Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 21/05/21
In what must surely be the busiest May for Dutch cricket in modern history, the Topklasse rolls out of last week’s double round and straight into another, domestic action pausing only for the trifling matter of two mid-week One Day Internationals against Scotland. With ten more matches scheduled across Saturday and Monday, eyes will turn nervously to forecasts and radars as the league resumes its battle with the unseasonably wet Spring weather.
BdJ: By a distance the most unfortunate team weather-wise has been last year’s table-toppers HCC, who find themselves lingering in the middle of the table despite being undefeated this season, having had three of their four matches washed out. They will hope for better luck when they travel to Craeyenhout to take on HBS, who will be at full strength for the first time this season as Tobias Visée and Ryan Klein return from international duty to join second overseas Tayo Walburgh. Walburgh gave a good account of himself on debut against ACC last week, hitting 88 off 110, albeit in a losing cause. Defeat against the unfancied Amsterdammers rather exposed HBS’ lack of penetration with the ball, something Klein’s return will remedy to an extent, though HCC boast greater batting depth than do ACC. Depth counts for less in abbreviated games however, while Walburgh and Visée look all the more dangerous if overs are lost. The rain has been HCC’s toughest opponent so far this season, and a shower or two could make HBS favourites again come Saturday.
RL: It took a solid partnership between Damian Crowley and Yash Patel to dig HCC out of trouble against Voorburg last Saturday (was it really only last Saturday?), but that demonstrates that there’s more to the Lions than a classy top three. Klein’s battle with Musa Ahmad, Staal and Gorlee will be well worth watching, and on the other side of the balance Visée, Walbrugh and Klein (who showed in Ireland that he can certainly bat a bit) may prove a handful for Reinier Bijloos, Ollie Klaus and the rest of an experienced HCC attack which has been comparatively untested this season, mostly because they’ve been cooling their heels and watching the rain. As m’learned colleague suggests, this looks a fairly even contest which could hinge on who gets the better of the weather conditions, assuming they relent sufficiently to allow a result at all.
BdJ: Also denied a game last round were HCC’s putative opponents Dosti-United, who head down to Thurlede to face Excelsior ‘20. Dosti are still waiting for their first win since 2019, though they gave a better account of themselves with the ball in the one game they’ve managed to play so far, making a decent fist of trying to defend a total of just 103 against Punjab. With Rahil Ahmed returning to the side Dosti captain Vinoo Tewarie can perhaps expect a little more support with the bat, but they remain a long shot to upset the defending champions on their own turf. Excelsior dropped their first points of the season against Punjab last week in a nominal home game that was relocated to the Zomercomplex owing to the weather, but are a different prospect at Thurlede where their disciplined bowling attack tends to strangle opposition batting. With Ingram and Stubbs in the middle order and Roel Verhagen now also finding some form, a winning score will be even harder to find for visitors to Thurlede.
RL: Dosti are even shorter of match practice than HCC, and the trip to Thurlede is indeed a daunting one, especially against an Excelsior side smarting from that defeat at the hands of Punjab. The old suspicions about the Schiedammers’ limitations when their overseas stars don’t come off with the bat will have been revived by that defeat, the contributions of Verhagen and Joost Kroesen notwithstanding, and with Tim Etman struggling to find form after his return from Australia the onus on Ingram and Stubbs is even greater. Whether Dosti have the bowling resources to contain those two is decidedly moot, although Asief Hoseinbaks and Waheed Masood did throw Punjab into a tizzy on their one outing so far. No much doubt about who start as favourites here!
BdJ: Meanwhile Punjab Rotterdam will be making the trip up to Amsterdam, where VRA will be hoping to finally stage their first home game of the season. Despite coming back from a stumbling start to deliver a drubbing to Sparta last weekend, VRA have looked rather undercooked this season so far. Most concerning for the Amsterdammers is a misfiring top order, which on paper looks their chief strength. With Ben Cooper, Vikram Singh and Eric Szwarczynski all horribly out of form, VRA have depended on their middle and lower order for runs. Punjab have likewise looked vulnerable at times, most notably in their stuttering chase against Dosti, but have the depth of batting to carry a struggling bat or two. Punjab’s bowling has likewise looked more dependable, if not more penetrative than that of their hosts. VRA doubtless have the quality to see off Punjab at home, but on current form go into the game as clear underdogs.
