Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 19/07/19
Last round before the break and the final stretch of this Topklasse season is looming, and as ten team round robins go there’s a remarkable amount still to play for. Excelsior have stretched their lead at the top but there’s three sides still in a position to plausibly challenge for the title, with ACC, HCC and HBS all on 16 points from between 11 and 13 matches. A six point gap between the leaders and the mid-table leaves the rest of the pack all in some danger of relegation, though Dosti, VCC and especially VOC could take significant steps toward safety over the coming weekend.
BdJ: Of the three, VOC Rotterdam are best placed to secure their survival with a double-weekend ahead before they head off to La Manga to contest the new European Championship. Their delayed match-up against a late-resurgent VRA is Saturday’s sole fixture, where the Amsterdammers will look to continue to put distance between themselves and the relegation spot they had occupied for much of the season. VRA’s bowling finally came good last week when they bundled HBS out for 135 to set up a remarkably comprehensive upset victory, Quirijn Gunning and Brandon Graber finally making the new ball talk as they blasted past HBS’s imposing top order. VOC’s own game against VCC was written off at a flooded Hazelaarweg, so there’s little indication they have solved their own problems with the ball. That said, there’s been much promise but little consistency to be found in VRA’s own top-order, and the presence of Pieter Seelaar and Scott Edwards in the VOC middle-order means a good new-ball spell from Gunning or Graber is unlikely to be a killing blow. Whether they play out at the top or the bottom of the table, VRA and VOC’s encounters at the Bos have generally provided excellent entertainment at least, though the outcome is tough to call this would likely have been the match of the day even had their been any competition.
RL: VRA’s winning streak has brought these two sides much closer together on the table, where in terms of raw ability (and inherent weaknesses) they probably should have been all along. VRA have added a whole new dimension to the concept of a slow start, but the transformation effected by Peter Borren’s return to the captaincy makes them a danger to anyone they now face. With VOC and Dosti this weekend, followed by Sparta, Quick Haag and Voorburg, they may not only save their own skins but cause a fair degree of misery elsewhere. But VOC represent one of their tougher remaining assignments, and as m’colleague observes, encounters between these two sides have traditionally been close, hard-fought affairs – going all the way back to the 1990s. VOC’s three internationals are balanced by VRA’s one current and two former Dutch players, and which trio performs better on the day may prove to be the critical factor.
BdJ: VRA will be back in action at the Bos the following day as Dosti-United make the trip across the Amstel fresh from the absolute shellacking they handed to Sparta last week. However brittle they have looked across the season, it’s fair to say VRA’s experienced line-up will put up rather stiffer resistance than Sparta could muster last Sunday, but Dosti, and especially Anees Davids, will be riding high when they arrive in Amstelveen. At least as concerning for the hosts, Dosti’s intimidating top-order almost all have some runs under their belt from the last few rounds, and the Drieburg side no longer looks like a one-man show with the bat. Both sides look to be belatedly hitting their stride having underperformed for much of the summer, but Dosti still look odds-on to take another two points off their Amsterdam rivals come Sunday.
RL: Few sides can manage two wins over a double weekend, and should VRA overcome VOC on Saturday they may be hard-pressed to make it two out of two against Dosti, whose top six is as menacing as any in the competition. A lot may depend on whether Vinoo Tewarie calls correctly: as I have suggested before, Dosti look a much better side batting first than they do when chasing, and if VRA can get past the threat of Davids and Kuldeep Diwan and set a decent target, then they might just get the upper hand. They came close to a successful chase when the sides met at Drieburg, boosted by an outstanding Ben Cooper hundred, but with Abhinav Bali now established in the Dosti top order they could find themselves again facing an uphill battle if they have to bowl first.
BdJ: Meanwhile VOC head across to Schiedam for their second match of the weekend, taking on table-toppers Excelsior ‘20 at Thurlede. Excelsior looked less-than-convincing with the bat as they saw off their nearest rivals ACC in a low-scoring scrap at Het Loopveld last week, but once again, even with just 158 on the board, they found a way to win. Discipline and determination in the field was the Schiedammers’ greatest asset last week, and given VOC’s reliance on their three Dutch internationals for runs, containment may again prove a winning strategy, the Rotterdammers lacking both the batting depth to take real risks and the bowling attack to reliably hold opposition to modest totals.
RL: VOC may play a crucial role in deciding the championship, since they play all three of the leading sides in the course of the run in. Whether they have the all-round power to beat Excelsior is doubtful, though: Tom Heggelman’s side has emerged as a textbook example of a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts, and it must be a comfort to them that even when Lorenzo Ingram and Brenton Parchment are less than dominant with the bat they are able to make up for it with the ball – and in the field. With Heggelman himself, Rens van Troost and Sohail Bhatti all bowling well, the leaders can defend low totals, although they may have to go up a gear against O’Dowd, Seelaar and Edwards.
