Rod Lyall and Bertus de Jong 16/08/18
With the championship now in the hands of VOC Rotterdam, the remaining interest in the Topklasse shifts to the lower reaches of the table, where fellow-Rotterdammers Punjab still have an outside chance of avoiding relegation.
RL: Punjab’s first task is, however, massive, as they must take on the new champions at Hazelaarweg. VOC have demonstrated the kind of resilience which took Excelsior to the title in the past two seasons: even when not playing particularly well, they have the knack of finding someone to produce the match-winning performance. Last week it was Pierce Fletcher with the bat and Bobby Hanif with the ball, but everyone in the side has delivered at some stage in a notable winning streak. Punjab at last found heroes other than Myburgh and Raza against Dosti last Sunday, but with the official handover of the trophy planned for Hazelaarweg it won’t be easy for Mamoon Latif and Asif Khan – or anyone else in the side – to reproduce that sort of effort against Pieter Seelaar’s side.
BdJ: Punjab’s remarkable win last week means they will most likely take their hopes of Topklasse survival into the final round, and they’re in with a real shot of setting up a de facto relegation play-off against Quick in their last game. Besting the new Champions away would significantly improve their odds, and given that VOC’s job is effectively done and several of the squad are carrying injuries there’s a decent chance they will rest players on Sunday. If Punajb can pull off an upset against their Rotterdam rivals their fate will be in their own hands heading into the final round, but even a below strength VOC will take some beating on their own turf.
RL: The Rotterdammers’ nearest rivals in the relegation race, ACC are at home to HCC at Het Loopveld West, and after last week’s final-over defeat at the hands of Excelsior this is a game they absolutely have to win. As always, it will probably be down to some combination of Zulfiqars to make that possible, although Shirase Rasool’s contribution last Sunday may be evidence that the younger brigade is beginning to settle into the Topklasse. Having dismissed VRA for 153, HCC seemed down and out until Douwe Walhain produced the innings of a lifetime, but Tonny Staal will be looking for his side to take a more conventional route to victory this time. In Hidde Overdijk and Ali Ahmed Qasim the Hagenaars have the new-ball attack to unsettle the ACC top order, and that will surely be the key.
BdJ: ACC need at least 2 points from their next two games to be safe, and will not want to head to Bermweg next week with relegation still on the line. Raza and Rasool have both begun to grow into their roles in the side this season, but the Amsterdammers remain rather Zulfiqar-dependent. HCC have blown rather hot and cold this season, knocking over top table sides but conversely showing themselves capable of losing to anyone, and ACC came out on top at de Diepput in their last encounter. Nevertheless the visitors have momentum on their side as they head to het Loopveld, and ACC every reason to be nervous.
RL: Not yet completely out of danger, Quick Haag have what is nominally a home fixture against neighbours HBS Craeyenhout, but they will instead make the short journey through the Bosjes van Pex to their rivals’ ground. Now the league’s leading run-scorer, Jay Bista remains their trump card, but it’s hard to see the Quick attack causing the sort of problems to the HBS top order that VOC were able to do last week. For Tobias Visée and his men, of course, the challenge will be to lift themselves after the disappointment of that defeat, but second place on the table is still up for grabs, and one would hope that that would be sufficient incentive for HBS to stage a big finish in this, the club’s 125th anniversary year.
BdJ: What was always likely to be a “transitional” year for Quick has turned out even tougher than expected as injuries, retirements and departures have left them struggling to field a competitive side. Even Bista – the season’s nailed-on MVP – has not been able to drag them out of danger, and they have work to do if they’re to avoid a transition to the Hoofdklasse. With help from VOC they may be able to secure safety on Sunday, but even a disappointed and thus far disappointing HBS side will be heavy favourites at Craeyenhout. Again the hosts’ own injury niggles may prevent them from fielding a full strength side, especially as the format has left them little to play for, but all the pressure will be on Quick come Sunday, and they will likely need than Bista, Mol and motivation to bag two points at Craeyenhout.
RL: Elsewhere, honour and final rankings are the only issues at stake – not that either of these is unimportant in itself. VRA Amsterdam are at Sportpark Drieburg to take on Dosti United. They, too, have to cope with last week’s double disappointment: another poor batting display, followed by HCC’s extraordinary recovery after the Amsterdammers seemingly had them on the ropes. Dosti, too, managed to lose a game they seemed well on the way to winning, and they will need Anees Davids to contribute more against VRA than he was able to do against Punjab. At their best, VRA are more than a match for any side in the competition, and with Dosti clearly missing Taruwar Kohli it’s hard to see the home side taking the points.
BdJ: It’s remarkable given VRA’s poor start to the season and consistently inconsistent batting that they were able to take their title challenge as deep as they did, and it will be interesting to see whether the are able to perform any better under a total lack of pressure. On paper a Dosti side lacking Kohli should be no match for them, but then Emile van den Burg’s team have demonstrated an ability to lose in the face of weaker opposition from week one. The evergreen Mohammad Hafeez has been the stand-out bowler in the competition this season, and his contribution to Dosti’s mid-table finish is on a par with Kohli’s. He was curiously under-used last week however, as was Davids – bowling just six overs between them – and if their lightened workload was due to injury then an already diminished Dosti line-up looks still thinner.
RL: The day’s final contest is between two sides who have had a very disappointing second half of the season, with Excelsior ‘20 at home to Sparta 1888 at Thurlede. Both could be forgiven if they were now thinking about next year, and with Gijs Kroesen now taking the Schiedammers’ new ball – and bowling effectively at the death as well – they may be doing just that. Sparta’s early results probably gave a somewhat flattering impression, and neither side will have forgotten their demolition of Excelsior’s batting at Bermweg. But Thurlede is a completely different proposition, and with James Hilditch back in the side Excelsior will be out to prove that they are a better side than some of their performances this year have suggested.
BdJ: Hilditch’s early return was somewhat unexpected and how long his hamstring will hold out is something of an open question, much like why on earth he’s taking the field at all given that Excelsior are long safe. That said, he appears to have succeeded in pulling Excelsior out of their late-season slump, whilst Sparta’s continues unabated (their win against Quick last week was their first in seven rounds) and the Capelle side’s cause is not helped by the absence of Warren Bell. Though Sparta’s early victories were won without him and Mudassar Bukhari has looked a scarcely-diminished force with the ball since his Topklasse return, Excelsior will fancy their chances on home turf, at least if they can negotiate the early overs. The hosts’ tail is long but has been lively of late, whilst Sparta’s batting has looked rickety all season. Under a different format either or both teams might have been fighting for a top four finish and a long-shot run at the finals, but as it stands there’s still pride to play for, and the crowd at Thurlede will be expecting a hard fought-finish in Excelsior’s final home match.
Rod Lyall’s tips: VOC, ACC, HBS, VRA, Excelsior.
Bertus de Jong’s tips: VOC, HCC, HBS, VRA, Excelsior.