Bertus de Jong 27/04/21
Last season’s winners (if not official champions) HCC will be looking to replace their pseudo-title with the real deal this season, and are keeping faith with essentially the same squad as topped the table in the abbreviated 2020 competition. Though the competition will be tougher this time round as a smattering of overseas players return elsewhere, HCC nonetheless look in decent shape for their “title” defence. The increasing maturity of HCC’s young top-order bats Musa Ahmad and Boris Gorlee, together with the fine preseason form of the less-heralded Daniel Trijzelaar, should allow skipper Tonny Staal more licence to revert to his natural role of early aggressor. HCC also have the added security of the batting depth provided by spin all-rounders Clayton Floyd, Yash Patel and Italian international Damien Crowley together with last season’s stand-out performer Hidde Overdijk in the middle order. Overdijk and Ollie Klaus, with 17 and 18 wickets respectively, were also 2020’s most successful seamers. Together with Rijnier Bijloos they make up a more than capable seam attack, albeit one lacking in express pace. In short, Staal has an enviably balanced squad at his disposal as HCC look to translate last season’s success into this season’s silverware.
Likewise largely unchanged are 2020 runners-up Punjab CC Rotterdam, who finished just one point behind HCC last season. That effort was based in large part on the 524 runs that flowed from the bat of Stephan Myburgh, who hit three centuries in seven innings to finish the season with a faintly absurd average of 131. Kiwi all-rounder Teja Nidamanuru was right behind him in the averages with 261 runs at 87, and if the pair can replicate that form Punjab will doubtless be right in the mix at the top of the table again this season. Backed up by a full armory of Zulfiqars, Punjab’s batting card looks like one of the more intimidating in the league again. Meanwhile Sohail Bhatti’s arrival from Excelsior to join Sikander Zulfiqar and Mubashar Hussain in the seam section gives veteran skipper (and 2020 lead wicket taker) Sulaiman Tariq another option with the ball, the Punjab attack’s tendency to leak runs being their only major weakness last season.
Also shaping up as likely title challengers are Voorburg CC, who will be strengthened by the additions of South African all-rounders Sybrand Engelbrecht and Karl Nieuwoudt as well as Netherlands international Logan van Beek. The pair will do much to shore up a batting line-up which, in the absence of the Smit brothers, looked rather over-dependent on Bas de Leede last season. While opener Righardt Pieterse provided de Leede with creditable support last Summer, VCC will be hoping for more substantial contributions from the veteran Tom de Grooth and young prospect Aryan Dutt to their 2021 title challenge. Likewise they will look to young legspinner Phillipe Boissevain to translate his growing international experience into continued domestic success. With a slow-bowling section built around Boissevain and Engelbrecht, and a pace attack comprising de Leede, Ali Ahmed, Viv Kingma and van Beek, with Dutt able to provide both spin and seam support, VCC can comfortably find 50-overs of international quality bowling. If the batting holds together this season, VCC’s first national championship in almost 20 years look within reach.
For Sparta 1888 the coming season looks rather more of a challenge, and with the loss of last season’s top-scorer Lenert van Wijk (nominally transferred to VRA but unlikely to play this season) Sparta will do well to replicate their fourth place finish. The arrival or big-hitting Sherry Butt will go some way to compensate however, the Belgian captain joining compatriots Ali Raza and Mamoon Latif at Capelle. Sparta will be more reliant on the Belgian trio for runs than last season, however. Aside from Raza and van Wijk, evergreen skipper Mudassar Bukhari was the only Sparta bat to break 200 runs last season. The rumoured return of Garnett Tarr may go some way toward shoring up the batting, but van Wijk’s remain big shoes to fill. The bowling likewise looks a little threadbare, though Bukhari remains a threat with the new ball while Max Hoornweg and younger brother Ivo continue to improve. Sparta spinners Manminder Singh and player-chairman Martijn Snoep both had solid 2020 seasons, and all told Sparta’s prospects this season suffer more from the strengthening of the competition than any significant deficiencies of their own. Nonetheless without a real replacement for van Wijk, a top-table finish looks a long shot for 2021.
Finally VRA will be looking to improve on their fifth-place finish last season, though the side will look broadly similar to the one that contested the abbreviated 2020 competition. Lenert van Wijk, much like Michael Rippon, is a rather speculative inclusion on the VRA team sheet, listed more in hope than expectation. The only immediate addition will be batsman and occasional legspinner Jack Balbirnie (brother of Ireland captain Andrew), who will likely partner young Dutch international Vikram Singh at the top of the order. With number three Ben Cooper looking in fine form for the national side ahead of the season, skipper Peter Borren seeing the ball well, and Eric Szwarczynski expected to turn out more regularly this season the VRA top-order looks arguably the strongest in the league. Competition for selection will likely be fierce amongst VRA’s youngsters, especially those aiming for a top-order slot. Debrup Dasgupta, Shirase Rasool, Udit Nashier and Zamaan Khan would be sure picks for most Topklasse sides but all will likely be sitting out a few games for VRA this season. The bowlers have it a little easier, Ashir Abid is a safe bet to share the new ball with Quirijn Gunning, while offspinner Luke Hartsink’s efforts last season will likely be enough to earn him a regular spot in the spin section alongside Leon Turmaine. That said, seasoned campaigner Adeel Raja, along with the options of Prasuk Jain and Harry Will make for competition at the selection table.