Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 15/06/18
Already we’re closing in on the half-way stage of the season, and the table has to a fair extent sorted itself into title contenders and relegation candidates. Excelsior’s implosion against Sparta last week keeps a few more teams in the hunt than at a similar stage last season, but at the other end of the table Punjab look to be running away with the relegation race even without the aid of the points penalty that may or may not be coming their way.
BdJ: Two sides now barely in contention for either the title or the wooden spoon are the mid-tablers Dosti-United and HCC, who are set to meet at Drieburg tomorrow. Neither carry much momentum into the game having both gone winless in their last three matches after promising early season starts. Dosti’s fortunes have ridden largely on the performances of Taru Kohli with the bat and Mohammad Hafeez with the ball, the former looking rather out of sorts against VRA, yet despite struggling for his usual fluency he still managed to top-score with 58. It’s a safe bet that a return to familiar surroundings will be accompanied by a familiar looking score for the league’s leading run-scorer. HCC are still missing the runs of Jonathan Vandiar, but Mark Jonkman has yet to replicate his flying form from last year either. New overseas Bryce Street has stepped admirably into the breach with the bat, whilst Hidde Overdijk and Tonny Staal have also upped their games, but this remains a weaker HCC side than in years past. A test of bounce-backability for both sides at Drieburg then, though if the home crowd get behind them I’d make Dosti marginal favourites.
RL: Dosti United and HCC have both won three games, but HCC have lost twice more than their hosts over the first eight rounds. Both have been less than impressive in recent weeks, although the Hagenaars made a surprisingly good fist of chasing ACC’s 300 total last Saturday, Bryce Street having demonstrated something of his true quality in the process. Kohli’s half-century against VRA turned out to be insufficient to get his side to a more modest target, and Dosti’s dependence on his batting is starkly apparent, especially with Mohammad Hafeez not fully fit. After an outstanding start for HCC Staal’s last three innings have produced 8, 0 and 0, and he is undoubtedly due a score. But the HCC batting generally has been fragile, and unless the bowlers are able to account for Kohli (and the dangerous Davids), a Dosti win is on the cards.
BdJ: A little further up the table fourth-placed VRA head to Hazelaarweg to take one VOC Rotterdam, currently in third. A defeat for either could mean the end of their title hopes, especially if Excelsior replicate their run from last season or Sparta’s dream return season continues. For two sides with enviable batting line-ups the two have a strange habit of producing ugly, low-scoring scraps whenever they meet, and it may just come down to who wants it more on the day. VOC’s four Dutch internationals may have their minds elsewhere with two T20s against Scotland looming, but three of the four have been in fine form both for VOC and in Orange. Max O’Dowd is coming off the back of a match-winning knock against the Irish, and last week was in the runs both in the T20s and against Punjab. Fred Klaassen looks set to defend his title of leading wicket taker, whilst skipper Pieter Seelaar has plenty of recent runs and two international wins under his belt as he prepares to meet his mentor.
Peter Borren won’t be in charge for VRA of course, having passed the reigns to Emile van den Burg, but one suspects his influence will be key in galvanising and underperforming batting line-up and a bowling unit weakened by injury. On paper VOC head into the match as clear favourites on form, but the visitors have plenty to prove.
RL: The rivalry between VOC and VRA is one of the oldest in Dutch cricket, and the two clubs have had many memorable encounters over the years. This time they have both worked their way into the top half of the table, and as m’colleague observes, a win is vital for both if they are to maintain the challenge to the sides above them. VOC could even go top if Excelsior and Sparta both lost, while VRA would jump ahead of the Bloodhounds if they were to take the points. More of VOC’s key players are performing consistently at the moment than are their guests’, and that should give the home side the edge. If Borren is fit, however, he is capable of turning a game around very quickly, and it’s hard to believe that Eric Szwarczynski’s run of poor form will continue much longer.
BdJ: Equally crucial to the shape of the top of the table will be defending champions and frontrunners Excelsior ‘20’s clash with HBS Craeyenhout at Thurlede. With a remarkable battery of big guns at the top of the order, HBS have every chance of knocking over the title-holders, who will still be reeling from the ambush Sparta sprang on them at Bermweg last week. Toby Visée and Jaron Morgan especially look in dangerous form, with a partnership of 123 in 38(!) balls against Quick in the T20 last week underscoring their hitting abilities. Wesley Barresi’s knee niggle may keep him out of the side tomorrow, but HBS remain the most intimidating batting side in the competition, and Excelsior may need more than their usual discipline with the ball to contain them, especially if the pitch cooperates. Excelsior are of course top of the table for good reason, and the double failure of James Hilditch and Lorenzo Ingram last week remains something of an aberration, yet their ability to bounce back from defeat is rather untested, having rarely been called upon, and HBS are a tough side to regain your feet against.
