Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 17/06/21
So we begin the long run-in to the finishing line this weekend with just three points separating third-placed Voorburg and VRA in sixth spot, and the battle for top four berths about to heat up. Nor should we forget that a top-two position gives teams a double chance of reaching the final, and the chasing pack will be looking out for any sign of a stumble from the current occupants, Punjab and VOC.
RL: Match of the Day looks like being at Westvliet, where Voorburg, currently third, will entertain Excelsior ’20 Schiedam. Both sides lost last Saturday, and really need to make up for that in this classic eight-pointer. Excelsior won their opening-day encounter at Thurlede, and with Tristan Stubbs now thoroughly established in the side and Lorenzo Ingram back in great form with the bat in last week’s defeat at VRA, they will be hoping to repeat that success against a Voorburg side which got itself into a winning position against HBS and then saw the game torn from their grasp. But the Schiedammers’ attack, so potent against HCC and VOC in recent weeks, was much less effective on the VRA turf, and will need to exploit the evident limitations in Voorburg’s batting if they are to take the points. The home side’s great strength, of course, has been their bowling, but in the continued absence of Logan van Beek their supporters will have their fingers crossed that Viv Kingma is fit to resume.
BdJ: VCC certainly missed their new-ball pair last week, and they’re likely to miss them again come Saturday. Van Beek of course remains in England for now, while if Kingma does play he’s unlikely to be bowling his full quota. Van Beek’s absence was also felt with the bat against HBS, when Engelbrecht was left looking in vain for support from the lower order. While Excelsior’s attack is generally less threatening away from home, it is no less capable than the HBS bowling line-up that ran through VCC last week, while the Schiedammer’s batting, especially with Ingram and Stubbs in such form, is arguably more intimidating, and certainly more resilient than that of HBS. The current champions sank to a narrow defeat against VRA in large part due to their own sloppiness in the field however, and while VCC may not be at full strength Excelsior will have to up their game if they are to stand a real chance of defending their title.
RL: As the second half gets under way VRA Amsterdam are showing signs that their traditional slow start is now altogether behind them, the resilience they revealed in squeezing the win against Excelsior last week perhaps a turning point. They will need those qualities again on Saturday, when they take on second-placed VOC Rotterdam in the Amsterdamse Bos. They owed much of their victory over Excelsior to the Amsterdamse Boss himself, former national captain Peter Borren, who missed out on back-to-back centuries by the narrowest of margins and then took the new ball in the absence of Quirijn Gunning, but Eric Szwarczynski’s half-century was also an encouraging feature of the batting. VOC, of course, have shown themselves to be serious championship contenders, with plenty of support for their international Big Three, but they were taken all the way by HCC last week, and it took another major innings from Max O’Dowd to seem them home. This clash between two sides with a long-standing rivalry should be one for the connoisseur.
BdJ: Though VRA do indeed look to have gotten past their traditional early season malaise, the injury and availability problems that have hampered their campaign thus far persist. Szwarczynski’s impressive return looks likely to be more of a mid-season cameo given the niggle he picked up during the same game, while Gunning remains sidelined and Shirase Rasool also looks likely to miss Saturday’s encounter, as is young offie Luke Hartsink. Gunning’s absence especially is likely to be telling given that failure to remove VOC’s top order early usually spells disaster, while the loss of Szwarczynski further weakens a top order bereft of form. VRA do have an enviable bench strength to call on however, with a handful of youth players already having a fair bit of senior experience, while the arrival of Jack Balbirnie has done a fair bit to shore up the batting while also providing ten overs of at generally adequate leg spin. While VOC’s top order, and O’Dowd in particular, are in imposing form, the middle order has been less reliable and the tail longer than the Rotterdammers would like. The question is likely to be whether the hosts have the bowling to expose these vulnerabilities.
RL: Three successive defeats, following a run of misfortune with the weather, have left HCC in mid-table, just ahead of this week’s opponents ACC, but the Lions are only five points adrift of VRA in sixth place, and a really strong series of performances could see them back in contention for a top four spot. To achieve this they will need their top order to return to the sort of form they showed at the start of the season: Damian Crowley and Hidde Overdijk did a great job in digging them out of trouble against VOC last week, but the disturbing bit is that they had to do so from a position of 11 for four. But ACC’s attack, Mees van Vliet apart, lacks that sort of cutting edge, and the Hagenaars will be odds-on favourites to repeat their opening-day victory at De Diepput on Saturday. Their bowling is varied, and looks all the better for the return of Overdijk, and unless Sahil Kothari can produce another of his specials, the ACC batting seems unlikely to make enough runs quickly enough to upset the home side.
