Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 04/07/19
There’s still a good way to go in this year’s Topklasse, but already the field has split quite markedly into title contenders and relegation candidates, with four teams all within two points of the top spot, and the remaining six sides a full six points adrift. heading into round 12 there’s still time for some of the latter to stage a late surge, but they’ll likely have to make a start this Sunday.
BdJ: of the trailing teams, VOC Rotterdam are best placed to mount a comeback, last season’s champions four wins shy of ACC and Excelsior at the top of the table, but with a game against bottom-placed VRA still in hand. They travel to Nieuw Hanenburg to take on second-from-bottom Quick Haag on Sunday, boasting three key players all in excellent touch. Max O’Dowd, Scott Edwards and Pieter Seelaar are all in fine form for the national side and VOC both, and against a fairly pedestrian Quick attack will be banking on big scores from their three internationals. They will likely need all three to fire though; even if Quick’s key man Jay Bista has gone uncharacteristically cheaply in his past couple of outings there will be little to worry him or his team-mates in this VOC bowling attack, which has been more varied than effective of late, using a total of 12 different bowlers and conceding over 600 runs across their last two games.
RL: With O’Dowd and Edwards averaging over 40 with the bat and Seelaar a tad over 30, the Rotterdam Three are keeping their side even slightly in the hunt: the rest of the top seven have made barely 500 runs between them, in 39 innings. Pierce Fletcher and Ashiqullah Said apart, the bowling has also looked threadbare, although the return of Bobby Hanif has given Seelaar another experienced seamer. They will face Bista’s aggression and Geert Maarten Mol’s solidity, but the rest of Quick’s batsmen have given these two even more intermittent support than VOC have mustered for their three internationals. If Bista comes off the Rotterdammers could be looking at another day of leather-chasing on Nieuw Hanenburg’s unforgiving artificial surface; if they can get him early, they should take two very important points back home with them.
BdJ: The most recent team to profit from VOC’s woes with the ball were VRA, who racked up 290-5 last weekend thanks in large part to former skipper Emile van den Burg’s second Topklasse century. The subsequent win, only VRA’s second so far, saw them close the gap with the rest of the pack, but the manner of it rather highlighted why they are at the bottom of the pile in the first place. The bowling will again be VRA’s chief concern when they welcome HCC to the Bos, part-timer Ben Cooper’s place at the top of the VRA wicket-taking table as much a testament to the travails of their front line bowlers as Cooper’s admittedly much-improved off-spin. HCC will arrive in Amstelveen having not lost a match in over a month, with Street and Wiffen both looking solid, Overdijk and Staal returning from national duty in England and favourites to claim the two points they need to keep pace with ACC and Excelsior at the top.
RL: What has been particularly impressive about HCC’s winning run has been the solidity of both their batting and bowling, with Bryce Street playing a key role in both – although it must be conceded that their record might have been tested had their match against co-leaders ACC not been rained off. Still, they will arrive at the Kalfjeslaan full of confidence, and keen to prevent the home side from starting a much-needed winning run of their own. VRA’s defeat of VOC last week will have given them heart, although as m’colleague points out, the bowling is still a source of concern. The Bos can be a bowlers’ graveyard after a prolonged dry spell, and if the weather holds conditions may well favour the batsmen. In which case HCC seem better equipped to contain a potentially powerful VRA batting line-up than the reverse.
BdJ: Currently in pole position thanks to a solid net run rate advantage over Excelsior, ACC head down to Westvliet to take on the beleaguered Voorburg CC whose much-anticipated return to the Topklasse hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. Despite having the look of a well-balanced side, new-ball pair Kingma and Glover still the envy of the league, Clayton Floyd quietly outperforming either and the Smit brothers bolstering the batting, VCC have yet to play to their collective ability. ACC’s performance, conversely, has outstripped even their most optimistic fans’ expectations. On paper 7th placed VCC are far from outmatched, yet they will have to step up their efforts if they are to derail ACC’s title bid.
