With just two rounds left to play, both the ultimate destination of the trophy and who will play in the Hoofdklasse next season remain in doubt, although both questions could be resolved this Sunday. There will be time once the dust has settled to debate whether this reflects positively on the current competition structure and the eligibility rules, but for the moment attention will be centred on Sportpark Drieburg, De Diepput and Nieuw Hanenburg, where crucial battles are scheduled to be fought.
RL: Needing just one more win to make sure of the title, Excelsior ‘20 travel to Amsterdam to take on Dosti United, whose convincing victory over Voorburg last Sunday demonstrated that they are still a force to be reckoned with. With Kuldeep Diwan not only the competition’s leading wicket-taker but also adding great destructive power to the lower order, the Amsterdammers are more capable than most of testing the nerve of Tom Heggelman’s side, and once again a great deal may depend on the toss. Both teams are more effective batting first, though for different reasons: Dosti can set challenging targets, while Excelsior have proved outstanding at defending modest ones. Excelsior haven’t lost since the end of May, but if Dosti win the toss they might just find themselves needing to win their final match at Thurlede to clinch the championship.
BdJ: Excelsior still have two shots at reclaiming the title, but nice as it would be to bag it in front of a home crowd they’ll be keen to put the competition to bed come Sunday rather than letting it come down to the last-round with a resurgent VRA headed to Thurlede. It’s worth noting though that Excelsior’s recent successes in defence of modest totals has come against sides that still had skin in the game, so to speak. It may be a tougher ask to apply that same pressure to a Dosti side with nothing in particular on the line. Even without Taruwar Kohli Dosti’s batting line up has proved capable of running up serious scores, though if Excelsior can maintain the expemplary disciplinethat’s got them this far they’re still odds-on to take home the silverware on Sunday.
RL: For second-placed HCC it is no longer enough to see off VOC Rotterdam; they must hope that Dosti do them a favour as well. Perhaps thrown off their stride somewhat by the collapse of Dirk van Baren, the Rotterdammers fell apart against Sparta last Sunday despite another half-century from Pieter Seelaar, and there must be serious doubts about their attack’s ability to contain an HCC line-up in which Tonny Staal, Adam Wiffen, Bryce Street and now Hidde Overdijk are all among the runs, the latter ending the season with a flourish with the bat, as he began it with the ball. VOC’s chances will depend, again, on whether Max O’Dowd, Seelaar and Scott Edwards are able to match HCC’s growing confidence with the bat, but De Diepput’s tight square boundaries will offer both sides plenty of incentive for some hard hitting.
BdJ: HCC’s championship hopes have indeed slipped out of their hands now, but VOC’s title defence never really got started. The focus of the European Champions, one suspects, has turned to the T20 competition through which they’ll be looking to book a ticket back to La Manga. Nonetheless they remain a formidable 50-over side when their trio of internationals fire, and will of course be the less nervy of the two sides on Sunday. The return of Bobby Hanif has gone some way toward shoring up VOC’s attack after the departure of Fletcher, but despite a creditable first season at Rotterdam for Ashiqullah Said the absence of Fred Klaassen is still keenly felt. If Excelsior are to take the title this weekend, one suspects they’ll have to win it themselves.
RL: Sparta 1888’s defeat of VOC last week relieved the pressure on them a little, but Quick Haag could still overhaul them – by 0.02 of a point – by winning their last two matches, including the clash between the two sides on Sunday, if the Capelle side also lost to HCC the following week. Sparta again owed a lot to Mudassar Bukhari, whose 71 and four for 36 was a fine all-round effort, and they will need him to be at his best again this week to neutralise the danger of Jay Bista, whose importance for Quick’s hopes of survival is even greater. There are plenty of reasons why these two sides are at the foot of the table, but one must hope that the immediate prospect of relegation will inspire them to raise their game at Nieuw Hanenburg on Sunday and produce a match worthy of the top flight.
BdJ: The weight of carrying Quick’s survival hopes on his shoulders seems to be finally taking its toll on Bista, whose run-a-ball fifty against VRA last week looked streakier than usual and again proved insufficient to set up a win. Though Geert-Maarten Mol has again been offering Bista steady support over the season the Hanen nonetheless find themselves in a worst position even than last year, Sparta having stolen a march on them last round and now needing two wins and a little luck if they are to avoid relegation. Neutral fans may be hoping for a Quick win for the sake of the competition, setting up a potential championship/relegation decider at Bermweg in the final round, whilst keeping fully three of the final five fixtures relevant to the title or relegation, but the most likely outcome on form at least is that both will be settled this Sunday.
RL: Despite their rather hollow defeat by Excelsior last week, HBS Craeyenhout could still finish as runners-up if results go their way in the final two rounds, and they will welcome Tobias Visée back from his Canadian exploits for their match against ACC — again scheduled for the second ground at De Diepput. Both these sides have fallen upon hard times in recent weeks after a storming start to the campaign, but they include some of the undoubted stars of the season: Brady Barends for ACC, for example, and Sharn Gomes and Wesley Barresi, as well as Visée, for HBS. The HBS seam attack, Farshad Khan excepted, underperformed against Excelsior, and ACC’s inexplicably fragile top order will be hoping that the same applies this week. If not, it may take more heroics from Barends and Sikander Zulfiqar with the bat to keep the Amsterdammers in the hunt.
BdJ: Both HBS and ACC have looked rather deflated after falling out of contention for the top spot, though it’s difficult to guage how much that has been due to the absence of Toby Visée and Jean Marais at the top of their respective batting orders.The return of the HBS captain after a typically enterprising display at the GT20 will be a boost for HBS, though with three of the top four scorers in the league also to be found in the Crows’ line up one would think a big innings from the skipper looks like a sufficient but not necessary condition for victory.
RL: Quick’s defeat by VRA saved Voorburg from any remaining threat of a quick return to the Hoofdklasse, and they will travel to the Amsterdamse Bos on Sunday knowing that this is a game on which relatively little is riding. For their hosts, however, there is a real possibility that despite their appalling start to the season they could still finish in the top half of the table, having won six of their nine games since Peter Borren resumed the captaincy. On paper it’s a lopsided contest: Voorburg’s tottering batting against a limited VRA attack, VRA’s potentially powerful line-up of Singh, Szwarczynski, Cooper and Borren against a more than useful Voorburg bowling unit. The momentum is decidedly with the home side, and despite Voorburg’s win at Westvliet back in June it would come as something of a surprise if they were to take the points this time.
BdJ: It’s perhaps a surprise that there’s nothing but bragging rights on the line at this game in the end, with both sides starting the season widely regarded as potential title contenders and then both looking like relegation candidates by five games in. VCC did the hard work to put distance between themselves and the wooden spoon in the mid-season, whilst VRA left it a little later. Both sides are now safe, but whilst VRA’s recent form has seen them win five of their last six games, VCC’s last victory came five rounds ago. That said, VRA’s already rickety attack will be further weakened by the loss of a lately in-form Quirijn Gunning, who is out for the rest of the season with a broken hand. An opportunity perhaps for an underperforming VCC line-up to repair their season averages, though given how Dosti dealt with the more celebrated VCC attack last week VRA’s batsmen may well be thinking the same thing.
Rod Lyall’s tips: Excelsior, HCC, Quick, HBS, VCC.
Bertus de Jong’s tips: Excelsior, HCC, Sparta, HBS, VCC.