BdJ: ACC’s young side has performed creditable thus far without ever threatening the top of the table. Their lack of reliable match-winners, Kothari apart, has generally seen them repeatedly sliding to honorable defeat. The loss of Charles McInerney has only compounded the issue, though the Amsterdammers may feel they’ve a solid base of a team to build on they look set to remain also-rans for 2021. They’ve every chance of picking up a win over an HCC side that’s looked much less assured as the season has worn on, though the strength of the HCC middle order does mean that the lately patchy form of Staal, Ahmed and Gorlee is something of a second-order concern. More of a worry is a seam attack that has looked serviceable for the most part but vulnerable on batting-friendly wickets, and generally looked a bowler light in the absence of the only occasionally-available Overdijk.
RL: Dosti United Amsterdam’s batting continues to improve, but the bottom side will need to improve markedly in all departments if they are to have a serious chance against leaders Punjab Rotterdam at the Zomercomplex. It will be a big plus if Rahil Ahmed and Mahesh Hans are able to establish themselves as a reliable opening partnership, and Arief Hoseinbaks will have gained great confidence from his maiden Topklasse half-century last week. But Punjab are currently top of the heap for good reason, and the way they dismissed the challenge of ACC last Saturday does not bode well for Vinoo Tewarie’s men. Featuring four quality seamers with the emergence of Mubashar Hussain, and with Irfan ul Haq filling in for Saqib Zulfiqar, the Rotterdammers have a very solid attack, and although Dosti caused some panic among the Punjab top order when the sides met back at the start of the season, a lot of water has flowed through the sluis since then, and with Stephan Myburgh a merciless destroyer of average bowling, the Upset of All Upsets does not appear to be on the cards.
BdJ: Punjab’s stumbling chase in their opening match against Dosti has, in retrospect, increasingly looked like nothing more than a first-game wobble. It’s also worth remembering that despite the inroads Dosti made into the Rotterdammers’ top order their was plenty of batting still to come when the winning runs were struck. While several Dosti players have produced decent spells or scores this season none have done so reliably, and going up against the table toppers they will need the sort of team performance they’ve not produced in years now if they’re to find their first win since 2019.
RL: The first sign of Sparta 1888’s troubles this season came at Craeyenhout on the opening day, when they crumbled to 102 all out and lost by nine wickets to HBS. Having managed – just – to post their first win against Dosti last Saturday, they will be hoping to reverse that result when HBS come to Sportpark Bermweg this week, but the truth is that between two sides who largely rely on a handful of key players, the visitors appear to hold the stronger hand. Overseas players Ryan Klein and Tayo Walbrugh are both potential match-winners for HBS, with Navjit Singh in a support role with both bat and ball, and while Tobias Visée has been quiet lately, he is like the volcano which becomes more likely to erupt the longer it goes without doing so. Against this, Sparta have the evergreen Mudassar Bukhari and the batting talent, yet to be fully realised, of overseas Garnett Tarr. But what applies to Visée goes also, if in smaller measure, for Ali Raza, and Max Hoornweg showed against Dosti that he can rip through sides when the mood is upon him. This is likely to be a good bit closer than the sides’ first meeting in May, but I would expect the outcome ultimately to be the same.
BdJ: The lack of runs from Sparta’s Belgian contingent has arguably been the Cappelle side’s most serious issue this season, and indeed may be a source of concern for their coach ahead of their first international fixtures of the summer against Malta next month. With Raza, Latif and Butt all averaging single figures thus far Sparta have been almost entirely reliant on Bukhari and Tarr for top-order runs, while Bukhari’s uncharacteristic lack of penetration with the ball this season has left their attack looking somewhat pedestrian. Though Klein and Walbrugh have been equally crucial to the Crows’ handful of wins this season the rest of the side has generally done a better job of supporting them. Coming off victory over the much-fancied (if under-stregth) VCC last week, it’s fair to say that HBS have the bigger win under their belt and momentum very much on their side.
RL’s picks: Voorburg, VRA, HCC, Punjab, HBS.
BdJ’s picks: Excelsior, VOC, HCC, Punjab, HBS.