RL: If the old truism that class is permanent while form is temporary has anything at all going for it, then sooner or later VRA will turn in the sort of batting performance we all know they are capable of. Whether it will be this week on the untested surface of the Amsterdamse Bos ground is another question, given that Suleiman Tariq, Sohail Bhatti, Sikander and Saqib Zulfiqar and Teja Nidamanuru bowled VOC out cheaply and were able to make Excelsior toil for runs last weekend. It’s a well-balanced attack, but whether its cutting edge is sharp enough to slice through VRA’s admittedly buttery top order remains to be seen. But Punjab’s batting – that aberration against VOC apart – is strong enough to chase most totals, and short of that serious VRA revival the Rotterdammers should take the points back south.
BdJ: Currently in pole position, VOC Rotterdam will be looking to widen the gap at the top when they take on ACC at home on Saturday. The Amsterdammers have again looked more competitive than many expected this year, taking back four points from Craeyenhout last week and at times looking on top of Excelsior. Sahil Kothari is in flying form with almost 200 runs under his belt from those two games, though Excelsior showed the ACC middle and lower order remains fragile. VOC’s own middle order likewise looked wobbly last week, unneeded against Sparta but with a string of sub-15 scores for bats 4 through 9 against Punjab. The Rotterdammers are adept at defending low totals at home however, with Hazelaarweg looking typically inhospitable to visiting bats this season.
RL: ACC are a classic example of a side which is greater than the sum of its parts, and they have demonstrated that they are capable of pouncing on any opponent who is operating at anything below their best. Kothari’s batting at the top of the order adds a whole other dimension, enhanced by skipper Anis Raza’s stepping into an opening role, while the return of Devanshu Arya unquestionably strengthens the ACC attack. But VOC do, of course, have crucial trump cards in O’Dowd, Edwards – top scorers in this week’s ODIs against Scotland – and Seelaar. Man for man they are, moreover, perhaps the strongest eleven in the competition, with Arnav Jain slotting in well as an allrounder and Siebe van Wingerden beginning to take plenty of wickets with his leg spin. They’ve earned their place at the top of the table, and it may not be too soon to start thinking about them regaining the title they won in 2018 after a 24-year dry spell.
BdJ: Saturday’s final match sees Voorburg take on Sparta 1888 at Westvliet, and with both Logan van Beek and Vivian Kingma in flying form both for VCC and in Orange, Sparta face a daunting challenge as they go looking for their first win of the season. The Cappellenaren are coming off the back of a miserable weekend, a promising start against VRA turning into a rout on Saturday before spending 50 fruitless overs chasing leather against VOC only to be skittled for 100. Max Hoornweg and Mudassar Bukhari remain a menace with the new ball and Garnett Tarr’s return has bolstered the batting on paper if not yet in practice, but taking on a Voorburg side with the wind at their back a win for Sparta would be the surprise of the season.
RL: There’s not a lot more to say, really. Sparta’s batting has let them down at every turn so far, and if the attack is the stronger element it, too, has come in for some awful punishment. Kingma and Van Beek are enough to worry any batting line-up, with Bas de Leede, Ali Ahmed Qasim, both Aryan Dutts (the seamer and the off spinner) and Philippe Boisevain in support. Sparta’s best hope is to capture early wickets, but with Sybrand Engelbrecht, Karl Nieuwoudt and Van Beek in the middle order, even that doesn’t guarantee success. Voorburg know they need to keep winning if they are to keep pace with VOC and end their own 19-year titleless drought, and this ought to be one of their more comfortable victories.
BdJ’s picks: HBS, Excelsior, Punjab, VOC, Voorburg.
RL’s picks: HCC, Excelsior, Punjab, VOC, Voorburg.