Bertus de Jong and Rod Lyall 11/06/2021
With the international Summer such as it was largely behind us (at least in as far as confirmed fixtures are concerned) attention returns to the serious business of the season. The league phase of the Topklasse approaches the half way point, and the table was just beginning to take shape before being thrown into confusion and then immediately settling down again. With the briefly-mooted idea of replaying washed-out games from May now dismissed again, there’s ten rounds left to go before the play-off phase, and six or seven teams still in with a decent shot at making the top four.
BdJ: Seventh-placed HCC’s hopes took a double blow over the past week however, when they were handed their second defeat of the season by new table-toppers Punjab before the decision to bin the idea of replays meant they would be stuck with three points from their three washed-out games.They head to Hazelaarweg looking to get their season back on track when they take on third-placed VOC Rotterdam, who slipped down from pole position last weekend when a weakened side slumped to defeat against Excelsior. Their international contingent will be back of course, and in the batting especially will benefit. The bowling looked decent enough even last week, with stand-in skipper Pierce Fletcher looking especially threatening, and Ramdas Upadhyaya also producing an impressive if brief spell of 2 for 3 in 2 overs. With young spinner and 2021 lead wicket-taker Siebe van Wingerden looking increasingly assured and Dirk van Baren stepping up with the bat, a full strength VOC at home looks a daunting outfit indeed. HCC will welcome back Musa Nadeem from international duty, but otherwise the side will likely look much the same as the one that lost to Punjab. In Clayton Floyd and Damien Crowley they have a serviceable spin attack to take to Hazelaarweg, and both Nadeem and Boris Gorlee have been in decent nick. The seam attack has rather lacked for penetration however and the rest of the batting has been in patchy form. As last year’s winners HCC don’t really warrant the label of underdogs, but you wouldn’t call them favourites either.
RL: HCC do indeed need to turn their season around again, following defeats by Excelsior and Punjab if they are to sustain their challenge for a top four place, and ultimately the championship. They have a good enough side on paper, but titles are won on the field, and a VOC smarting from last week’s defeat at Thurlede are scarcely ideal opponents for a team looking to avoid three losses on the trot. The Lions’ attack looks more threatening with Hidde Overdijk in it, and he, Reinier Bijloos and Ollie Klaus made Punjab work hard for their runs. But the return of O’Dowd, Edwards and Seelaar makes VOC a strong unit in all departments, and if they play to anything like their capacity it’s hard to see HCC returning to De Diepput with the points.
BdJ: Having claimed the top spot last week, Punjab Rotterdam have a chance to consolidate their position when they welcome ACC Amsterdam to the Zomercomplex on Saturday. ACC recorded their second win of the season against table-tailenders Sparta, and notably did so without any game-changing contribution from Sahil Kothari. Zaidi with the bat and Van Vliet with the ball were the stand-outs last week, while most every member of the side has a spell or a score to be proud of this season. They’ll need several players to fire at once to upset Punjab however, with Stephan Myburgh coming off a career-best effort in orange and Asad Zulfiqar stepping up with the bat in his absence. Punjab’s batting looks formidable, there’s little in the way of dead weight in the bowling either.
RL: One question is whether Saqib Zulfiqar will be fit to return to the Punjab side, having missed the last ODI against Ireland through injury, but Irfan ul Haq did well enough as his replacement against HCC to calm any worries the Rotterdammers might have on that front. In other respects, Punjab fully justify their current top spot: a nagging four-man seam attack which has the knack of taking wickets at just the right moment, the spin of Teja Nidamanuru, and one of the most powerful batting line-ups in the competition. But ACC just keep on punching above their weight, and if Kothari comes off and the rest of the batting gives him decent support, we could be in for a better contest than the teams’ relative positions on the table might suggest.
BdJ: If rumours are to be believed, VRA Amsterdam have prepared an honest-to-goodness grass wicket to honour the arrival of reigning champions Excelsior ‘20 Schiedam on Saturday. It’s unclear whether this aberration from the hosts is a tactical ploy, but it is worth noting that Excelsior generally don’t deal well with natural pitches other than their own, having won only once on somebody else’s turf in the last four seasons. Whether VRA have the bowling to take advantage of any such weakness is another question of course, having looked a seamer light even before Quirijn Gunning’s injury. The sunshine itself may also eat into the batting with a number of the host’s top order reportedly away to enjoy the weather elsewhere this weekend, though the return even of an out-of-form Ben Cooper will worry the visitors if the wicket is the sort that suits him. The Schiedammers certainly have form on their side, however, with the bowling clinically dismantling (an admittedly understrength) VOC last week, and of course Tristan Stubbs averaging a faintly ridiculous 231 with the bat in his debut season.
