Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 23/05/19
Three rounds (or thereabouts) into the 2019 Topklasse and the table has already taken on a somewhat surprising shape, with HBS Craeyenhout and the unfancied ACC unbeaten at the top, whilst last year’s champions VOC and runners-up VRA are both winless at the bottom, albeit with a game in hand over the rest of the field. Perhaps equally surprising has been the less than overwhelming impact of the expanded overseas contingent thus far, though that may change as the season progresses and the new faces acclimatise to Dutch conditions.
BdJ: Both of the two early frontrunners are both away from home for round four, and will be both playing their first matches on turf this Saturday. Table-toppers ACC will be at Thurlede to take on Excelsior ‘20, looking to extend their unbeaten run. Excelsior sank to a surprise home defeat at the hands of Sparta last week, Max Hoornweg taking 7-36 to run through the Schiedammers’ perennially brittle tail. Excelsior’s reliance on Lorenzo Ingram and now his countryman Brenton Parchment, especially with the bat, is hardly a new issue, but it remains the 2017 champions’ biggest weakness. ACC meanwhile head into the game on a high, with three convincing wins under their belt. Youngsters Aryan Kumar and especially Shirase Rasool look to have come into their own this season, though the latter’s duck in the Pro-Series match on Sunday lends further salience to the question of whether he can carry his form onto natural turf. New overseas signings Jean Marais and Brady Barents both seem to be enjoying themselves too, the former bagging four catches against VCC last week and the latter wasting no time in claiming his maiden Topklasse five-fer. If only by virtue of momentum, ACC travel to Thurlede bearing the perhaps unfamiliar label of favourites.
RL: Starting their campaign against VRA and Quick Haag seems to have given ACC a flying start, but their demolition of a below-par Voorburg last Saturday suggests that the Amsterdam side may be on course for their best season since they topped the table in 2012. Back then, an indifferent performance in the play-offs cost them the title (something they last won in 1954), but if their cohort of youngsters continue as they have started, the three remaining Zulfiqars maintain their form, and Marais and Barents contribute as expected, they will be a very tough team to beat. Excelsior’s own younger brigade took them to two successive titles a couple of years ago, but they fell away a little last season, and haven’t really fired yet in this. But Tim Etman is making runs, and it can’t be long before Ingram and/or Parchment plays a really decisive innings. The new-ball bowlers have had their share of problems with the white ball, but the attack is varied and potentially menacing, so this should be a very interesting battle indeed.
BdJ: Meanwhile at the Amsterdamse Bos the unbeaten HBS Craeyenhout take one the as-yet-winless VRA. Despite a batting card that looks solid enough in principle, the Amsterdammers have missed the unshowy but reliable Dan ter Braak at the top of the order, with the ever-promising Vikram Singh looking set to remain a future prospect for the time being, and new opening partner Matt Lake yet to find his feet in the Topklasse. Though Ben Cooper has been making runs in the Pro-Series he has yet to deliver for his club, and VRA can’t afford to be losing early wickets again if they are to contend with HBS’ hard-hitting top order.
RL: The continuing progress of spinner Julian de Mey has added another dimension to the HBS attack, while the top of the batting order is all the stronger for the arrival of Zac Elkin as an opening partner for the mercurial Tobias Visée. The return of Quirijn Gunning is a bonus for VRA, but their attack may struggle to contain the HBS top six; the batting, likewise, has so far been very dependent on the skills of veterans Peter Borren and Eric Szwarczynski. Traditionally slow starters, VRA need to gel quickly if they are not to drop behind the pack, especially with Sparta and Quick having posted their first wins last week. HBS, by contrast, have the momentum on their side, and they will be disappointed if they don’t return to Craeyenhout with the points.
BdJ: Also looking for their first win are defending champions VOC, who will face newly-promotedVCC at Westvliet. The departures of Umar Baker and especially Fred Klaassen have been sorely felt at VOC, with the Rotterdammers’ attack having managed only 11 wickets between them so far this season. On the other hand VCC’s batting order has looked surprisingly brittle so far, with the wicket of Matt Smit tending to precipitate rapid collapse. But in Vivian Kingma and Brandon Glover Voorburg have unarguably the most intimidating new-ball attack in the league, and VOC’s own batting card likewise looks rather thin, reliant on openers Max O’Dowd and Cory Rutgers and the middle-order pairing of Seelaar and Edwards. Early wickets, one imagines, will be key at Westvliet, and VCC look best-placed to find them.
