Bertus de Jong and Rod Lyall 25/06/2021
With the half way stage of the league phase behind us and the play-off phase on the horizon, jockeying for position on the Topklasse table is beginning to take a rather more urgent tone, especially for the teams hovering around the mid-table.
BdJ: Saturday’s match between VRA and HCC at the Bos would be an unexceptional mid-table fixture were it not for the introduction of play-offs this season. As it is both sides will be hard put to recover from a defeat if they’re to keep their top-four hopes alive. The hosts’ injury troubles continue to accumulate, with Quirijn Gunning still sidelined with a side strain and now Ben Cooper out with a thumb fracture. The VRA number three sat out Thursday’s Pro-Series fixture watching HCC’s Musa Nadeem construct a most impressive unbeaten match-winning century for the Hurricanes, and if the HCC opener can carry his form into the weekend VRA will have cause to worry.
RL: Matches such as this are indeed poster children for a play-off system, with both sides having plenty at stake in the knowledge that a place in the top four keeps their championship hopes alive. Whether HCC are really title contenders – their grievances over rained-off matches apart — depends on their winning matches like this, and doing so convincingly. Even without Damian Crowley they were much too strong for ACC last week, and VRA’s young attack and Borren-dependent batting line-up may struggle against the visitors’ strengths in both departments. That said, the Lions’ top order has shown signs of brittleness when put under pressure, and if Borren’s boys can step up to the mark this could be a lot closer than one might initially suppose.
BdJ: Meanwhile Voorburg will be looking to break back into the top four when they take on second-placed VOC at home at Westvliet, but will still be missing the new ball pairing of Logan van Beek and Vivian Kingma that had done so much to get them toward the top of the table early in the season. While the hosts still have plenty of bowling talent, it’s not unreasonable to ask where the wickets of VOC’s internationals are likely to come from, especially given the form of O’Dowd and skipper Pieter Seelaar, who hit 94 in the regional 50-over match on Thursday. Conversely the VCC batting has looked comparatively fragile in recent weeks, and over-reliant on Sybrandt Engelbrecht all season. VOC’s ranks will likely be thinned somewhat by injury however, with Seelaar himself in doubt owing to recurring back trouble, while Tim de Kok missed the pro-series games this week owing to concussion worries and Bobby Hanif is reportedly also ruled out due to knee trouble. Currently in fifth place, a loss need not end VCC’s ambitions, but the blow of three consecutive defeats to their confidence may be tough to bounce back from. Catching VOC understrength may just be the luck they need to get their season back on track.
RL: They certainly had luck going their way when the sides met back in early May, rain after a good Voorburg start leaving VOC a near-impossible DLS target. Over the piece though, and despite a couple of wobbles with the bat, VOC have looked a much more complete unit, and Edwards and O’Dowd remain a menacing presence at the top of the order. Should they go early the game would have a quite different complexion, especially if De Kok and Seelaar are missing, although Arnav Jain has been emerging as a key allrounder, valuable in the middle order as well as fulfilling an important role in VOC’s varied attack. The same applies to Voorburg’s Aryan Dutt, but even he and Engelbrecht cannot entirely cover their side’s stop-start batting form. With 126 runs at 18.00 and just three wickets so far Bas de Leede has perhaps been finding the burden of captaincy weighing too heavily upon his shoulders, and this would be the ideal moment for him to step up with the kind of performance of which he is undoubtedly capable.
BdJ: Title-holders Excelsior ‘20 have an opportunity to consolidate their claim on a berth in the play-offs when they welcome Sparta 1888 to Thurlede. Back on home turf and coming off a convincing win at VCC last week, the Schiedammers will be confident of adding four points to their tally against Sparta, who have struggled both with bat and ball all season. While overseas Garnett Tarr has been in fine form since his arrival he has received precious little support, the poor form of Sparta’s Belgian contingent a particular worry both for Sparta and for Belgium, who travel to Malta next week without the benefit of their planned Dutch warm-up tour. The cancellation also denied Latif, Raza and Butt the chance to play themselves into a bit of form ahead of Saturdays game, leaving the Sparta batting card looking thin indeed. Excelsior meanwhile have a solid line-up built around the middle order core of Ingram and Stubbs, and with Niels Etman in fine rhythm with the ball too they look to be hitting their stride.
