Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 10/07/20
Unsurprisingly, there were plenty of signs of rust when the Topklasse got under way last Sunday – the inclement weather may have contributed to that as much as the long, largely practice-free lay-off – but there were also some encouraging signs that, despite the absence of clear goals and menaces in this foreshortened season we may be in for some good, entertaining cricket.
RL: VRA Amsterdam, finding themselves with an unscheduled home start to their campaign and having celebrated with a comprehensive demolition of Dosti, will entertain HBS Craeyenhout in the Bos this week. The Crows found promoted side Punjab Rotterdam at full throttle last Sunday, and despite some solid resistance from new recruit Tim Drummond and some determined bowling from seamers Ferdi Vink and Najvit Singh they were unable to recover from a disastrous early batting collapse. VRA’s attack, even without Quirijn Gunning, was too much for Dosti, and they will be keen to demonstrate that that effort wasn’t a flash in the pan. HBS’s best hope might be to put the home side’s untested batting under early pressure, but that would need Tobias Visée to start by calling correctly.
BdJ: The Amsterdammers may have been forced by circumstance to blood a bevy of youth players earlier than planned, but Peter Borren’s confidence in his young charges seems to be well founded. While the batting indeed remains somewhat untested this season, the presence of Borren himself as well as Dutch internationals Vikram Singh and Ben Cooper, who were not required to bat last week, means it’s unlikely that the batting will be VRA’s chief concern, especially with HBS missing their top three wicket-takers from last season in Farshad Khan, Zac Gibson and Berend Westdijk. Visée and Drummond may be looking forward to getting stuck into a gifted but rusty or raw VRA attack, but it will likely require a serious score from one or the other to put VRA under real pressure.
RL: Having dominated HBS almost from start to finish, Punjab will take on last year’s champions Excelsior ‘20 at the Zomercomplex. Excelsior, of course, missed their match last week because their Thurlede pitch was unplayable, and have therefore not had a chance to settle before facing a buoyant Punjab side which has been reinforced by a full quartet of Zulfiqars. The Schiedammers do have Lorenzo Ingram, but they are without opener Tim Etman, who moved to Australia at the end of last season, and with just the one overseas player in the side will have a different balance from that which has seen them claim three titles in four years.
BdJ: If VRA are fortunate to be able to fall back on their youth in this unusual season, Punjab’s acquisition of the full set of Zulfiqars gives them still greater depth, and could not have been more timely. Though missing their intended overseas players this season, Steph Myburgh demonstrated that he remains a menace at the top of the order, and backed up by a quartet of Zulfiqars the Punjab batting looks a sound as any in the league this year. Despite skipper Tariq hitting the ground running with ball in hand, however, the bowling attack is as yet unproven and Excelsior are unlikely to prove as cooperative as HBS were last week, at least in terms of run-outs. Probably the toughest game to call this week, but with Ingram in the side it’s never safe to bet against the title-holders.
RL: The other unknown quantity is Sparta 1888, whose journey to Thurlede last Sunday was in vain. So their first outing, at the Bermweg, will be against VOC Rotterdam, who showed their lack of practice against Voorburg in their opening game. The main exception was Ayaz Durrani, who responded admirably to the increased responsibility of opening the innings, but VOC will need the top and middle order to weigh in more effectively if there are to set their opponents reasonable challenging targets. Sparta do, of course, have a proven match-winner in former international allrounder and new skipper Mudassar Bukhari, and will looking to their new acquisition Lenert van Wyk to anchor a batting line-up which was pretty brittle last year.
BdJ: With Sparta yet to bowl a ball in anger this season it’s hard to know what to expect when they take the field on Sunday, but on paper they look in decent enough shape. Among returning players, Bukhari was without question the MVP of the 2019 Topklasse, and if he can replicate that form this summer then Sparta will be serious title contenders (or would be if there was a title). VOC, conversely, are a long way off fielding a first choice eleven and the eleven they did field last week still underperformed. It will take a remarkable turnaround from Pieter Seelaar’s side if they are to put points on the board this Sunday.
RL: Voorburg looked impressive in their win over VOC, and in Viv Kingma, Ahmed Ali Qasim, Bas de Leede and Stef Mulder they arguably have the sharpest seam attack in the competition, even after the departure of Brandon Glover. They are at home to ACC this Sunday, and despite the initial success of their new opening pairing of Cameron Burnett and Charles McInerney the Amsterdammers seem likely to find it tough to recover from the loss of three Zulfiqar brothers and Shirase Rasool. There may be more questions about Voorburg’s batting than their bowling, and they needed a captain’s innings from Tom de Grooth to see off VOC. But Righardt Pieterse demonstrated that he can be a useful opening partner for his skipper, and with De Leede also in the top order and a clutch of other promising youngsters this could be a valuable team-building season for the Villagers.
BdJ: With the absence of the Smit brothers and Clayton Floyd’s departure, VCC certainly do have a rather longer tail this season than they’d like, but it’s questionable whether that will prove a problem against ACC’s attack. The arrival of Burnett and McInerney, at least on first showing, promises to alleviate the batting concerns somewhat, but ACC will need someone to step up on Sunday to do the same with the ball if they hope to take two points back from Westvliet.
RL: There may be no title at stake this year, but HCC did enough in beating ACC last Sunday that if there were they would be serious contenders. Admittedly, their attack had to labour for nearly 25 overs before claiming their first wicket, but once they had the breakthrough they never looked back. They are a well-balanced bowling outfit, all the more effective for the arrival of Damien Crowley, and his unbeaten 74 showed that he, like opener Musa Ahmad, is a great acquisition. It will take a huge effort for Dosti Amsterdam to recover from last week’s debacle on their visit to De Diepput, although skipper Vinoo Tewarie has some talented local players at his disposal and will give a better account of themselves second time around.
BdJ: Though Burnett and McInerney’s opening stand on Sunday does raise some questions about the effectiveness of HCC’s seam attack without Qasim and Street, nothing about Dosti’s display at the Bos lost week suggested a team equipped to take advantage. The absence of Taruwar Kohli , Mohammad Hafeez and Anees Davids was keenly felt, and now also lacking Rahil Ahmed, Dosti’s batting looks threadbare indeed. Mashesh Hans and skipper Vinoo Tewarie will need to provide contributions commensurate with their senior roles in the side if they are to compete against an HCC side that looks scarcely weaker than the one that challenged for the title last year.
Rod Lyall’s tips: VRA, Punjab, Sparta, Voorburg, HCC.
Bertus de Jong’s tips: VRA, EXcelsior, Sparta, Voorburg, HCC.