeyenhout for what looks to me to be the headline act this round. HBS’ much-hyped top order arsenal finally laid down the barrage we’d been waiting for against the hapless Dosti last week, whilst VOC’s new-ball pair of Fred Klaassen and Pierce Fletcher laid waste to Sparta at Bermweg, setting up what promises to be an enthralling duel at Hazelaarweg. Inevitably the encounter will be something of a grudge match with former HBS-ers Fletcher and Corey Rutgers taking the field against their old club for the first time, though it remains to be seen whether the occasion will inspire the latter to break fifty runs for the first time this season.
Though it has been HBS’ batting and VOC’s bowling that has made headlines thus far in the season, it is VOC’s batting that may prove decisive. With a line-up packed with somewhat underperforming talent, VOC boast three Dutch internationals in addition to Rutgers, who averaged almost 50 last season, but only Scott Edwards is among the top 20 run-scorers this season. On paper this batting quality gives them a clear advantage come Saturday, but then games aren’t decided on paper.
RL: No question that this is the match of the round. It’s true that it was the HBS top six who pulverised Dosti last Saturday while it was the VOC attack – or the new-ball pairing plus two deliveries from Pieter Seelaar – which disposed of Sparta in short order. But the Craeyenhout side’s bowlers also played their part, and they are capable of providing a stern test for VOC’s yet-to-gel batting line-up. Whether the HBS batsmen will be as formidable on the Hazelaarweg turf as they were at home is an open question; but they managed to reach 200 in the Amsterdamse Bos a fortnight ago. Both sides have explosive batsmen, and the side which keeps its discipline under fire may well prove to be the winner. A tight call, but home advantage may be decisive.
BdJ: An equally intriguing match-up, albeit for rather different reasons, will be playing out at Nieuw Hanenburg where Quick Haag will take on Sparta 1888. Quick had been little short of abject thus far, barring an opening win against an undercooked VRA and a couple of productive trips to the crease from new overseas Jay Bista, whilst Sparta had surprised many with an impressive return to the top division.
Last week saw a remarkable reversal in the fortunes of both sides, when an outstanding partnership between Lesley Stokkers and Geert Mol ensured Quick took two points off an admittedly unimpressive ACC side at het Loopveld, while Sparta fell apart entirely against VOC. Which of the two results was an aberration and which a return to type is not immediately clear, though Saturday promises to give some indication.
The return of Quick skipper Jeroen Brand from footballing commitments is something of a boon for the hosts, and with all-rounder Imran Khan also back they will be approaching full strength. They still lack the firepower with the new ball that blew Sparta away last week however, and the Capelle club have already shown what they are capable of at this level.
RL: Sparta’s form has been pretty inconsistent so far, in part because of their dependence on a few key players. Quick’s consistency has largely been of the wrong kind, and they continue to miss the experience of Wesley Barresi and Henk-Jan Mol. But the momentum is with the Nieuw Hanenburg team after that escape against ACC, while Sparta will need to bounce back from that humiliating defeat by VOC. That will be a real test of character, and it is hard to assess how effectively Martijn Snoep will be able to rally his troops. Jay Bista is too good a player to struggle for long, and with Jeroen Brand back in the side Quick may continue to recover from their very poor start to the season.
BdJ: Likewise looking to put last week behind them will be Dosti United and Punjab Rotterdam, who were both on the receiving end of 300+ scores last week against HBS and VRA respectively. Of the two only Dosti showed any real fight in the chase, skipper Vinoo Tewarie building aggressive partnerships with Taruwar Kohli and Anees Davids before the scoreboard pressure brought the inevitable collapse, whilst Punjab were content to block their way out of the game early, batting out their overs to finish 93 short.
Had Kohli managed to replicate his remarkable form this season one feels Dosti might even have had a shot at the 357 target, though the fact that they conceded it in the first place underscores the vulnerability of their bowling, Hafeez aside. Punjab’s problems look to run deeper however, with the gap left by Minhas and Shahzad beginning to tell. Stef Myburgh’s absence does not help matters of course, as the injured Netherlands opener’s quick runs at the top of the order figured large in Punjab’s pre-season plans. Finding someone to fill that role, and someone to remove Kohli for a less than ruinous score, will be two necessary conditions for a Punjab win one feels.
RL: A big worry for Dosti will be the fitness of Mohammad Hafeez, who had to bowl off a couple of paces last week and who was evidently in pain from his thigh strain when batting. His contribution in both roles is crucial to the side, and while the Amsterdammers are much more effective at Sportpark Drieburg than they are away from home – and especially bowling first in the unique conditions at Craeyenhout – they will be much weakened if he is unable to play a full part against Punjab. But the Rotterdam side is going through a very tough time on and off the field, and it will take a huge effort from them if they are to prevail over a Dosti side which has the trump cards of Kohli and Davids.
BdJ: The round’s final match will be a table-spanning encounter between bottom-placed ACC and defending champions Excelsior ‘20, who are again undefeated thus far. The Amsterdammers’ woeful performance against Quick last week gives little cause to expect an upset, underscoring not only their reliance on the Zulfiqar clan but also their ability to go to pieces in the field. Though Dewald Botha’s display with the ball was encouraging, removing the veteran Bob van Gigch and the dangerous Bista in succession, ACC let an understrength Quick off the hook with a series of drops and blunders, of which Mol and Stokkers took clinical advantage.
They will not be able to afford such mishaps against Excelsior. Though the title-holders are not immune to dropping a few themselves, as the luckless James Hilditch knows all-too-well, it has been a combination of discipline and refusal to roll over as much as the runs provided by Hilditch and Lorenzo Ingram that has kept the Schiedammers’ winning record intact so far. With skipper Tom Heggelman bowling as well as ever and young Gijs Kroesen looking to have benefited markedly from a season in Australia, there are few weaknesses in the Excelsior attack. Though the threat posed by the Zulfiqar brothers should not be dismissed and ACC’s supporting cast is not as weak as scorecards may suggest, anything but an Excelsior victory would be the surprise of the round.
RL: Unbeaten in five games, Excelsior continue to overcome all challengers, and they have seen off stronger sides than the current ACC outfit already this season. With only Sikander of the four Zulfiqar brothers producing any consistency with the bat so far, and an attack which is short on experience and less than incisive, ACC will start as clear underdogs against a Thurlede side which has the knack of winning even when playing below its best. If winning is a habit, then Excelsior have it in spades, while ACC have lost five on the trot and last week saw a potential winning position turn into another defeat. Anything can happen in cricket, but it would be a bold tipster who predicted a defeat for Excelsior here.
BdJ’s Tips: VRA, VOC, Sparta, Dosti, Excelsior
RL’s Tips: VRA, VOC, Quick, Dosti, Excelsior