RL: Excelsior will have not have forgotten the frustration of these sides’ encounter at the Bermweg back in My, when they reduced Sparta to 86 for six and were chasing a DLS target of 73, only to have the umpires declare the ground unfit and take the players off. Now fourth and just six points ahead of HCC in seventh spot, they will be doubly keen to pouch the points ahead of next week’s tough match against Punjab. Dropping Tim Etman, who has been struggling against the new ball, down the order and bringing in Luuk Kroesen to open worked like a charm last week, though admittedly the Schiedammers chasing a low total. As for Sparta, there’s a limit to how much Garnett Tarr and Mudassar Bukhari can be expected to do to dig them out of trouble, valiant as Tarr’s lone-hand century was against HBS last Saturday. Max Hoornweg remains a threat with the new ball, however, and he and Bukhari at their best could cause the Excelsior batting line-up some problems.
BdJ: Table-toppers Punjab Rotterdam will be heading to Craeyenhout to take on third-placed HBS hoping to put some distance between themselves and the pack. The Crows have accumulated an impressive record of wins thus far without ever looking entirely convincing, their place in the top four owing much to the imperious form of lead scorer Tayo Walbrugh. But with Julian de Mey and Navjit Singh in decent touch with the bat, Toby Visée at the top and perhaps even Wesley Barresi tempted out of retirement if last week is any indication, they’ll be happy enough with their batting. The bowling is perhaps more of a concern, especially given the strength and depth of the Punjab batting line-up, which racked up 375 against Dosti last weekend even without a substantial score for Stephan Myburgh. The match has the look of a potential high-scoring hitting contest, though as I recall I said something similar last season and look how that turned out …
RL: The absence of Saqib Zulfiqar has made surprisingly little difference to Punjab, who thoroughly deserve their place at the head of the table. Their nagging attack, perhaps somewhat underestimated as a factor in their success – they did, after all, bowl a full-strength VOC out for 136 – will face another of their tougher assignments in HBS on Craeyenhout’s artificial outfield, and neither should the potential contribution of Ryan Klein in cutting through the visitors’ top order be left out of account. This first-vs-third clash is, indeed, a mouth-watering prospect, and if the Crows may be slightly surprised to find themselves so well placed their performances so far, with Walbrugh the batting phenomenon of the season, thoroughly justify that position. High scoring or not, this game is undoubtedly an eight-pointer.
BdJ: At the other end of the table Dosti-United are still looking for their first win since a more innocent age, though they’ll be waiting at least until Sunday when they take on ACC at Drieburg on their now traditional 24-hour delay. Fair to say that their 204-run loss to Punjab does not augur well, nor indeed do any of their other results thus far. While ACC are unlikely to subject the Dosti bowling to the same sort of sustained assault that Punjab did, and again much of the Dosti top order got starts last week, one suspects the demoralising effects of such a drubbing will be felt even by a side as irrepressibly optimistic as Dosti’s. If they are able to bounce back though this may be their best hope of finally getting points on the board against an ACC side that suffered an almost equally comprehensive defeat away at HCC last week. Knocked over for 104 and managing just a single wicket in the HCC reply, ACC continue to look fragile when Sahil Kothari fails at the top of the order. Though other bats have got a score or two Kothari remains the only one to have passed 200 for the season, while no ACC bowler has yet got to double figures in terms of wickets. Neither side look likely to challenge for a top-four place this season, but there will be plenty of pride on the line at least at the “other, other” Amsterdam derby.
RL: Sooner or later, one feels, the bits-and-pieces efforts of Vinoo Tewarie’s side will come together in an ice-breaking performance, and there are not going to be many opportunities this season which are better than this one. A rain-affected victory over HBS apart, ACC have not been able to replicate last year’s better-than-expected achievements, and while Kothari has been impressive on occasion and Ammar Zaidi has provided solidity in the middle order, overall the batting has struggled for runs, leaving the bowlers with too much to do. For Dosti, the return of Rahil Ahmed has undoubtedly strengthened the batting, and in Waheed Masood, Asief Hoseinbaks, Mahesh Hans and Sami Naseri they have an attack which, that 375 notwithstanding, is capable of causing problems for opposing batters. If they can overcome the trauma of the Zomercomplex (which does sound a bit like a psychiatric condition), Dosti could spring a surprise here.
BdJ’s picks: HCC, VOC, Excelsior, Punjab, ACC
RL’s picks: HCC, VOC, Excelsior, Punjab, Dosti.