Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 12/05/2021
The programme is always a little crowded in May, but this year, in addition to the uncertainties arising from the pandemic, the Topklasse schedule has been complicated by the conjunction of Ascension Day (when there is normally a full round of matches) and the feast of Eid al-Fitr. As a result four of the five Round 3 games have been moved to Sunday, and will be preceded by four Round 4 games on Saturday. The Round 4 match between Dosti and HBS has been rescheduled to 30 May because the ground will be needed for football, only a religious matter in the loosest sense of the term.
Thursday: Round 3
RL: Unable to use their ground on Sunday (football again), HBS Craeyenhout have reconciled themselves to taking on ACC without their Netherlands A representatives, Tobias Visée and Ryan Klein. That evens up the odds considerably, but the Crows will still have their other overseas, Tayo Walburgh, making his Topklasse debut, and the rest of the side is strong enough to trouble an Amsterdam outfit which is still finding its feet. The inclusion of Shreyas Potdar reinforces their batting, but the visitors will need to be at their best if they are to take the points back north.
BdJ: Given the unrelentingly grim weather forecast for the weekend this is, by process of likely elimination, the match of the round. ACC of course remain in a lengthy “transitional phase” as they seek to rebuild following the great Zulfiqar Exodus of 2018-19, but showed a commendable amount of fight at times during their opening defeat to HCC. With the Visée and Klein watching the rain in Wicklow the Amsterdammers may sense an opportunity against an under-strength HBS. Klein was the pick of the bowlers for HBS in their nine wicket win over Sparta in the first round, and aside from Visée, Reece Mason and Navjit Singh are the only Crows to have spent any time in the middle thus far. HBS will hope Walburgh acclimatises swiftly to unfamiliar conditions given the length of the tail, while still more responsibility will fall on the shoulders of captain, opening bowler and (at least on Thursday) likely top-order bat Ferdi Vink. If ACC can find early wickets they have the discipline in the field to keep their hosts under pressure, but if HBS can string a couple of partnerships together they’ll quickly become favourites. ACC might hope for a better showing from last season’s stand-out all-rounder Sahil Kothari, and Charles McInerney if fully fit, but there’s been little to suggest them capable of chasing a serious total.
Saturday: Round 4
RL: The most mouth-watering prospect of the entire weekend is Voorburg’s visit to De Diepput to take on HCC. Having dropped points against Excelsior in their first match Voorburg need to win this to avoid falling two games behind the early leaders, and much will depend on whether Kingma and Van Beek are able to seize the initiative by grabbing early wickets against the home side’s menacing top order. On the other side of the coin, HCC’s attack hasn’t yet been tested, and the Villagers have the batting to make life difficult for them. But HCC have the momentum, and on De Diepput’s diminutive dimensions may have the firepower to see off Voorburg’s challenge.
BdJ: Van Beek and Kingma’s efforts with bat and ball, together with Phillipe Boissevain’s impressive spell of legspin, were among the few positives to be taken from the Dutch A side’s dismal showing against the Irish yesterday, and if the three can replicate that form at de Diepput HCC may find themselves in trouble. While HCC have not been put under real pressure in the field, neither has their batting faced an attack of the quality Voorburg can call upon. If conditions this weekend resemble those last week of course it’s unlikely Kingma or van Beek will be bowling at full pace, while Boissevain may struggle to get purchase on a wet ball. Staal and Ahmad at the top of the order have shown themselves more than capable of taking ruthless advantage of struggling bowlers, while the expected return of Hidde Overdijk strengthens both the HCC middle order and provides ten dangerous overs of seam bowling in most any conditions. With two of the four points on offer disapearing into the aether in the event of a washout, both sides will be hoping for better weather than last weekend of course. But the hosts might just prefer it not be too much better.
RL: Yet to settle into a groove, VRA Amsterdam face a potentially difficult trip to the Bermweg to face Sparta 1888. Their bowling suffered at HCC’s hands before the rain intervened last week, but the fallibility of Sparta’s batting has been all too evident in their two outings so far, and VRA’s young attack should find this a more encouraging prospect than taking on either VOC or HCC. It’s hard to believe, on the other hand, that VRA will perform as poorly with the bat as they did against VOC, although with Max Hoornweg, Mudassar Bukhari, Nasrat Ibrahimkhil, Joost Martijn Snoep and Manminder Singh among their bowlers Sparta have a pretty good record on their own track. And they really need to pick things up if they are to turn their season around.
