Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 31/07/20
Four rounds in to the curtailed 2020 Topklasse season and already the half-way mark is upon us. The fifth round kicks off early this weekend with Excelsior and Dosti’s match moved up to the Saturday, and by the end of Sunday’s matches we should have a clear idea of who is in the running for such honours as can be claimed in lieu of a title, and who is at risk of the consequence-free ignominy of finishing bottom of the pile.
BdJ: Both Dosti-United and, perhaps surprisingly, title-holders Excelsior ‘20 Schiedam are in the running for the wooden spoon, with neither having found a win yet this season. Excelsior have seen a few encouraging individual performances this season, with Rens van Troost and Niels Etman both seeming comfortable with the responsibility thrust on them in the absence of senior players, but the 2019 champions nonetheless look a shadow of the side that won the last two titles. That said, they should fancy their chances of taking two points off this hapless Dosti side, whose total of 117 against Punjab last week was the best they’ve managed all season. Their breaking three figures last week was in large part thanks to skipper Vinoo Tewarie’s 45 from the top of the order, itself the Amsterdammers’ best individual score thus far, but Tewarie will need some degree of support if his team are to register their first win come Saturday.
RL: The dependence of Excelsior’s batting on Lorenzo Ingram and an overseas colleague has been an issue for the Schiedammers in the past, and this year, with Tim Etman gone to Australia and no other overseas in the line-up, his modest yield of 64 runs in three innings has left a youthful batting side even more exposed. The absence of skipper Tom Heggelman for the past two weeks hasn’t helped, and neither has the fact that they’ve so far had to face three of the stronger sides in Punjab, VRA and Voorburg. But fellow-strugglers Dosti should be a much fairer test of what this transformed version of the defending champions has to offer. As for Dosti, while their effort against Punjab may, one hopes, have represented an up-turn in their fortunes, another batting collapse after a decent start must be entered on the other side of the balance sheet. How well Excelsior are able to cope with Touseef Ahmed may well turn out to be the key to this game, but at this stage you have to fancy them to take the points back south.
BdJ: Also looking for their first win will be VOC Rotterdam, who will take on VRA Amsterdam at the Amsterdamse Bos the next day. VOC looked a much-improved side in their narrow loss to ACC last week, and will be bolstered by the return of former Netherlands international Ahsan Malik, but have been hit hard by the injury to skipper Pieter Seelaar compounding their already substantial availability issues. VRA meanwhile will be closer to full strength with Quirijn Gunning and Leon Turmaine coming back into the side, though it remains to be seen how readily they will bounce back from their shellacking at the hands of HCC last round.
RL: There’s a massive difference between giving youth a chance and exposing an undercooked side to a humiliating defeat, and circumstances conspired to prove that fact at De Diepput last Sunday. That it was a contest of men against boys was not the fault of either VRA or skipper Peter Borren, but it is further evidence of what an abnormal season this is. A somewhat stiffened team will take on a VOC side which seems gradually to be recovering its mojo, and while the loss of Seelaar is a significant blow with both bat and ball, Corey Rutgers’ presence in the middle order is a steadying factor in a batting line-up which has struggled to set scores the attack can defend. That they almost did so last week was more testimony to ACC’s limitations than their own strengths, and VRA will have every incentive to demonstrate that last week’s debacle was an aberration.
BdJ: HCC themselves remain undefeated so far this season, and will be looking to consolidate when they take on local rivals HBS Craeyenhout at De Diepput. The Crows have given a creditable account of themselves this season in the circumstances, but have remained reliant on the mercurial Toby Visée for runs and will be a long shot for points taking on what looks a well-rounded HCC outfit. Hidde Overdijk and Reinier Bijloos made short work of VRA’s line-up last week, and with Damien Crowley proving a shrewd acquisition HCC look to have weathered the loss of their overseas better than most, all the more remarkable given the role Bryce Street played last season.
RL: From an HCC point of view, of course, their demolition of VRA was confirmation of the fact that they have a well-balanced side, with their experienced three-pronged seam attack of Overdijk, Bijloos and Olivier Klaus backed up by the spin of Clayton Floyd, and a batting line-up including Tonny Staal, Crowley and the steadily-maturing Boris Gorlee. HBS are not far short of being a decent side, but they were outclassed by a rampant Mudassar Bukhari last week and they may struggle against the Lions in an encounter with Aesopic dimensions. They are missing Sharn Gomes’s batting much more than HCC are missing Street, but their attack is normally one of the better units in the competition and is capable of giving the home side a severe test.
BdJ: HCC’s main rivals for the top spot are Punjab Rotterdam, who will welcome ACC to the Zomercomplex come Sunday. Having acquired another three Zulfiqars from their opponents over the winter, Punjab have an enviable depth to their batting and have looked relatively untroubled so far this season. ACC can nonetheless be pleased with the team they’ve managed to put together, and have surprised many by holding their own in the mid-table thus far and if Aryan Kumar is cleared fit to play he will doubtless have a point to prove against his erstwhile teammates.
RL: The meeting between a quartet of Zulfiqars and their former team-mates (and in some cases protégés) adds a good deal of spice to this one, and with Stef Myburgh and Teja Nidamanuru also in the Punjab outfit and evergreen skipper and arch docker-of-tails Suleiman Tariq currently the competition’s leading wicket-taker, the Rotterdammers have been untroubled in retaining their unbeaten record so far. They seem likely to be a class too strong for ACC, whose batting had to work hard to stagger over the line against VOC. But there’s plenty of potential there, and this is after all a season for letting potential flourish. It will need a couple of seriously mature performances here, though, if ACC are to have any chance against a team well on the way to becoming non-title favourites.
BdJ: The day’s final game is probably the toughest to call, with fourth-placed Voorburg CC taking on Sparta 1888 at Bermweg. The hosts will be on something of a high after skipper Mudassar Bukhari led them to a crushing win over HBS last week with a brutal, unbeaten 120, and with the addition of Lenert van Wyk they may feel comparatively confident of their batting even in the face of VCC’s formidable pace attack. Much will depend on how Voorburg’s talented but comparatively inexperienced batting line-up goes about their business; with a relatively long tail the tourists will hope skipper Bas de Leede can extend his enviable run of form.
RL: This could be a match to savour, although a similar remark last week put the kiss of death on the game at De Diepput. With players of the quality of De Leede, Viv Kingma and Ali Ahmed Qasim taking on the likes of Bukhari and Van Wyk, not to mention Philippe Boissevain on one side and Ali Raza, Max Hoornweg and Martijn Snoep on the other, this could turn out to be one hell of a scrap. You can’t expect Bukhari to be as dominant two weeks in a row and Sparta are far from being a consistent outfit, but the advent of an in-form Van Wyk adds solidity to their batting and is a great foil to the aggression of Raza and the captain. Voorburg’s four-man seam attack will need to strike early to put the pressure on, but at the Bermweg their bowling may be enough to tip the balance in their favour.
Bertus de Jong’s tips: Excelsior, VRA, HCC, Punjab, Sparta
Rod Lyall’s tips: Excelsior, VRA, HCC, Punjab, Voorburg.