Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 12/07/18
We’re very much over the hump now and heading rapidly toward the business end of the season with just six games to play, and the table has duly divided itself neatly in three. At the top end VOC, HBS and VRA remain very much in the running for a shot at the title, whilst defending champions Excelsior have joined former frontrunners Dosti and Sparta, together with HCC, as near-certain also-rans this time round, and Punjab, Quick and ACC look set for a nervy relegation battle.
BdJ: A win against table-toppers VOC Rotterdam might just keep Excelsior ‘20’s hopes alive another week, but given their recent run that’s the tallest of orders and the continued absence of batting linchpin and opening bowler James Hilditch won’t help their cause. VOC have looked all-but invulnerable at fortress Hazelaarweg, where a three-wicket win over VRA has been the closest they’ve come to defeat. Both Corey Rutgers and Max O’Dowd showed they were more than capable of pulling their weight for the frontrunners last week against Quick, both notching 80+ scores despite O’Dowd carrying a gluteal niggle and Rutgers a finger fractured six ways from Sunday. With skipper Pieter Seelaar’s imperious run of form showing no signs of stalling, an away match at VOC remains the toughest proposition in the league at this point.
RL: With several key acquisitions over the winter VOC were seen as a good championship bet before the campaign started, and while they took a little while to get into their stride – and despite some misfortunes with injuries – they have evolved into a formidable unit. They still have several big matches to play, and a few weeks ago this would have been one of them: after all, Excelsior were the last team to beat them, back on 19 May. But as VOC’s star has risen Excelsior’s has waned, and it would take a significant reversal of form for the defending champions to take the points back to Schiedam. The VOC new-ball pairing of Fred Klaassen and Pierce Fletcher is another of the Rotterdammers’ trump cards, and without Hilditch the Excelsior attack looks a lot less menacing.
BdJ: Should the title-holders spring a surprise, HBS Craeyenhout are currently best placed to take advantage as they head to meet bottom-placed Punjab Rotterdam at the Zomercomplex. On paper a match-up between the second-placed HBS and bottom-placed Punjab should be a fairly easy call, but then on paper the Crows’ top order ought to be delivering regular 300+ totals. Instead against HCC last week they clung on to defend 138 in an entirely unconvincing 15-run win, and Punjab’s opening pair of Stephan Myburgh and Ali Raza demonstrated that that sort of score would be unlikely to suffice come Sunday, racking up 149 runs in an unbroken partnership against Sparta at the traditionally bowler-friendly Bermweg. That said, last week HBS were facing a bowling attack featuring two of the league’s top five wicket-takers, whilst Punjab can boast not a single bowler in the top twenty, and indeed last week was the first time they managed to take all ten wickets. It will take a remarkable turnaround in form for Punjab to contain HBS’ battery of big hitters given the short boundaries at the Zomercomplex and one suspects delivering a third victory will be beyond even the powers of Raza and Myburgh.
RL: HBS, too, have settled into a winning pattern based on a powerful top five batsmen backed up by a well-balanced attack, and showed last week that even when the former fails to deliver the latter can defend a low total. Farshad Khan has been incisive since his return to the side, and together with Berend Westdijk and Wessel Coster heads a seam department capable of troubling any batting line-up. Punjab rely more on spin, and unless they can make early inroads into that HBS top order they may find themselves chasing an awful lot of leather. It is indeed hard to see Punjab upsetting one of the main title contenders, but Rohan Qadri has certainly made a difference to the side and the Rotterdammers know that every point is vital if they are to lift themselves away from the bottom of the table.
BdJ: Third placed VRA will be hoping for upsets in both the above-mentioned games, in which case a win against Sparta 1888 at the Bos could get them to second place and just one win behind VOC. The Amsterdammers’ home record may not inspire a huge amount of confidence, and continued questions over Viv Kingma’s fitness are also a concern, nonetheless they remain marginal favourites to take two points on the day. Though Sparta won the first encounter earlier in the season, the sort of cricket played at VRA is traditionally a different beast from what one sees at Bermweg. That said, the game is far from a foregone conclusion, with the hosts’ top order in patchy form and the bowling attack likely understrength. Though Sparta have stalled rather after an impressive early run, seamers Dost Muhammed and Mudassar Bukhari remain a dangerous combination, and Michael Pollard will doubtless be looking forward to a run out on the league’s best batting wicket. Though Sparta’s three consecutive defeats in the last three games have put them pretty much out of contention for the title, they remain more than capable as acting as spoilers for VRA’s hopes too.