RL: VOC are missing not only Klaassen and Baker, but also the reliable if unspectacular Bobby Hanif, and of course, Ahsan Malik Jamil. Their week off, as with VRA, did them no favours, and they, too, badly need a win to re-establish contact with the other teams in the lower half of the table. Somewhat surprisingly, that includes Voorburg, who began promisingly but have since succumbed to Excelsior and ACC. Their batting has shown a reluctance to graft when the wickets have started falling, but there’s too much quality in their top six for this to continue for long. Matt Smit has already demonstrated his class at this level, and Noah Croes is another potential trump card. And that attack, with Clayton Floyd as well as Glover and Kingma, not to mention Stef Mulder and Philippe Boissevain, gives skipper Tom de Grooth plenty of options.
BdJ: Across the other side of the Hague Quick Haag welcome HCC to the newlook Nieuw Hanenburg, heading into the game with some (perhaps unexpected) momentum. Despite two losses first-up, Quick have pulled together admirably in the absence of their overseas Jay Bista and Prathamesh Dake. Stand-in overseas Rupert Young has runs under his belt, while new skipper Daan Vierling and spin all-rounder Thijs van Schelven have proved an obstinate pairing down the order. The start bodes well for Quick’s prospects later in the season when the cavalry arrives, though HCC remain favourites to take home two points come Saturday. With Hidde Overdijk enjoying his new role as seam spearhead and new-ball partner Ali Ahmed also looking a handful in the Pro-Series, HCC have the edge in the bowling department, whilst Bharat Itagi is likewise relishing his promotion to regular first team opener.
RL: After losing cricket’s equivalent of a best-of-twelve-rounds bout against HBS on the season’s opening weekend, pummelled into submission by a Wesley Barresi century, HCC have disposed of Dosti and VRA, and both their batting and the attack suggest that their position in the top half of the table is well deserved. Bryce Street is another significant component of their set-up, performing well with both bat and ball, and if new skipper Tonny Staal has yet to confirm the progress he made last season, he and Boris Gorlee are home-produced batsmen who are likely to make an important contribution as the season develops. Quick’s resources appear limited by comparison, but they aren’t short of experience and it was a solid team performance which took them to their surprise win over VOC last week. As m’colleague suggests, HCC will start as favourites, but this game may be the round’s best chance of another upset.
BdJ: The round’s final match-up sees Dosti-United head down to Capelle to take on Sparta 1888, both looking to take their win tally to two. Dosti fell well short of what looked a sub-par HBS total of 220 at Craeyenhout last week, with Taruwar Kohli again going cheaply. Dosti will hope he fires at Bermweg on Saturday, though with the Dosti spinners (especially left-armer Kuldeep Diwan) impressing thus far, they will back themselves to win through with even a comparatively modest total. It was Max Hoornweg’s remarkable 7-36 that delivered Sparta their first points of the season in the end after another disappointing collective effort with the bat, which has unquestionably has looked their weakest suit thus far, though Garnett Tarr put together a promising half century against Excelsior last week his fellow overseas Andrew Fletcher has yet to make much of an impact, and Sparta have yet to pass 200 this season.
RL: Dosti fought back well in the field against HBS, only to see their batting crumble. But the overseas quartet of Kohli, Amitoze Singh, Anees Davids and Diwan, all allrounders, give skipper Vinoo Tewarie a wide range of options, and if they coalesce into a cohesive unit they will be capable of troubling any team in the competition. They are certainly likely to provide Sparta with a more challenging opponent than Excelsior were able to do, although Bermweg has proved a difficult venue for visiting batsmen in the past. Fletcher may not yet have come off with the bat, but he bowled economically last week, and Sparta’s new-ball combination of Mudassar Bukhari and Hoornweg will be keen to put Dosti under early pressure.
Bertus de Jong’s tips: ACC, HBS, HCC, VCC, Dosti
Rod Lyall’s tips: Excelsior, HBS, HCC, VCC, Dosti.