Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 13/06/19
And so we reach the half-way point in the competition, ending the first round as we began it, with a split weekend: four matches are scheduled for Saturday, but the game between HBS and VOC will be played on Sunday.
RL: After two wins at the weekend, one by the skin of their teeth and the other very comfortably indeed, Excelsior ‘20 will be full of confidence for their visit to the Amsterdamse Bos to take on VRA on Saturday. It’s a rare occasion that neither Lorenzo Ingram nor Branton Parchment gets a bat, but the batting of Tim Etman and Roel Verhagen will have given Tom Heggelman’s side a boost, while Niels Etman filled in admirably in the absence of Sohail Bhatti on Monday. For the hosts the attack’s toothlessness continues to be a source of concern, and although Vikram Singh, Eric Szwarczynski, Ben Cooper and Peter Borren have all made runs at times they don’t often get much support, and the top order as a whole is not coming together to produce totals which their limited bowling can defend. Injuries are, of course, not helping the cause, but VRA will need to raise their game considerably if they are to get clear of the relegation zone.
BdJ: Etman and Verhagen coming into this game with runs under their belts will compound the worries of a VRA side that has indeed struggled to take wickets all season, and with the fitness of Gunning and Gul in question the Amsterdammers attack looks about the weakest in the league as it stands. The Schiedammers’ status as favourites ahead of thie game owes as much to some judicious acdditions to the roster over the winter as their results so far, with the acquisitions of Umar Baker and Branton Parchment both paying dividends. Conversely VRA were in retrospect perhaps unduly sanguine in declining to engage in a serious search to replace Daan ter Braak and Viv Kingma. Of the new faces that have rocked up in the Bos, largely on their own initiative, only Brandon Graber seems to have found his feet at Topklasse level. As the half-way point of the season looms one suspects VRA may be beginning to sense the peril of their situation, but with the competition’s new frontrunners headed their way with the wind at their backs a turnaround is a tough ask.
RL: Dosti United again have no ground available for the last round before the competition switches to Sundays – the extended football season affects them worse than any other Topklasse club – so they will again have to play on their opponents’ ground. This time it means the short trip to Het Loopveld to face ACC, who lost by the narrowest of margins to HBS on Monday. Saqib and Sikander Zulfiqar are both in good form for the visitors-become-hosts, and with Brady Barends, currently the competition’s leading wicket-taker, adding incisiveness to the attack ACC have thoroughly deserved their position among the leaders. Dosti, by contrast, have failed to gel, and their defeat by Excelsior on Monday confirmed once again how vital Taruwar Kohli’s wicket is to their chances of making a decent total. The battle between him and Barends could be one of the more interesting head-to-head contests of the season.
BdJ: As much as their two new overseas, it is the seeming confidence of ACC’s core of young players that has seen them hanging out near the top of the table all season. Though both Jean Marais and Barends have been excellent for ACC thus far, the continued improvement of the three remaining Zulfiqars and occasionally outstanding contributions from such youngsters as Shirase Rasool, Aryan Kumar and last week Jamie Mulready has given ACC the look of genuine title contenders for the first time in years. Dosti meanwhile have struggled when Diwan was absent or Kohli has failed, though skipper Vinoo Tewarie has on occasion shown admirable application and obduracy in the midst of collapse, it is a situation he has found himself rather too often.
RL: Having seen off VOC in convincing fashion HCC will look forward to entertaining Sparta 1888 at De Diepput, and they will be hoping that their ground doesn’t live up to its name again this week. Even without Ali Ahmed Qasim the HCC attack has a menacing look about it, Jan Willem Damhuis slotting in effectively against VOC, and with Bharat Itagi, Tonny Staal and Bryce Street all making runs even when Adam Wiffen doesn’t the Lions seem likely to maintain their pursuit of the leaders for a while yet. Sparta are a less predictable side, but their win against Quick, in which Garnett Tarr’s century was a highlight, has lightened any lurking fears of relegation, at least for the moment, as has their defeat of tailenders VRA. You have to fancy HCC to pick up the points here, but Sparta have shown they are capable of springing surprises.
BdJ: Given the forecast it should be said that here and elsewhere rain is the most likely winner on Saturday, but the hosts are indeed a solid second. HCC have looked a solid side in spite of occasional changes in the line-up, Damhuis the latest after Itagi and Walhain to successfully step up to the first team, and bench strength has generally been crucial to successful Topklasse campaigns. A win over Sparta will keep them well in touch with the leaders as the table begins to bifurcate, but Sparta have every chance of derailing them. The Capellenaars have yet to play at their collective best, with exceptional individual performances generally accounting for the points they have on the board. Should a few come along at once two points will be within their reach, weather permitting.
RL: Even with the arrival of their Mumbaikers (compensated in part by the departure of Rupert Young), Quick Haag are another up-and-down side, too dependent on a few players. Jay Bista’s batting is as talismanic for them as Kohli’s is for Dosti, and they will be tested this week by a Voorburg outfit which has been boosted by the advent of Nic Smit. The Voorburg top order is likely to enjoy the new artificial outfield at Nieuw Hanenburg, though Prathamesh Dake will no doubt have other ideas. Quick’s attack, however, is not as menacing as it once was, while Voorburg’s is varied, and with Viv Kingma and Brandon Glover on song likely to be a real handful for Quick’s brittle top and middle order.
BdJ: Quick are indeed arguably still more dependent on Bista than Dosti on Kohli, relying on him not only for quantity of runs but also for tempo. Barring the veteran Doc Mol, who looks set to put in another unassumingly crucial season for his side, Quick lack for hitters as much as accumulators to support or at least take the pressure off Bista. With Jeroen Brand, once the reliable purveyor 17-ball 30s down the order currently striking at 55 and the rest of the line-up little better Bista is relied upon both to provide the bulk of the runs and to drive the scoring rate. Facing VCC’s attack that task may prove beyond even his considerable talents.
RL: VOC Rotterdam’s incipient recovery received a setback on Monday when they were pretty comprehensively beaten by HCC, and they really need to take something away from Craeyenhout where they take on HBS this week. All the champions’ problems were clearly illustrated in that defeat by HCC: the batting, apart from the three internationals, contributed little, and the attack struggled to dismiss a side which is steadily growing in confidence. HBS, by contrast, are strong in both major departments: the batting, balanced between the aggression of Visée and Barresi and the quieter skills of Elkin and Gomes, consistently produces the highest total of the round, while the bowlers, both the seamers and the spinners, also deliver on a weekly basis. This being the Topklasse one can’t rule out a stellar performance from the whole VOC outfit, but there can be little question that HBS will start as clear favourites.
BdJ: Generally I’d try to find at least one point of disagreement on the prognostications for the sake of making a contest of it, but I find myself in complete accord with the good professor this round. As with last years’ runners-up VRA, the defending champions are feeling the loss of key players in Fred Klaassen and Umar Baker, with their replacements failing to fill their shoes. It’s beginning to look as if after contesting the championship last season, VRA and VOC may be back at the other end of the table again by the end of this summer in a 2017-style relegation battle. HBS conversely look a stronger side than they did last season, when they came a creditable third. The big-hitting top order remains Crows’ key strength, and with Elkin playing foil to the more belligerent elements it looks more balanced than the 2018 version, but the bowling attack has also been strengthened by the addition of Zac Gibson as well as the continued development of Julian de Mey and (whisper it) Wesley Barresi as a genuine slow bowling option.
Rod Lyall’s tips: Excelsior, ACC, HCC, Voorburg, HBS.
Bertus de Jong’s tips: Excelsior, ACC, HCC, Voorburg, HBS.