Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 10/08/18
With three rounds to go in this season’s Topklasse, Sunday’s round of matches will likely prove decisive, and indeed it’s entirely possible that both the championship and relegation will be decided in three days’ time.
BdJ: All eyes will be on the Bosjes van Pex where frontrunners VOC Rotterdam take on third place HBS Craeyenhout in the day’s biggest game. A win for VOC would put out an end to the Crows’ title hopes, and might just see VOC lift the trophy on the day. Though HBS are traditionally a tough proposition at home, they’ve looked unusually vulnerable at Craeyenhout this season, with three of their four defeats coming on home turf, and their imposing battery of top order guns has misfired on more than one occasion. There’s also question marks over the fitness of skipper Toby Visée and bowling spearhead Berend Westdijk, both of whom sat out their match last week at Drieburg, where HBS held on for a 19-run win against a below-strength Dosti after being bowled out for 141. A similar showing against VOC is unlikely to be sufficient, though the visitors have their own injury worries, with Max O’Dowd still at less than 100% and Corey Rutgers’ finger still a mess. VOC have been below full strength for much of the season however, and it’s not stopped them winning.
RL: No question that this is one of the season’s key games, and of keen interest to more than the two participants. It’s lent added piquancy by the fact that two of VOC’s reconstructed squad were wearing HBS colours last season, and by the somewhat controversial abandonment of the corresponding match at Hazelaarweg without a ball being bowled. The Bloodhounds go into this game with the scent of a first title since 1994 in their nostrils, and although their batting form hasn’t always been as consistent as they would have wished, they have generally fought their way out of trouble. And there’s no doubt that in Klaassen, Fletcher, Hanif, Seelaar and Baker they have the most effective attack in the competition.
BdJ: Should VOC take two points home from Craeyenhout, they’ll be taking the trophy too if HCC upset second-placed VRA at De Diepput. Though HCC’s own title hopes are long gone, having never really recovered from losing their opening two games, they nonetheless showed plenty of fight when they fought back to a dramatic tie against Excelsior at Thurlede last week. Though the HCC old guard have struggled somewhat this season, youngsters Tonny Staal and Hidde Overdijk have stepped up admirably, and with overseas players Ryan Ninan and Bryce Street both enjoying solid if unspectacular seasons there’s a real chance VRA’s title challenge may be ended at on Sunday. VRA too are still struggling to come back from two opening defeats, which may yet cost them a title shot should their persistent top-order troubles be on show again. The Amsterdammers have had to rely on their middle and lower order to get them out of trouble repeatedly, and while the depth of their batting is an undoubted strength their habit of losing early wickets is bound to tell against them eventually. With Vivian Kingma out for the rest of the season their bowling isn’t what it might be either, though in Quirijn Gunning and Haseeb Gul Mia they still boast a more than serviceable new ball attack and in Adeel Raja and Leon Turmaine a solid spin section. Effectively trailing VOC by two matches, VRA will need a little luck to set up a de facto final in the Bos on the closing weekend, but first they’ll need a win at De Diepput.
RL: Peter Borren’s outstanding century last week set up a comfortable victory for his side against lowly Punjab, and with six wins out of six in this latter half of the season VRA are deservedly VOC’s last remaining challengers for the title. They will be hoping that HBS do them a favour at Craeyenhout on Sunday, while at the same time needing to make sure of their own victory over HCC, for whom Boris Gorlee returns after leading the Dutch Under-17 side to the European Division 2 title in England earlier this week. That should have done his confidence a world of good, but HCC’s hopes of a morale-boosting win over VRA may depend more up the ability of Mark Jonkman, Ali Ahmad Qasim and the rest of the attack to upset the Amsterdammers’ powerful but inconsistent batting line-up.
BdJ: Meanwhile at the other end of the table Punjab Rotterdam will need to see off Dosti-United if they are to keep their faint hopes of Topklasse survival alive. Two points adrift of ninth-placed Quick, Punjab can’t afford to drop another game. They can take comfort from the knowledge that Dosti have little to play for, and still more comfort from the fact that Taruwar Kohli is done for the season. Without him Dosti’s batting has looked by turns brittle and directionless, though the same charge could be levelled at their opponents of course. Before Peter Borren’s spectacular counter-attack Punjab had looked well on top of VRA last week, suggesting there’s plenty of fight left in the Rotterdammers, at least with ball in hand even without the contribution of Bernard Vorster’s legspin, but for impetus with the bat they have relied almost entirely on Ali Raza and Stephan Myburgh at the top of the order, tending to shut up shop once both are dismissed. Whether the looming prospect of relegation will be enough to inject some urgency into the middle order’s batting is an open question, but if Punjab are to pull off a late-season Houdini act they can’t rely on Raza and Myburgh to win three for them.
