Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 28/04/21
There is always a strong element of the unknown in the first week of a Topklasse season, and this year, playing under special conditions with a reduced complement of overseas players, there are more imponderables than usual. Unlike last year the championship will be at stake, but there will be no relegation looming for the weaker sides; instead, should the Hoofdklasse get started later in the summer, attention will focus on which two sides will be coming up to take part in next season’s top flight.
RL: With four matches taking place on Saturday, a good deal of interest will centre on the clash between Excelsior ‘20 and Voorburg at Thurlede. The home side will be welcoming back Tim Etman and looking to Tristan Stubbs to make an early impression in the top order, while Voorburg have strengthened their squad with the addition of South Africans Sybrand Engelbrecht and Karl Nieuwoudt and New Zealander (and former Dutch international) Logan van Beek. With Bas de Leede, Viv Kingma, Philippe Boissevain and Aryan Dutt all returning from national team duty Voorburg again look like a strong outfit on paper, but with Stubbs and Lorenzo Ingram in the opposing line-up they will need to be at their best against Tom Heggelman’s youthful but already experienced side.
BdJ: Among the unknowns for the first match of the season is often precisely when overseas arrivals will be available. Such is the case at VCC, where Sybrand Engelbrecht has already turned out for his new club but van Beek and Niewoudt have not been in evidence for the pre-season. It could be both will miss Saturdays match, but nonetheless VCC look in decent shape. Neither club has looked entirely convincing in warm-up games, though absent Kingma, de Leede, Dutt and Boissevain due to national duty it’s hardly surprising that the VCC attack has lacked for penetration. Exclesior have also missed their reinforcements in practice matches, and while Ingram’s return will doubtless help with the batting as will Stubbs and Etman, it may take them a while to (re)acclimatise to conditions at Thurlede. On the bowling side though the loss of Sohail Bhatti may prove to have left a bigger hole than some might have thought.
RL: Having topped the table in last year’s half-competition, HCC will travel to Amstelveen to take on ACC at Het Loopveld. Both clubs have opted not to fly in overseas players this season, but with Clayton Floyd and Damian Crowley in the visitors’ squad and Cameron Burnett and Charles McInerney turning out for the Amsterdammers there will still be an exotic element of sorts. ACC’s emphasis on youth stood them in good stead last year, while HCC skipper Tonny Staal, another returnee from far Kathmandu, will have been encouraged by Musa Ahmad’s century against a scratch Voorburg side last Saturday. Equally, Sahil Kothari’s double of 77 and three wickets against VRA last weekend suggests that he’s ready to play a full part for ACC.
BdJ: Kothari’s efforts last season are a significant part of the reason that ACC performed better than many expected in 2020, and he does indeed look in fine form again ahead of this season. He’ll need more support from the rest of ACC’s still rather green young line-up if they’re to upset the defending pseudo-champions on Saturday though. HCC have been in fine form during the pre-season, claiming the excellently-named “ChicKing Cup” with wins over VCC and HBS. Most all of the HCC top-order have runs under their belt, while ACC struggled to contain an under-strength VRA line-up in pre-season. One bright note was young spinner Zinesh Master bagging a couple of top-order wickets in that match, but ACC’s young attack will all need to be at the top of their game if they are to take two points off last season’s winners.
RL: The traditional rivalry between VOC Rotterdam and VRA Amsterdam resumes early this time, with the latter taking on the Rotterdammers at the Hazelaarweg. VRA skipper Peter Borren is another who got some runs under his belt last weekend, making 93 against ACC, and the Amsterdam side’s youthful aspect will be given greater solidity by the addition of Lenert van Wyk from Sparta and Irishman Jack Balbirnie. The home side, too, will benefit from the return of Max O’Dowd and Scott Edwards, not to mention seamer Pierce Fletcher, while a warm-up century from Corey Rutgers indicates that he is ready for the fray. This promises to be an epic battle between two sides who could both be strong contenders for the title come August.
BdJ: VRA will have to do without van Wyk for this and likely all their games, but the batting is unlikely to be their chief concern this season. Balbirnie appears to have hit the ground running if warm-up scorecards are anything to go by, Cooper looked in decent nick in Nepal, and skipper Peter Borren’s new glasses seem to be working admirably. The bowling is perhaps more of a concern, though the same is true of their opponents. VOC conceded 280 in 40 overs against Punjab in their recent practice game despite Stephan Myburgh making just one, and found only five wickets between them. Seelaar’s return will help some, assuming he can shake the back trouble that kept him from bowling as much as he’d have liked in Nepal. With Seelaar, O’Dowd and Edwards back the batting does look appreciably stronger, likely allowing Rutgers to drop back down to his preferred lower-order finisher/live-stream lead commentator position. With similar strengths and weakness it’s tough to call either side a clear favourite, though barring a particularly bowling-friendly pitch a traditional VOC-VRA low-scoring dogfight looks unlikely this time round.
RL: With the arrival of South Africans Ryan Klein and Tino Walbrugh HBS Craeyenhout are another side who will fancy their chances, and they start at home against Sparta 1888, who seem likely to miss Lenert van Wyk following his move to VRA. The Capelle outfit have picked up hard-hitting Belgian captain Shaheryar Butt, however, and both sides are likely to remember last season’s encounter at Craeyenhout, in which Mudassar Bukhari’s unbeaten 120 set up a comfortable Sparta victory. Sparta were frequently more than the sum of their parts last year, but they will need to be at their best if they are to take the points back south with them this time.
BdJ: The return of Northern Cape bat Garnett Tarr will go some way to compensate for the departure of van Wyk, but it’s fair to say that Sparta look a weaker side on paper than they were last season, while HBS’s new acquisitions may yet make them title contenders. Walbrugh has yet to appear for the Crows, but Ryan Klein has looked in good form with bat and ball in the warm-ups. Though skipper Toby Visée had a wretched tour to Nepal (in which he was hardly alone) he remains a menace in domestic cricket, and with a strengthened middle order will likely allow himself more license than he could afford last season.
RL: As has been the case over the past few seasons Dosti Amsterdam have ground availability issues as long as football reigns supreme, and that’s again the reason that they will kick off their campaign against Punjab Rotterdam at Sportpark Drieburg on Sunday. Punjab evolved into a powerful unit last year, with the four Zulfiqar brothers and Steph Myburgh enough at the top of the batting to intimidate any attack. Saqib Zulfiqar just missed a hundred against VOC last weekend, and Dosti will need to take early wickets if they are to have any chance against the Rotterdammers. Their batting looks stronger with the return of Rahil Ahmed and Anees Davids, but they will need strong team performances if they are to avoid this year’s wooden spoon.
BdJ: Things can hardly go any worse for Dosti than they did last season, though taking on Punjab in their first game odds are they will at least start similarly. Punjab missed out on last season’s non-title by the barest of margins, trailing HCC by just a single point in the end and notably finishing with a better net run rate. Dosti will take some comfort from the fact that Myburgh doesn’t appear to have carried over his invincible form from last summer, but Punjab have shown themselves capable of posting big totals without him. The Rotterdammers’ bowling is perhaps something of a potential weakness, though Dosti don’t necessarily have the batting depth to take advantage. It will take a lot of things going right for Vinoo Tewarie’s team to take the points come Sunday, though it is fair at least to say they are due a win.
Rod Lyall’s tips: Excelsior, HCC, VOC, HBS, Punjab.
Bertus de Jong’s tips: Voorburg, HCC, VRA, HBS, Punjab