And so we are left with the denouement. With a decisive win over their last rivals, Punjab Rotterdam, HCC secured an unassailable place at the top of the 2020 Topklasse table. They will have to do without any actual silverware, but do have a shot at going through the season undefeated.
BdJ: Standing in their way are VOC Rotterdam, who will travel to De Diepput for their final match of the season. Last week they scored a surprise win over 2019 Champions Excelsior ‘20, Ahsan Malik and Arnav Jain providing the bulk of a modest 160-run total before so utterly stifling the Schiedammers’ young top order that even that target provided more than enough pressure to see the lower order balk at the asking rate. Whether the same strategy of containment can work at De Diepput against a more experienced HCC line-up is a different question, but Corey Rutgers has proved himself an astute understudy to the absent Seelaar and VOC’s fortunes have been trending upwards. HCC are where they are for a reason however (not least the form of Hidde Overdijk) and with the top spot in the bag may be expected to adopt a more cavalier approach than the overcautious attitude that doomed Excelsior at last Sunday’s block party.
RL: The fragility of VOC’s batting, despite Rutgers’ stickability and Ahsan Malik’s reinvention as a middle-order batsman, has been their major problem throughout the season, and it’s hard to see them dealing effectively with the campaign’s outstanding attack. The confrontation between Malik, Bobby Hanif and Jelte Schoonheim and HCC’s top order, on the other hand, looks like a more even contest; but whether the Rotterdammers have the batting resources either setting or chasing seems extremely doubtful. Even with the foot off the pedal, were HCC to lose this one it would undoubtedly be the upset of the season.
BdJ: For the vanquished Punjab, what might have been a decisive showdown against VRA is now just a chance to bag the runners-up spot. They will at least have a chance to familiarise themselves with conditions at the Bos with a T20 quarter final against the same opposition the evening before, and while Punjab’s feared top order rather wilted last week, Sikander Zulfiqar’s defiant 99 from number six was a reminder of the depth that took the Rotterdammers to within shouting distance of the top spot. Their opponents also had the look of contenders for much of the season, but an implosion against HCC effectively killed their ambitions and last week’s showing against Sparta rather suggests the fire has gone out of the Amsterdam side for this season at least.
RL: This, though, could scarcely be more open or more attractive: with Myburgh, the Zulfiqars and Nidamanuru on one side and Singh, Cooper and Borren on the other, the bowlers could be in for a very tough time if conditions are in any way favourable to batting. Neither attack quite measures up to the quality of the batting, but both have a good balance of pace and spin. For the home side, the experience of Quirijn Gunning, Adeel Raja and Leon Turmaine will be crucial, but bowling to the Punjab top order will be a severe test for the likes of Ashir Abid and Luke Hartsink. For the visitors, the seaming Sikander and the spinning Saqib of the House of Zulfiqar are key figures, along with skipper Suleiman Tariq and allrounder Nidamanuru. Home advantage could work for VRA, but then again, it’s a brave man who bets against this Punjab side.
BdJ: Also in contention for the number two spot are Voorburg CC, who take on HBS Craeyenhout in their final match of the season. HBS will be without skipper Toby Visée again, the explosive keeper-opener sidelined with a severed tendon in his hand, but in his absence Julian de Mey has seemingly reinvented himself as a steady batting all-rounder, his unbeaten 71 guiding the Crows to victory last week after coming close to a maiden century the week before. For their part VCC will be missing ten overs of quality leg spin with Flip Boissevain currently out with ankle trouble, but remain favourites to go to 14 points come Sunday.
RL: HBS have rather blown hot and cold all season, but victories in their last two games – due to a large extent to De Mey’s efforts with the bat – will have given them confidence going into this one. They’ll need it facing Kingma, Qasim and De Leede, even without Boissevain, but if De Mey can make it three in a row his side might be able to do so as well. Voorburg’s batting has been lot more consistent, but it has relied heavily on De Leede, and with seamers Coster, Geenevasen and Ferdi Vink HBS have a sufficiently incisive attack to put the visitors under pressure.
BdJ: Into the mid-table, the unfancied ACC may have gone down to an understrength HBS last weekend, but they’re still in the running for a top-five finish. With last year’s champions Excelsior ‘20 seemingly treating the season as an extended training session, the fact that the Schiedammers are probably the stronger side on paper may tell less than ACC’s apparent will to win. Excelsior’s young side have done themselves some credit this season in terms of individual performances, but in contrast to previous seasons they have looked rather less than the sum of their parts.
RL: Two young sides which point firmly towards the future, Excelsior and ACC may provide another hard-fought contest. On the side of experience, the home side have skipper Tom Heggelman and the redoubtable Lorenzo Ingram, while Joost Kroesen, Rens van Troost and Roel Verhagen have all played more than a hundred Topklasse games. No-one in the ACC line-up has played more than Anis Raza’s 73, though Chris Knoll and Charles McInerney do bring experience from elsewhere. But, as m’learned colleague notes, ACC have tended to punch above their collective weight, while Excelsior have perhaps performed a tad below it. There’s enough talent there, though, to persuade me to opt for Excelsior this time.
BdJ: For Dosti-United meanwhile, Sunday’s final fixture against Sparta 1888 represents a last chance to avoid a total write-off of a season. In their defence, the summer was always likely to be a tough one, with overseas players unavailable, Rahil Ahmed suspended ahead of the first match, Anees Davids unable to make time and skipper Vinoo Tewarie missing the last few matches, Dosti’s line-up has to be assembled week-by-week. Add to that a lack of home advantage and it’s a credit to the Amsterdam side that they have occasionally looked competitive. There’s still talent to be found, Mahesh Hans and Waheed Masood have both stepped up in the absence of the rest of the core squad and former bit-parters have shone at times, but none from nine still looks the most likely outcome. Lenert van Wyk may have failed for Sparta last week but he remains a menace, and the Capelenaars have shown they can win without him. Their win against VRA last week may not have been the best cricket either side have played this season, but even a below-par Sparta will be heavily favoured to deliver Dosti yet another defeat.
RL: Can Dosti redeem something from this train wreck of a season? In Lenert van Wyk and Mudassar Bukhari Sparta have two proven match-winners, while the attack is a threatening unit, especially at the Bermweg (where this game will be played because Dosti have been without a ground all season). Mahesh Hans, Dosti’s captain in the absence of Tewarie, has seen his side turn in improved performances in recent weeks, but without ever – with the exception of their match against VOC – really looking like breaking their duck. It would be a surprise it they did so here.
BdeJ’s tips: HCC, Punjab, Voorburg, ACC, Sparta
RL’s tips: HCC, Punjab, Voorburg, Excelsior, Sparta.