Rod Lyall and Bertus de Jong 11/07/19
This week’s round features what may prove to be the most decisive match of the entire Topklasse campaign, with leaders Excelsior ’20 facing the side they displaced last Sunday, ACC. At the other end of the table, VRA Amsterdam and Quick Haag take on tough challenges against the remaining teams from the top four, respectively HBS Craeyenhout and HCC.
RL: While the chance of these sides finishing level at the end of the season have been greatly diminished by last week’s tie, the encounter between Excelsior and ACC at Het Loopveld is of vital importance to both teams. The Schiedammers won their earlier clash at Thurlede, and a repeat performance here would lift them three points clear of their rivals, while ACC would leapfrog back to the top of the table if they evened the score. How badly the Amsterdammers’ confidence has been dented by their dramatic collapse against Voorburg, and how effectively they can throw it off, are obviously key factors, while Excelsior’s failure to overhaul Sparta’s relatively modest total – however much the one point from the tie may have been a consolation prize – will cause them some concern as well. Both attacks, though, have been performing well, with Tom Heggelman and Rens van Troost taking wickets for the visitors and Brady Barends and Saqib Zulfiqar doing the damage for ACC. Form suggests a low-scoring game, but a big innings from one of the top order for either side would likely settle the matter in his team’s favour.
BdJ: The combination of (no) results thus far has indeed effectively taken net run rate out of the equation at both ends of the table, but without question Sunday’s clash at het Loopveld is a true four-pointer. A three point lead would put Excelsior in full control of the table, likely needing only three wins from five to reclaim the title. Whilst their two Jamaican pros hit the ground running early in the season, it has taken a while for the rest of the side to hit their stride. Yet of late they have looked a more complete side, with Etman and Verhagen finding some form with the bat too. A longish tail remains their chief weakness, though it’s one that they share with their rivals for the top spot. Jean Marais’ promotion to the openers slot has paid off on occasion, notably against VRA, but leaves them looking more top-heavy than most. Early wickets, as they say, will be key.
RL: Having been unable to take advantage of the leaders’ travails, HCC will be keen to avoid any further slip-up when they take on relegation-threatened Quick Haag at De Diepput. Given that Quick’s bowling strength is mostly in the seam department the fact that VRA’s spinners took three wickets apiece against HCC may be less relevant than otherwise, and the other side of that coin is that Quick conceded 338 against VOC. As always, Jay Bista is the potential trump card, but with Adam Wiffen and Bryce Street in their line-up and Boris Gorlee playing his best Topklasse innings to date last week, HCC seem well-placed to match his influence and to counter the threat posed by his compatriot Prathamesh Dake. Quick will need all their support acts to be at their best if they are to overcome the all-round strength of HCC, who will certainly start as firm favourites.
BdJ: The quick-fire century in a losing cause is becoming something of a trademark for Jay Bista, much to his own irritation, one suspects. It’s not hard to imagine another come Sunday, as a big Bista score has generally proved necessary but not sufficient for a Quick victory. As much as quantity of runs, Quick are unduly dependent on the Mumbaiker to drive the scoring. Whilst Doc Mol has provided regular support and others have chipped in on occasion, Bista has had to score twice as fast of any of his partners to keep the scoreboard ticking at a moderate rate. Quick’s attack will have to substantially up their game if they are to hold HCC to a modest total, or risk again leaving Bista with too much to do.
RL: Suddenly the match between HBS Craeyenhout and VRA Amsterdam has become a mouth-watering prospect between what should be two of the more entertaining teams in the competition. HBS have, of course, been running up big totals and pressuring opponents into defeat all season, but the resurgence of VRA with Peter Borren back at the helm has enlivened things enormously, and not just the battle to avoid relegation. Emile van den Burg celebrated his release with his first century for four years a couple of weeks ago, but it was Borren and Eric Szwarczynski who put their side in a winning position against HCC. With Vikram Singh, still a work in progress, and Ben Cooper, VRA have a top five to match the home side’s, and capable of totals even their vulnerable attack can defend. That said, HBS have the superior record and a better-balanced side, and know they need to keep winning to keep pace with the top three.