RL: Whatever the defeat of Excelsior last week may have told us about (a) the brittleness of their batting, (b) the incisiveness of Sparta’s attack, or (c) conditions at Sportpark Bermweg, it is difficult to imagine that they will collapse so thoroughly for a second time in succession. The HBS threat comes more from the batting than the bowling, and no doubt Excelsior’s attack is better equipped to deal with that than Quick’s (or, for that matter, Dosti’s). Nor are HBS as formidable away from Craeyenhout. Still and all, this match should be a cracker, and it’s only Excelsior’s record of managing to win even when not playing at their best that leads me to plump for the home side.
BdJ: Meanwhile Excelsior’s conquerors last week, Sparta 1888, march on to Het Loopveld where they will take on an ACC side looking to turn around a poor start to the season. The Amsterdammers’ batting finally came together against HCC last week, with overseas Richardt Frenz knotching his first Topklasse century with support from Zulfiqars Rehmat and Sikander to take them to their first 300 total, but they face a Sparta attack at the top of their game, Dost Mohammad proving a fine partner for Mudassar Bukhari, and Warren Bell right back in the swing of things after his belated entrance to the season. ACC remain reliant on their top order for runs, with resistance rare after the Zulfiqars are done. Sparta are likewise rather top-heavy in their batting, but of the two attacks it is theirs that looks more likely to find early breakthroughs.
RL: Sparta 1888, having demolished the leaders, travel to Amstelveen to take on an ACC side which finally ran into decent batting form against HCC last week. If the seam quartet of Bell, Bukhari, Muhammed and Saleem bowl as well this week as they did against Excelsior ACC will find the going tough, and Het Loopveld is traditionally a ground which favours the bowlers. That said, ACC’s own attack has scarcely been a dominant force this season, and with Michael Pollard, Bell, Bukhari and Tim de Kok the visitors have a cluster of useful batsmen. ACC need to create some momentum if they are to move away from the danger zone, but Sparta are capable of making that extremely difficult for them.
BdJ: Finally at the bottom of the table Punjab Rotterdam take on their nearest wooden spoon rivals Quick Haag in what also looks a genuine four-pointer. With Quick’s home ground under renovation, the match has been relocated to Sportpark Harga. Quick will have neither home advantage nor much confidence heading into the game, having been bested twice by Hague rivals HBS last week (the latter match being the utter demolition at the hands of Visée and Morgan in the T20). Punjab’s recent record is little better, having followed their collapse in the face of VOC by losing to VCC in the T20. They will likely be bolstered by the return of Stef Myburgh however, the Netherlands opener allowed a run out to test his recovering ankle, and will be keen to prove his fitness. It’s questionable how much Myburgh will enjoy his return to Harga however, as things have changed rather since he last played for Hermes. The new turf wicket is still very much a work in progress we hear, and with the grass still bedding in (and thus uncut) in the outfield too, batting conditions will be less than ideal. That may of course serve to neutralise the threat of Quick’s Jay Bista as much as that of Myburgh, and with the conditions liable to play a major role in an already evenly-matched encounter, this looks a toss-up to me.
RL: Four-pointers at the bottom of the table can be a lot more decisive than those at the top, and for Quick Haag and Punjab this game will determine who finishes the first round of matches in relegation position – and possibly a good deal more than that. It’s only four years since Quick were champions, but retirements and transfers have taken their toll, while Punjab, too, are missing the key players who took them to fifth place last season. Quick’s efforts to rebuild from within their own resources have had only limited success so far, although Daan Vierling’s maiden Topklasse half-century against HBS is a sign of progress. Both teams, however, need their overseas players to have a more consistent impact than they have been able to achieve until now. If Myburgh is back in the side that will indeed provide a much-needed fillip for Punjab, but it’s another hard one to call. The toss may be crucial, but I’m going with Quick by a whisker for now.
BdJ’s tips: Punjab, Sparta, HBS, VRA, Dosti.
RL’s tips: Quick, Sparta, Excelsior, VOC, Dosti.