RL: Even without any absentees the VRA top order is a serious worry: the first five wickets have produced 100 runs just once this season, and that was against a Dosti side which in all fairness has been less than overwhelming for much of the campaign. As against that, the middle order has produced a couple of remarkable recoveries, not least the effort by Peter Borren and Mitch Lees at Craeyenhout last week. No Borren-led side can be written off, and Tom Heggelman will be well aware of his attack’s need to keep going all the way if they are dismiss VRA for a modest total. The Excelsior top order has exhibited a certain brittleness of its own in recent weeks, but Lorenzo Ingram is certainly due a score, and Borren’s men will not relish the prospect, having suffered at the hands of Tayo Walbrugh last time out, of Stubbs coming in at five.
BdJ: Meanwhile HBS Craeyenhout will get a run-out on grass as well for only the second time this season when they take on Voorburg at Westvliet. HBS will welcome back Tobias Visée from a weekend of sideline surfing and doubtless the destructive keeper-bat will relish the prospect of getting back on the field, especially one likely more suited to his style of play than the one he was sat next to at Kampong. That is just as well for the Crows, whose batting had looked a little reliant on Navjit Singh and Tayo Walbrugh, though given the latter’s form there’s clearly worse bats to rely on. The bowling is more of a concern, as with the exceptions of Ryan Klein and Julian de Mey the HBS attack has looked underwhelming thus far. VCC will be back at full strength with the return of their sizeable delegation to Utrecht; although the internationals weren’t needed last week against Dosti Voorburg will be glad to have an in-form seam attack when they face HBS. With all hands back on deck VCC do look the more balanced of the sides, but will need to find a way to remove or neutralise Walbrugh if they’re to bag four more points.
RL: HBS’s win last week took them into what some people still think of as the left-hand side of the table, just one spot outside the top four. They’re only one win behind Excelsior and two behind the rest of their rivals, but they will know that they can’t afford to lose too many encounters like this one if they are to keep within striking distance of a play-off place, and Voorburg at Westvliet is a tough proposition indeed. The home side will no doubt have spent quite a bit of time thinking about how to deal with Visée, who is a known quantity, and Walbrugh, who isn’t, and Van Beek and Kingma’s performances against Ireland confirm that they are a fearsome proposition, even on a pitch which may offer them less than Maarschalkerweerd. Voorburg’s batting isn’t quite up to the exceptionally high standard of the attack, but with Bas de Leede, Sybrandt Engelbrecht, Aryan Dutt and perhaps the returning Tom de Grooth it remains a force to be reckoned with.
BdJ: Finally in what already looks like a dress rehearsal for the dress rehearsal that is the non-relegation play-off, one or other of Sparta 1888 and Dosti-United will likely find their first win of the season when they meet at Bermweg. While the advent of Garnett Tarr has bolstered the Sparta batting somewhat and the veteran Mudassar Bukhari has been in fine form with the willow, the rest of Sparta’s batting has thus far failed to deliver. In the bowling department only Max Hoornweg has seen consistent success this season, with even Bukhari looking rather off the boil by his standards. Nonetheless the Capellenaars will be solid favourites at home against Dosti, who were categorically beaten at home last week by a VCC side missing half its first choice eleven. Though Dosti have looked competitive in phases and individual players have impressed at times, their next win still looks a long way off from here.
RL: My understanding is that the wooden spoon will be handed out after the round robin phase, with the lower-ranked clubs now spared a play-off phase, and barring a miraculous turnaround one of these two sides will be the recipient. While Dosti’s bowling has at times been up to the demands of the Topklasse, Waheed Masood, Asief Hoseinbaks, Sami Naseri and hard-pressed skipper Vinoo Tewarie turning in serviceable spells on occasion, the batting has looked hopelessly out of its depth, and even the return of Rahil Ahmed hasn’t produced the much-needed stability at the top of the innings. Sparta’s attack, spearheaded by Bukhari and Max Hoornweg, is unlikely to offer them much relief, while Tarr, Ali Raza and the rest of the home side’s batting may relish the opportunity to gather some runs and open up a gap to bottom place into the bargain.
BdJ’s picks: VOC, Punjab, VRA, VCC, Sparta.
RL’s picks: VOC, Punjab, Excelsior, VCC, Sparta.