Rod Lyall and Bertus de Jong 21/06/18
As the Topklasse moves beyond the halfway point the first round of matches this Sunday pits each of the current top five against a team from the lower half of the table, with the former jockeying for advantage and the latter keen to stay clear of the relegation zone.
RL Having started the campaign with a home win over HCC and now sitting at the top of the table, Sparta 1888 will travel to De Diepput with a stiff breeze in their sails. With nine wickets in his last two matches Dost Muhammad has emerged as an unheralded key figure in a varied attack, while the side’s remarkable victory over ACC last week underlines what a dangerous, resilient combination the Capelle club has assembled. Michael Pollard confirmed his class with a century in that game, but his opposite number in the HCC line-up, Bryce Street, is showing signs of running into form as well. The Hagenaars certainly need him to succeed consistently, since the batting looks brittle otherwise, and the bowling fires somewhat erratically.
BdJ One imagines that Sparta’s position at the top of the table at the half-way stage likely comes as a surprise even to them, but it’s hard to call it a fluke. The two defeats they have suffered this season (at the hands of HBS and VOC) may betray a capacity for spectacular implosion, but it is remarkable how little either seems to have shaken their self-belief. Street firing either with bat or ball (or ideally both) is likely a necessary but not sufficient condition for HCC to put the brakes on the Sparta train. A return to form for Mark Jonkman might help too.
RL After starting a little shakily VOC Rotterdam have demonstrated that their strength is not just on paper, while conversely Dosti United have slumped rather since beginning the season on a high. That included, of course, an opening-day victory over Sunday’s opponents, driven by the first of Taruwar Kohli’s three hundreds so far, but he has gone cheaply in several recent innings. His side will need him to be at his best this week, even though VOC seem likely to be without international Max O’Dowd, who sustained a thigh injury during the first of the T20s against Scotland. Still, the Rotterdam side are well balanced in both batting and bowling, and with Pieter Seelaar in great form with the bat they will know that they cannot afford another slip-up if they are to maintain their challenge for the club’s first title since 1994.
BdJ O’Dowd’s addition to a sick list that already includes Ahsan Malik and possibly Corey Rutgers (bot suffering from finger trouble) does leave something of a hole in VOC’s line up, and comes as all the more bitter a blow given his recent return to form. Much will depend on skipper Pieter Seelaar, though the Dutch captain does not look a bad man to rely on just now. Averaging 93 with the bat and a shade under 11 with the ball, Seelaar looks the most valuable player in the league by a distance at the moment, certainly on a VOC pitch that has played to his strengths. Yet if Dosti are at their best Seelaar will struggle to win it on his own. Vinoo Tewarie and Rahil Ahmed stepped up admirably following Kohli’s failure last week, and despite the loss to HCC there were plenty of positives to take from the game. Mahesh Hans will doubtless also be looking forward to a trip to Hazelaarweg, and though VOC certainly start as favourites, this match looks a candidate for an upset.
RL Mention of slip-ups leads us naturally to Excelsior ‘20, whose two defeats in their last two matches have seen them knocked off the top of the table for the first time for over a year. They will have an excellent chance of getting things back on track on Sunday, when they are at home to bottom-placed Punjab Rotterdam, who may have escaped with a fine – at least for the time being – in their dispute with the KNCB over player eligibility, but who are finding life just as difficult on the field as in the committee room. With just one win in eight matches they will need to achieve a substantial turnaround in form if they are to avoid a repeat of Excelsior’s comfortable win on the opening day of the season. The champions may be overly dependent on the success of Lorenzo Ingram with the bat, but their attack remains strong, and they are likely to have too many guns for Punjab.
BdJ One suspects if Excelsior were allowed to pick their opponents next week the beleaguered Rotterdammers would likely have been near the top of the list, but arguably the reverse might just apply too. Excelsior’s vaunted discipline with the ball seemed to desert them last week when they gifted HBS some 27 extras in the innings, which can be only partly explained by apprentice wicketkeeper Woutersen’s struggles behind the sticks. Though Stephan Myburgh may only be semi-fit he will doubtless be looking forward to a return to Thurlede, and he puts on a show at the top of the order it will be interesting to seem how well Exclesior’s rattled attack hold together. Nonetheless there’s little to suggest that Punjab have the depth to really challenge the defending champions, nor, on recent showing, do they seem to have the appetite.
RL Two successive century opening stands indicate that ACC’s promotion of Richardt Frenz was an inspired move but the revival of the side’s fortunes with the bat has not been matched by the attack, and their dramatic defeat by Sparta last week will be in the backs of their minds as they take on HBS Den Haag at Het Loopveld. Nor will their cause be helped if skipper Saqib Zulfiqar’s injury, sustained during the second T20I on Wednesday, keeps him out of the side or significantly restricts his contribution. Even away from Craeyenhout the HBS top order has the firepower to cause the ACC bowlers plenty of problems, and the Amsterdammers’ win in the corresponding match at the start of the season – one of only two they have achieved so far – must now seem a very long time ago. The HBS attack, too, demonstrated against Excelsior last week that they can be an extremely effective unit.
BdJ Little argument here. ACC have looked a decent side at times, even dangerous when the Zulfiqars were all firing, and Frenz’ coming into form makes them a better team than their position on the points table suggests, but a lack of bench strength has long been an issue and they can little afford to lose even one first choice player. A key effect of Frenz taking responsibility from the top of the order has been to free the consistently underrated Rehmat Zulfiqar to pursue the sort of belligerent game which makes him arguably the most dangerous of the brothers at Topklasse level (the elder Zulfiqar has hit as many boundaries this season as his three brother combined) but even so it’s hard to see the hosts out-hitting the HBS top order.
RL Quick Haag’s defeat of VRA Amsterdam at the start of May has also proved to be a false dawn, as the Hanen have won only twice more since. They will, however, return to the scene of that success on Sunday, since the construction work at Nieuw Hanenburg means that VRA will again be playing on their own ground. VRA have problems of their own: the batting, despite some flashes of excellence, has been underwhelming overall, and with Viv Kingma on the casualty list the attack has also lacked a degree of incisiveness. Leon Turmaine has done well with both bat and ball since his return, but with Eric Szwarczynski having a miserable season the top order continues to look vulnerable. Whether Quick have the resources to make it two out of two is another question, but the game is likely to be closer than the sides’ relative positions on the table suggest.
BdJ Whilst the visiting Ross ter Braak may provide something of a temporary solution to the gap Kingma leaves in VRA’s attack, no easy solution to the misfiring middle-order presents itself. It will be interesting to see if skipper Emile van den Burg is tempted to play with the batting order or will prefer to back his batters to come good. Quick’s attack have been on the receiving end of a battering in recent weeks, and ought not to present too much of a threat to the quality in VRA’s batting card, but then the same was true last time round. Another loss to Quick would likely see VRA slip still further behind a crowded upper table and likely be the end of their title challenge, and it’s not entirely out of the question either. The man to make it happen would be Jay Bista one suspects, he missed out on his first trip to VRA after an attractive-looking 17, and Sunday may just look like a free do-over for the mumbaikar.
Rod Lyall’s tips: Sparta, VOC, Excelsior, HBS, Quick
Bertus de Jong’s tips: Sparta, VOC, Excelsior, HBS, VRA