BdJ: VRA are indeed off to another of their now customary slow starts this season, their lack of seam options twice exposed in the opening rounds. This was of course an anticipated problem, though they will hope both Abid and Gunning fire with the new ball on Saturday they have the batting line-up to paper over almost any shortcomings with the ball. Their failure with the bat at Hazelaarweg consequently looks all the more alarming, though conditions were as tough as they’d ever likely face and they were without Eric Szwarczynski, Marcus Andrew and Jack Balbirnie in that opening game. Their opponents have likewise had an abject start to the season, going down by nine wickets to HBS and looking on course for another heavy defeat against Excelsior when the rain intervened. Only the evergreen Mudassar Bukhari has yet crossed thirty with the bat for Sparta, who will likely need some or all of trio of Belgian bats Raza, Latif and Butt to fire if they are to bag their first points of the season.
RL: Punjab Rotterdam’s top order, without Steph Myburgh, looked surprisingly brittle against Dosti last Sunday, and they will be keen to restore normal service when they play host to VOC Rotterdam this week. The return of Pierce Fletcher has sharpened VOC’s new-ball attack, but they will need to be at their most disciplined against a Punjab top order which is capable of flaying any opposition, especially at the Zomercomplex. Punjab’s frustration at not getting a start last Saturday was all too evident, and now that they have a first win under their belts they will be determined to see off the challenge offered by Max O’Dowd, Scott Edwards and Pieter Seelaar. Whether their bowlers are up to that challenge may well be issue that settles the outcome.
BdJ: Last year’s runners-up indeed looked rusty when they finally got their first game at Drieburg last weekend, though the bowling was sufficient to roll over an under-strength (and already flimsy) Dosti batting line-up to set up a nigh-unmissable target of 101, Vinoo Tewarie’s captain’s knock showed what a bit of application and well-timed acceleration could do to a Punjab attack that still looks more serviceable than menacing. Their showing with the bat, Saqib Zulfiqar aside, looked little more convincing in the slow and stumbling chase, though it’s worth noting that they were indeed missing Myburgh and despite the early clatter of wickets there was still batting to come when they crossed the line, not least in the form of overseas all-rounder Teja Nidamanuru. That batting depth probably gives them the edge against a dangerous but top-heavy VOC line-up, though even with points in the bag it’s hard to argue they carry much momentum into the game, and a showing like that against Dosti is unlikely to be as profitable against VOC.
RL: Already established as part of a somewhat crowded field of title contenders, Excelsior ’20 Schiedam travel to Het Loopveld to meet ACC. It was Lorenzo Ingram’s turn last week to step into the spotlight, and the presence of both him and Tristan Stubbs in the Schiedammers’ line-up is enough to give them a huge advantage against an ACC outfit which has elected not to go with an overseas player this season. ACC’s youngsters are capable of giving a good account of themselves, but the absence of some more experienced protection can leave them dreadfully exposed, and the side has not yet really recovered from the personnel losses it suffered last year. It’s hard to see anything but a convincing away win here.
BdJ: Little argument here, even without skipper Tom Heggelman (sidelined by a hamstring injury) Excelsior looked on course for a comfortable win last week before they too were frustrated by the unseasonably wet weather that has plagued the season so far, and despite admirable discipline in the field and competitive spirit ACC likely lack the bowling firepower to trouble a solid Excelsior line-up made menacing by the inclusion of Stubbs and Ingram. The Excelsior bowling attack may lack for penetration, and indeed they’ve taken only 12 wickets in two matches, but is too well-drilled and dependable to be called a real weakness.
Sunday: Round 3
RL: After facing VOC on Saturday Punjab Rotterdam will take on an equally daunting task on Sunday, when they visit to Thurlede to play Excelsior. The Schiedam side, led by Joost Kroesen in the absence of Tom Heggelman, was unfortunate to miss out on the points after taking control against Sparta, and this could well be an outstanding encounter between two of the league’s strongest sides. Excelsior have trump cards in Ingram and Stubbs, but if Punjab can find a way to neutralise their menace the combination of four Zulfiqars, Myburgh, Teja Nidamanuru and the emerging Hussain brothers should be enough to take them home.
BdJ: Excelsior’s trusted tactic of containment has generally served them well at Thurlede, as was the case against VCC in their season opener, and given how Punjab struggled to score at Drieburg on Sunday suggests it could well pay off again. There is one major caveat there however, and that is of course Stephan Myburgh. In their last encounter at Schiedam back in 2018 Myburgh demonstrated that he still knew how to score at his old home ground, making a run-a-ball 48 before his dismissal saw the game turn decisively in the hosts favour. It was a similar story at the Zomercomplex last season, with the run rate plummeting after Myburgh’s dismissal. With Stubbs and Ingram in the Excelsior middle order the hosts have a greater capacity for acceleration than in seasons past, and if they can bag Myburgh early (a big if of course, but hardly unheard of) the title holders will have the game in their hands.