RL: Dosti, of course, still have Anees Davids and Mohammad Hafeez, both of whom contributed significantly to their side’s achievement in dismissing HBS for 141 last week. They may be one of the teams who rely most on a few big-name players, especially with Vinoo Tewarie and Rahil Ahmed unable to perform consistently with the bat, but the same is true of Punjab, who have proved all season what a key role was played last year by Shoaib Minhaas and Khurram Shahzad, both of whom have performed reliably for Hermes-DVS this time round. After a promising start Rohan Qadri hasn’t added a great deal to Punjab’s line-up, and the way forward may be pointed by the success of young seamer Mubashar Hussain. This is not the moment for in-depth philosophising about the deficiencies of the Topklasse, but both these sides illustrate the urgent need for such a discussion.
BdJ: Five losses and the format finished off Excelsior 20’s title defence some weeks ago, and barring a remarkable turnaround from Punjab ACC will be playing for position from here on too. Though they are notionally still at risk, Rehmat Zulfiqar’s record-breaking knock against Quick last week effectively secured safety for the Amsterdam club. The elder Zulfiqar brother remains a hit-or miss gambit at the top of the order, though when he hits he hits big. Yet ACC remain a rather unbalanced side, their scattered successes this season usually built on some combination of Zulfiqars coming off in a big way. The bowling especially has been a weak point, now exacerbated by Botha’s departure, as shown by Quick coming close to chasing the 311 run total they posted last week. Conversely, Excelsior’s winning formula of batting around Lorenzo Ingram and James Hilditch is again viable following the latter’s return from injury, and their supporting cast have a few seasons’ experience on ACC’s youngsters.
RL: The difficulty of maintaining a youth development policy with a limited talent pool is starkly illustrated by these two sides: Excelsior were themselves surprised by the early success of their young team over the past two seasons and have come down to earth with a bump this year, while ACC’s reliance on the Zulfiqar brothers has been underlined by the side’s fragile middle order and generally poor bowling. Aryan Kumar and, to a lesser extent, Shirase Rasool have made some progress, and will return from the U-17 tournament with more experience under their belts. But too much still depends on at least two Zulfiqars going big with the bat, and on Sikander and Saqib’s contributions with the ball. Man-for-man (or in some cases boy-for-boy) Excelsior are much stronger than their opponents, and then there are Ingram and Hilditch . . .
BdJ: Winless in their last six games, Sparta 1888 will be looking to recapture some of their early form to finish the season on a high, though both they and their opponents Quick Haag will be largely playing for pride too on Sunday. Like ACC, Quick remain at notional risk of relegation, but a win at Bermweg (or a loss for Punjab) will cement their place in the Topklasse for next season. Struggling for consistency both in terms of selections and success, Quick have relied heavily on coach (and now captain) Jay Bista throughout the season, with support from the evergreen Doc Mol. Bista and Mol have kept them afloat more-or-less singlehandedly, and whilst the former has been the league’s stand-out performer the latter’s contribution of 24 wickets and 433 runs should not be underrated. If both fire again on Sunday though that will likely be enough to see off Sparta, who have lacked any reliable performers with the bat. The pitch at Bermweg is not easy to get in on though, and with Mudassar Bukhari and Dost Muhammad sharing the new ball early wickets are always on the cards.
RL: Outstanding batting by Bista and Mol last week again succeeded in papering over some of Quick’s cracks, but the real story was the way in which their bowling was demolished in the early stages. Jeroen Brand’s spell underlined how much his side have missed him, but with Imran Khan’s contributions also intermittent at best (and perhaps now again disrupted by injury) the bowling is distinctly threadbare. Whether Sparta are in a position to capitalise on this depends a lot on Michael Pollard and Warren Bell: if they come off, then Sparta might muster a big enough total to cause Quick problems on that Bermweg pitch. It would take a succession of unfortunate events for Quick to find themselves facing the drop, but they will breathe a lot easier if they take the points away from Capelle on Sunday evening.
BdJ’s tips: VOC, VRA, Punjab, Excelsior, Quick.
RL’s tips: VOC, VRA, Dosti, Excelsior, Quick.