RL: Dismissed for the fourth time under 150 last Sunday, Voorburg continue to belie the promising start their theoretically powerful batting line-up made on the first day of the season. Nic Smit has added a good deal to their batting, but paradoxically the rest – even his brother Matt – have been even less impressive than they were before his arrival. The combination of irresponsible batting, wayward bowling and indifferent catching was fatal against Excelsior, and meeting the two co-leaders in successive weeks is a tough ask. ACC, on the other hand, just keep winning, with Brady Barends’ pace and Saqib Zulfiqar’s spin accounting for most of the wickets – 24 and 20 respectively – and runs coming from just about everyone at some stage or other. There is no doubt that Voorburg have the capability to pull off a shock here, but whether they can marshal the will to do so is another question.
BdJ: Close on ACC’s heels, separated only by NRR, are Excelsior ’20 Schiedam who have consistently found ways to keep winning despite never quite recapturing the magic of seasons past. Whilst Lorenzo Ingram and Brenton Parchment were responsible for much of the early success, Excelsior have looked rather less like a two-man show of late. Last week’s win over VCC was much more of a team effort, skipper Tom Heggelman, who is quietly having a solid season, leading the way with the ball whilst Tim Etman and Joost Kroesen stepped up with the bat. They take on Sparta 1888 at Bermweg on Sunday, who have had a much tougher time of it in recent weeks despite the all-round efforts of veteran Mudassar Bukhari and overseas player Garnett Tarr’s recent purple patch. Sparta have looked competitive enough all season despite carrying two misfiring overseas for much of it, and there are signs that Andrew Fletcher may be beginning to belatedly acclimatise to Dutch conditions. Sparta will hope he emulates his junior colleague with a sudden flourish of runs come Sunday, but on current form the visitors look odds on to take the two points.
RL: The last time Excelsior went to Bermweg on Topklasse business they were shot out for 41, an experience which will no doubt be in both teams’ minds this Sunday. Dost Muhammed, the destroyer-in-chief that day, has played only once this season, but Sparta’s four-man seam attack has performed well enough without him. They may lack the incisiveness of Voorburg’s, against whom Excelsior toiled somewhat last week, but if the Schiedammers’ bowlers perform as well as they did against Voorburg they should be capable of defending any reasonable total. That said, Sparta’s batsmen gave HBS a real scare last Sunday when chasing a big total, and while the Bermweg is a lot less batsman-friendly than Craeyenhout, the signs that Fletcher is finally adjusting to Dutch conditions could be ominous.
BdJ: Arithmetically in the top half of the table in fifth, Dosti-United will nonetheless be more concerned about putting distance between themselves and the relegation fight as catching up to the top four when they take on fourth-placed HBS at Drieburg on Sunday. The Crows’ tilt at the title has faltered somewhat in recent weeks with losses to HCC and VOC, though back at full strength they comfortably saw off Sparta again last week. Though it’s fair to say they have Dosti rather outgunned in terms of batting, especially as Taruwar Kohli is having a comparatively quiet season so far (by his standards at least), Dosti have shown themselves quite capable of racking up serious scores themselves. Most of the Dosti top six have produced scores on occasion, but none have done so consistently. HBS have been more consistent in their scoring, but arguably also more dependent on it; despite Berend Westdijk’s excellent season with the ball the rest of the attack has looked comparatively innocuous. It may come down to how well the HBS line-up negotiate the home side’s spin attack: if Dosti can contain them effectively they’ll have every chance of springing an upset.
RL: While I do not dissent from m’colleague’s view of this match, I don’t agree about the HBS attack: of the pace men, Wessel Coster, Farshad Khan and Zak Gibson have all bowled pretty well, and there has been a marked improvement in Julian de Mey’s contribution to the spin department. They did suffer at the hands of Sparta last week before pulling off an important win, and coach Rainer Carsten will be looking to them to be at their best against a rather enigmatic but undoubtedly menacing Dosti batting line-up. On the other side of the equation, the return of Kuldeep Diwan adds another dimension to the home side’s attack, and the battle between Dosti’s bowlers and the HBS top order could be one of the highlights of the season. The game at Craeyenhout certainly offered much to savour, and the return is likely to be no different. Perhaps the toughest game of the five to pick . . .
Bertus de Jong’s tips: VOC, HCC, ACC, Excelsior, HBS
Rod Lyall’s tips: VOC, HCC, ACC, Excelsior, HBS