RL: VOC Rotterdam definitely caught the rough end of the DLS calculation against Voorburg on Saturday, and they need to get their campaign back on track by making sure of the points at home against a Sparta 1888 outfit which has been unimpressive so far, especially with the bat. But Mudassar Bukhari gave a reminder against Excelsior, if any were needed, that he can still be a decisive factor, and with more support from the top order – and perhaps the advent of Garnett Tarr – Sparta could be capable of causing an upset or two. VOC, on the other hand, have a well-balanced side with a trio of international stars, and seem likely to have too much firepower for the men from Capelle.
BdJ: As usual VOC seem to be the only team in the competition who have any real idea how to bat at their home ground of Hazelaarweg, even the most experienced of VRA’s enviable batting order looking all at sea in round one. Though their vulnerability away from home was made plain last week, the Rotterdammers’ attack looking a little toothless in more batting-friendly conditions, they have consistently proven a handful at home and Sparta’s batting has inspired little confidence thus far. One cause for concern, however, remains the form of Netherlands opener Max O’Dowd. Bowled for a duck by Ashir Abid in round one, O’Dowd was then skittled by what turned out to be a front foot no ball from Vivian Kingma in round two, and could make only two runs before chipping a return catch to the same bowler. Effectively out three times for two runs this season, O’Dowd might have appreciated the chance to find some form in Ireland this week before the serious business of the Topklasse resumes.
RL: After three away games, or more accurately two and a bit, VRA Amsterdam will be on their own turf for the first time this season, taking on in Voorburg another side who play their home games on grass. The Villagers showed last week that, as we all suspected, their timid performance against Excelsior was well short of their true potential, and with Bas de Leede, Sybrand Engelbrecht and Logan van Beek in good form with the bat and an almost all-international attack, they are as powerful a side as any in the competition. VRA, on the other hand, are something of an enigma: in one sense a work in progress, they have the quality and experience of Peter Borren, Eric Szwarczynski and Ben Cooper, and the contest between the home side’s top order and Voorburg’s bowlers should be one for the connoisseur.
BdJ: If VRA are looking forward to their first outing in front of a home absence-of-crowd this season, one suspects Voorburg’s pace attack will likewise relish the prospect of pulling the spikes on again. Both sides are unarguably at their best on a good grass wicket, though whether the weather will permit the preparation of anything particularly batting-friendly (or indeed any play at all) is of course an open question. Though both sides boast array of former, current and likely future Dutch internationals, it is Voorburg that will be fielding more men of this particular moment. Van Beek, Boissevain and Kingma all looked in fine form across the waters in Wicklow, and while Bas de Leede had [what one hopes for his sake was] a forgettable outing yesterday, that failure looks like an aberration in the context of his current form. Conversely Vikram Singh has looked bereft of both of form and confidence at the crease, and while Cooper had a fine tour to Nepal he’s not had much time in the middle since. With the rest of VRA’s young line-up still finding their feet at senior level, VRA look more dependent on veterans Szwarczynski and Borren than they would like.
N.B. It has since been announced that VRA vs VCC will be played at Westvliet
RL: Three outstanding individual performances, by Vinoo Tewarie with the bat and Asief Hoseinbaks and Waheed Masood with the ball, enabled Dosti Amsterdam to give Punjab a scare last Sunday, but the whole team will need to step up if they are to offer a serious challenge to visitors HCC. The Lions have been in dominating mood with the bat so far, and their attack is good enough to trouble most opposing line-ups. Tewarie had little enough support against Punjab, while his bowlers will need to be at their absolute best if they are to contain Musa Ahmad, Tonny Staal and Boris Gorlee. Anything other than an away win here would amount to one of the upsets of the season.
BdJ: Fair to say that Dosti have struggled to even scrape a team together so far this season, making their showing in the field against Punjab (though admittedly not with the bat) all the more commendable. With Rahil Ahmed expected to return this week and Anees Davids potentially back at some point this season, Dosti have the makings of a competitive side if they can get them all on the field at the same time. The addition of Ahmed, who hasn’t played any competitive cricket since 2019, does not in itself give Dosti anything that looks like a proper batting line-up, but had Tewarie received any support at all on Sunday they might have had four points in the bag already. All that said, HCC won the league last season and Dosti didn’t win a game. I’m not about to talk myself into another wild punt of a prediction here.
Rod Lyall’s tips: Round 3: HBS; Punjab, VOC, Voorburg, HCC | Round 4: HCC, VRA, Punjab, Excelsior.
Bertus de Jong’s tips: Round 3: HBS, Excelsior, Voorburg, HCC, VOC | Round 4: Voorburg, Punjab, VRA, Excelsior