Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 29/06/18
With six games scheduled for the coming weekend, attention turns to the mid-table for the eleventh round of Topklasse matches where several clubs will be looking to distance themselves from a looming relegation battle, or face must-win matches to maintain their title hopes.
BdJ: For Dosti-United the former is likely the principal concern, having sunk back into the lower half of the table after a bright start to the season. They have two chances this weekend to climb back up toward relative safety, the first a rescheduled 7th-round match against Punjab Rotterdam, currently languishing at the bottom of the pile with just a solitary win.
Dosti will start as favourites at home, but their recent slide has highlighted their dependence on league lead run-scorer Taru Kohli to post winning totals. They themselves have managed to avoid defeat only once this season without a Kohli century, and he has gone scoreless in their last two games. Yet against a Punjab attack that has yet to bowl anyone out this season another ton looks at least as likely as another duck and with three other bats having racked up 200+ runs and Mohammad Hafeez leading the wicket-taking table the Amsterdammers are hardly a one man band.
While their opponents can take heart from the return of Stephan Myburgh, the Netherlands opener is still not fully fit and may not play both games at the weekend. And Punjab have barely looked competitive without him. Myburgh remains their lead run-scorer despite having sat out four games, and despite showing some admirable fight against Excelsior last week it’s hard to argue Punjab haven’t earned their place at the bottom of the table.
RL: Having pushed Excelsior all the way last Sunday Punjab may go into this game with a certain degree of hope – if not confidence – despite their lowly position in the table. Ashan Bamunusinghe has been a slightly surprising keystone of both their batting line-up and their attack, but he and Barend Vorster have received too little support from the rest of the team. Myburgh’s battle for fitness is obviously a continuing concern, and against a Dosti outfit which is capable of much more than they have shown in recent weeks the visitors are likely to struggle.
BdJ: Punjab’s real four-pointer will come on Sunday however, when they face their nearest rivals for the wooden spoon ACC at the Zomercomplex. ACC currently have a 2 point lead over the Rotterdammers, though that may not be the case by the time they meet. Though ACC’s lamentable lack of bench strength was pointed out as a weakness before the season began, but few would have picked them as relegation contenders. They were exposed again by HBS last week however, losing by a calamitous 173 runs as they collapsed to 62 all-out. The promotion of Richardt Frenz to partner Rehmat Zulfiqar at the top of the order has paid off on occasion, but the middle order remains fragile and the tail long.
Whether Punjab have the bowling to capitalise is questionable of course, but likewise ACC’s attack has lacked for penetration at times. Devon Botha has had a creditable debut season thus far but is arguably rather wasted on Dutch wickets, and should Myburgh play one suspects he’ll enjoy himself. Given that two of the three wins these teams have between them have been built on big opening partnerships, and there’s little reason to expect different come Sunday.
RL: ACC provided Punjab with their sole victory so far, when Myburgh and Raza shared a big opening partnership at Het Loopveld back in May. Neither has repeated that form in such a sustained way since, although in the former’s case that is scarcely surprising. Both teams show the shallowness of the talent pool at the highest domestic level, raising legitimate questions about the wisdom of the ten-team Topklasse format. Yet the best of the ACC squad (most of them named Zulfiqar) would grace any team, and they have been much more prolific with the bat in recent weeks – last Sunday’s dramatic collapse against HBS excepted. This is a crucial match for both teams, and even more a must-win occasion for Punjab than for their visitors.
BdJ: Also still in the relegation mix are Quick Haag, who will be Dosti’s second opponents this weekend. If Dosti have looked dependent on Kohli thus far, Quick have been no less so on Jay Bista, who remains the only Quick bat to have passed 200 runs this season. Another side that might be said to be in a transitional phase, Quick have tested a number of youth and former second team players this season, but their depth has thus far proved as lacking as that of ACC. Though seamer Josh Davey has proved a solid signing for them and Bista’s current 3rd spot in the run aggregates probably undersells his talents, the two overseas have lacked any consistent support from the rest of the side who, Geert Maarten Mol apart, have looked an underperforming team that wasn’t too strong in the first place.
RL: This, too, is a vital match for both sides, with Quick just one win clear of ACC and Dosti currently only just ahead of Quick on points average. A mid-table position beckons for the winner, but the loser may face a nerve-wracking battle in the weeks ahead. Quick have indeed looked vulnerable for much of the season, and while a late rally spared at least some of their blushes against VRA last Sunday the collapse of the top and middle order confirms that concern. The attack, too, lacks bite and the variation provided in different ways by Henk-Jan Mol and Asief Hoseinbaks last year, and undoubtedly Dosti have the batsmen in Vinoo Tewarie, Kohli, Rahil Ahmed and Anees Davids to take full advantage.