BdJ: For all the inconsistency of VRA’s underperforming top order, it is the bowling that has really let them down this season. On that front there is cause for optimism however, with Gunning and Graber beginning to find some rhythm and Ben Cooper’s continued improvement bolstering the spin section. HBS remain favourites come Sunday though. Even if VRA are perhaps unfortunate to be playing them two weeks before they lose Toby Visée to the GT20, his role remains wildcard rather than linchpin with the rest of the top four all in the top six of the batting averages. Improving or no, it’s difficult to see the VRA attack containing them.
RL: A coldly dispassionate eye might suggest that Sparta 1888 have outperformed their strength on paper, at least on occasions, by as much as Dosti United have underperformed theirs. How else to account for the fact that a side which boasts the talents of Taruwar Kohli, Anees Davids, Abhinav Bali, Kuldeep Diwan and Amitoze Singh, not to mention former Dutch internationals Vinoo Tewarie and Rahil Ahmed, has suffered the same number of defeats as the much more modestly-equipped Capelle team? But Sparta amply demonstrated their fighting qualities in achieving that tie with Excelsior last Sunday, while for Dosti Kohli again found himself in a largely lone battle in pursuit of an imposing target. None of which will prevent Dosti starting as favourites when the sides meet at Sportpark Drieburg this week, although those odds could be narrowed somewhat should the home team be bowling first – Dosti are much more effective batting first, and Sparta have the knack of finding someone to step up as required. Last week it was Andrew Fletcher, who seems at last to have adjusted to Dutch conditions.
BdJ: Fair to say that Dosti have the more impressive roster of the two, with talents previously kept in the second team by the old rules now making their presence felt in the Topklasse, but Kohli remains the only consistent performer for the Amsterdammers and even he is having a quiet season by his admittedly high standards. Sparta, meanwhile, have had to carry their underperforming pros for the first half of the season, and if Fletcher, like Tarr, has belatedly found some form their line-up looks rather stronger than their place on the table would suggest. And as to former Dutch internationals, it must be said that Mudassar Bukhari is currently enjoying a rather more productive retirement than Ahmed or Tewarie.
RL: The contrast between the victories of VOC Rotterdam and Voorburg last Sunday could scarcely be starker: VOC won the highest-scoring game of the day after seeing off a stern Jay Bista challenge, while Voorburg were dismissed for 122 – fewer than VOC’s Max O’Dowd made on his own – and still won by 47 runs. So the clash between these two mid-table sides at Hazelaarweg this week presents an intriguing prospect: a batting side whose big guns are scoring prolifically against what is perhaps the most potent attack in the competition, and one whose top and middle order has been consistently disappointing against bowling which has tended to lack impact. The key for Voorburg will be to get rid of O’Dowd early and to limit the impact of Pieter Seelaar and Scott Edwards, and by the same token, VOC will be looking to cut through a surprisingly fragile Voorburg top five. It’s the first of these two which will likely determine the destination of the points.
BdJ: At the start of the season, few would have predicted that the absence of Umar Baker would have such a dramatic effect on the title-holders’ fortunes. Yet with a spin-friendly home ground and O’Dowd experimenting unsuccessfully with leg-spin for half a season the loss of ten overs of solid spin has been telling. VOC didn’t lose a single game at home in 2018, this season they’ve lost four already. If the batting is reliant on their three Dutch internationals, it’s not clear who the bowling should depend on, with VOC using an average of eight different bowlers in each of their past five games. VCC’s top order has indeed underperformed all season, but then they may look at a trip to Hazelaarweg as a chance to play themselves back into form.
Rod Lyall’s tips: Excelsior, HCC, HBS, Dosti, VOC.
Bertus de Jong’s tips: Excelsior, HCC, HBS, Sparta, VCC.