BdJ: After missing their chance to leapfrog Excelsior last week, ACC will want to avoid slipping further behind on Sunday when they head to Bermweg to take on the beleaguered Sparta 1888, who are now just a single point clear of the relegation spot after an abject performance at Drieburg. Boasting the league’s two leading wicket-takers in Brady Barends and Saqib Zulfiqar, ACC will likely feel confident of rolling Sparta for a total even their misfiring batting will have little trouble with. On that front the Amsterdammers have looked increasingly dependent on Jean Marais at the top of the order however, with the rest of the batting card struggling to maintain early form. If there is a one-on-one battle likely to prove decisive it is doubtless that of Marais and the evergreen Mudassar Bukhari, who has looked his old self and then some this season.
RL: Having collapsed twice in succession ACC’s batting must now be a subject of serious concern in Amstelveen, though not nearly as much as Sparta’s after last week’s debacle against Dosti. Another defeat might well put ACC out of the running for the title altogether – depending on results elsewhere – while Sparta’s slide towards the bottom of the table means they also have to start conjuring victories from somewhere. Their attack always looks a shade more effective at the Bermweg, but it’s hard to believe that a batting line-up which includes Marais and the Zulfiqar brothers will fail again, even if the middle and lower order seem currently unable to contribute a great deal. The imponderable, of course, is what events at Drieburg last Sunday have done to Sparta’s morale: they will have to regroup very quickly if they are to have any chance against the Amsterdam side.
BdJ: Safe to say that Quick Haag will be hoping for an ACC victory on Sunday, giving them a chance to steal a march on their relegation rivals when they take on HBS Craeyenhout at Nieuw Hanenburg. Taking two points off their local rivals remains a tall order for the Hanen, however, the Crows’ spectacular collapse against VRA an aberration unlikely to be repeated. There were more positives to be drawn from Quick’s defeat last week than that of HBS, though, most notably Jeroen Brand and Doc Mol lifting them past 200 despite the early loss of Jay Bista. But they will likely need their Mumbaiker MVP to fire on Sunday if they are to have any hope of matching HBS for firepower, or for his compatriot Prathamesh Dake to make swift inroads into a rattled but still dangerous HBS top order.
RL: The farmyard battle between the neighbours in the Bosjes van Pex is one of the great Dutch derbies, and if HBS are now somewhat off the pace – though not yet mathematically out of the title contest – their hosts have a very great deal at stake. It’s true that Tobias Visée’s men had an off-day last week, as they did against Voorburg earlier in the season, but it does seem unlikely that that lightning will strike again on Sunday. Dake is, of course, capable of shaking them up, but it’s more probable that normal service will be restored and that they will again post a winning total, whether setting or chasing. The wild card is, as always, Bista: if he gets going, the Nieuw Hanenburg public could again be in for a treat. The same applies, though, to Visée and Wesley Barresi, while with Zac Elkin and Sharn Gomes as foils the HBS top four is collectively a class better than Quick’s line-up.
BdJ: The final match of the round sees HCC, now in second place behind Excelsior on 8 wins from 11, take on the much-fancied but thus-far disappointing Voorburg at Westvliet. Now nine points adrift of the top-spot, VCC will have likely put their title ambitions on hold for another year, but retain the quality to beat anyone in the competition. HCC will nonetheless start as favourites on form, with a top five all enjoying seasons ranging from the solid to the exemplary. Voorburg’s much-vaunted new-ball pairing of Vivian Kingma and Brandon Glover have delivered on occasion, but not with the regularity needed for VCC to mount a title challenge given their disappointing efforts with the bat. Facing off against Itagi, Staal, Wiffen, Street and Gorlee, the pair will have their work cut out for them on Sunday.
RL: Nor should we forget the contribution of Hidde Overdijk with the ball: his four-wicket haul against Quick last week set up HCC’s victory, and his consistency has been a significant factor in taking his side to their current elevated position. HCC’s matches against Excelsior and ACC in the first two weeks of August may well determine where the championship cup resides this winter, but this visit to Westvliet is scarcely less important for the Lions in their pursuit of a record 39th title (49th if we include the ten won by HCC II). Soft dismissals have been the bane of Voorburg’s season, and with the side facing one of the tougher programmes over the last five weeks they must be looking to provide stiffer resistance against an HCC attack which – Overdijk apart – is tidy rather than devastating.
BdJ’s tips: VRA, Excelsior, Dosti, ACC, HBS, HCC.
RL’s tips: VOC, Excelsior, VRA, ACC, HBS, HCC.