: The league’s new front-runner VOC Rotterdam meanwhile will take on the mercurial HCC at Hazelaarweg, looking to consolidate their place at the top of the table. Though HCC will be coming off the back of a crunching win over erstwhile front-runners Sparta, the odds are against them taking two points back from Rotterdam. Given the traditionally slow and spin-friendly conditions at Hazelaarweg the Hagenaars’ principal match winners Ali Ahmed Qasim and Hidde Overdijk are unlikely to be at their most effective, whilst the conditions are expected to play in favour of VOC’s spinners Umar Baker and current MVP favourite Pieter Seelaar. Even without Max O’Dowd, Ahsan Malik and probably Corey Rutgers, the hosts head into the game with the wind in their sails and the bookies’ backing.
RL: If m’colleague’s reading of the Hazelaarweg conditions is correct, then the influence of Ryan Ninan on this match should not be under-estimated. He bowled with great control last week while Ali Ahmed Qasim was creating havoc at the other end, and is likely to find the Rotterdam environment much more to his liking. VOC’s batting was in early trouble against Dosti last Sunday, and they too needed a vigorously wagging tail to set an adequate target. I think this may be a closer game than many expect, and while the strength of their batting leads me to favour VOC on balance, it would not surprise me if the leadership of the table had again changed hands by Sunday evening.
BdJ: Tougher to call will be VRA’s return match against defending champions Excelsior ‘20, who travel to the Bos without the usual benefit of a well-established winning habit. The Schiedammers looked altogether unconvincing against bottom-placed Punjab last week, clinging on for a 19-run win to break an all-but unprecedented 2-game losing streak. Nonetheless Excelsior’s lower-middle order again showed an encouraging resilience after the bedrock pair of Ingram and Hilditch both fell cheaply, suggesting that containing or removing the pair remains a necessary but not sufficient condition for besting the title-holders.
VRA certainly have the attack to do it, though the continued side-lining of Vivian Kingma means skipper Van den Burg does not have quite the flexibility he might like should anyone have an off-day. Moreover, off-days have been rather par for the course in the VRA middle-order of late, which has yet to really live up to its potential thus far. In short, this looks like anyone’s game, and two points will likely go to whoever underperforms the least.
RL: Another of the three top-six encounters which this week’s draw offers, this match-up of two clubs who have won twenty championships between them in the past 26 years has plenty of history behind it as well as a fascinating immediate context. Excelsior struggled to reach a modest target of 177 when the sides met on 10 May, owing their victory to a fine innings from Hilditch, and neither has been completely convincing in recent weeks – or, in VRA’s case, all season. There’s an opportunity for one of the big guns – Ingram or Hilditch, Cooper, Borren or Gunning – to stamp their influence on the game, but the result may well depend on how much support they receive from the rest of their team.
BdJ: The round’s final game pits a resurgent HBS against former table-toppers Sparta 1888, who have struggled to maintain their early momentum into the mid-season. The Crows have not lost a game at home since their defeat at the hands of HCC in the third round, when Ali Qasim ran riot for the first time, and though in Dost Mohammad and Mudassar Bukhari Sparta have seamers capable of doing a similar job on HBS’ explosive top order, now that all four of Gomes, Barresi, Visée and Morgan have runs under their belt the chance of such a repetition looks more remote. Sparta have some big hitters of their own of course in Pollard and Bell, not to mention the belligerent Bukhari and Atse Buurman down the order also capable of clearing the ropes, so it’s tough to say what a safe first innings score might be.
RL: Sparta will return to Den Haag with the shadow of last week’s collapse hanging over them, but they will also remember the initial sting of Bukhari, Mohammad and Bell and the way they fought back to dismiss HCC for a fairly modest total. Especially at Craeyenhout, HBS has the most imposing top six in the competition, and Sparta’s five seamers and spinner Faisal Iqbal will need to be at their absolute best if they are to contain them. Warren Bell was very unlucky last week, and if he and Michael Pollard are able to take advantage of the Craeyenhout outfield we could be in for some prolific scoring, and the bowlers could be in for a tough time.
Bertus de Jong’s tips: Dosti, Dosti, VOC, VRA, Punjab, HBS.
Rod Lyall’s tips: Dosti, Dosti, VOC, Excelsior, ACC, HBS.