RL: Even without Ben Cooper and Viv Kingma VRA were impressive against an injury-weakened ACC last week, with Quirijn Gunning and Haseeb Gul Mia doing the vital early damage and spinners Adeel Raja and Leon Turmaine doing the rest. If Eric Szwarczynski has definitely put his run of poor form behind him the batting, too, will have a more solid feel, and with some of the air having escaped from Sparta’s early-season balloon the home side should go into this game with plenty of confidence. Pollard is, obviously, a potential match-winner, and so too is Warren Bell, who has not so far had the impact in the Topklasse which he had during his side’s promotion-winning run last season. It should be a good tussle, with the encounter between former international team-mates Peter Borren and Mudassar Bukhari one to savour.
BdJ: Similarly HCC find themselves more-or-less safe but solidly out of contention following back-to-back losses, a position their opponents Quick Haag will nonetheless envy. Already weakened by retirements and departures, the Hanen have been plagued by injuries, illness and unavailability issues throughout the season, and now find themselves in real danger of relegation. Still groundless, they return to De Diepput for their nominal home match against their hosts again as underdogs, though HCC’s own shaky batting will give them some hope, as will the form of Quick overseas Jay Bista. The mumbaiker’s near-chanceless 124 against VOC last week consolidated his claim to the title of best player in the competition, and even the impressive collection of scalps dangling from the belts of Hidde Overdijk and Ali Ahmed Qasim are unlikely to faze him. The fitness of his fellow overseas Sean Davey remains doubtful, however, and as events last week again demonstrated it’s pretty tough to win a Topklasse match on your own.
RL: This is probably the toughest game to tip about this week, given the evident vulnerability of both sides, especially with the bat. Overdijk and Qasim can be a very effective pairing, as their demolition of Sparta demonstrated, and the dismissal of HBS for 138 should give Quick – and any other visitors to De Diepput – pause. Bista is obviously a key factor, and HCC will be hoping that Ryan Ninan, who has had a lean season so far, will rise to the challenge and have at least a great an impact on this match. They also need Tonny Staal and Bryce Street to deliver with the bat, while Quick will be looking to the experience of the likes of Geert Maarten Mol and Lesley Stokkers to give Bista the support he needs. If I were going to break the unanimity of this week’s predictions this is where I would do it, but on balance I tend to go with m’colleague and predict a home win.
BdJ: It will be a similar situation at Drieburg where hosts Dosti-United are safely ensconced in the mid-table whilst visitors ACC are barely more than one defeat away from the wooden spoon spot. A washout against Excelsior means ACC are just a hair above Quick on points average, but nonetheless they’ll be desperate to put some more distance between themselves and their relegation rivals. Though likely the more motivated of the two teams, they remain underdogs when they head across the Amstel, especially if they are again unable to field a full complement of Zulfiqars. With Dosti coming off the back of a comfortable win against (an admittedly under-strength) Excelsior and Taru Kohli still in flying form with the bat and now in the wickets as well, two points will take some getting at Drieburg.
RL: ACC have been the Jekyll and Hyde of this season’s Topklasse, and much will depend on which of the two incarnations turns up at Sportpark Drieburg. A young and inexperienced team, they are desperately dependent on a good start, and with Anees Davids back in the Dosti line-up the home side are well placed to deny it to them. Their own top order has also been inconsistent, especially on the rare occasions when Kohli has failed to deliver, but ACC’s bowling is their weaker department, and they really missed the injured Sikander Zulfiqar against VRA last week. But if Richardt Frenz and the Zulfiqars who do play stay around for a while, Dosti may need to be at their best to take the points.
BdJ’s tips: VOC, HBS, VRA, HCC, Dosti.
RL’s tips: VOC, HBS, VRA, HCC, Dosti.