Bertus de Jong and Rod Lyall 09/07/2021
With six rounds to go in the League Phase of this season’s Topklasse, under former formats there would be little left to decide besides who joins Punjab in the final and who could still challenge Dosti for the wooden spoon. With relegation off the table this season the lower end of the ordering of table is already just a matter of pride, but the top end is still very much a going concern with six or seven sides still in realistic contention for a place in the playoffs.
BdJ: With an eye on the top four and their nearest rivals, the biggest match of the weekend is without question Voorburg versus HCC at Westvliet. VCC have edged into second place with a win over VRA last weekend, but fifth-placed HCC are just one win behind with a far superior net run rate, and could conceivably swap places with their hosts if they take home four points on Saturday. Their task is not an easy one however. Despite stringing together a three- match winning streak against three teams from the bottom half of the table, their batting was barely tested except against VRA, where it was found wanting, if not quite wanting enough to miss a sub-seventy target. VCC’s attack seems to be operating well enough even without Logan van Beek and Viv Kingma, though their batting too has looked fragile at times. Facing an HCC seam attack collectively averaging about 16 with the ball and lead wicket-taker Clayton Floyd who’s averaging half that, getting runs on the board may prove a challenge.
RL: VRA’s top order looked comfortable enough against Voorburg’s second-string opening attack last Saturday before somebody hit the self-destruct button, but De Leede and Nieuwoudt showed against VOC the week before that that they could cause plenty of problems given the right conditions. HCC’s batting line-up does have strength in depth, but with only a couple of half-century partnerships since the end of May – one of them a big, match-winning stand at VOC between Damian Crowley and Hidde Overdijk after the top order had failed – they have less to how for it than they would like. Overdijk’s presence, though, makes a huge difference to the balance of the side, as Van Beek’s absence does to Voorburg’s. In Sybrand Engelbrecht, by the same token, Voorburg have a middle-order batter with plenty of first-class experience, who has demonstrated his value in recent weeks. HCC’s bowling may well be the difference between the sides, especially if they take a liking to the conditions on Westvliet’s turf pitch.
BdJ: Nine points clear at the top, a win for Punjab Rotterdam across town at VOC could practically guarantee them a place in the playoffs, as well as avenging their only loss thus far. If the Punjab batting looked rather off the boil against Excelsior last week, they may be relishing the chance to have a crack at a depleted VOC attack that was taken apart by the unfancied Sparta last week. With Bobby Hanif out with a knee injury and skipper Pieter Seelaar ever a martyr to his lower back, VOC look as dependent on Pierce Fletcher taking wickets with the new ball as on their opening pair of Max O’Dowd and Scott Edwards making big runs. Both are regular occurrences of course, but have the look of necessary but not sufficient conditions if VOC are to repeat their early upset win over Punjab.
RL: It was, we should remember, Arnav Jain and Siebe van Wingerden who got Punjab in a tangle at the Zomercomplex in May, but one might doubt whether that could repeat itself this time. The Punjab line-up of Myburgh, a quartet of Zulfiqars and Teja Nidamanuru, with Yasir Usman to follow, is enough to test any attack or chase down most totals, but the decisive battle is likely to be the one between O’Dowd and Edwards on the one hand and Punjab’s nagging attack on the other. They did well to neutralise Ingram and Stubbs last week, and will need to be equally effective at least if they are to meet the challenge of VOC’s international openers. The rest of VOC’s batting line-up continues to look vulnerable, but if the Bloodhounds get off to a good start they may be difficult to hold back.
BdJ: Looking to close the gap with the top four, sixth-placed Excelsior ‘20 welcome ACC Amsterdam to Thurlede on Saturday. The Schiedammers put up a decent fight with the ball against Punjab last week, though the batting continues to look reliant on Lorenzo Ingram and Tristan Stubbs. ACC do not look in a position to seriously trouble Excelsior at Thurlede though, having fallen away somewhat after a battling start to the season. The debut of young spinner Zinesh Master gives them some hope for the future, but the Amsterdammers already look to have one eye on next season, seemingly treating their 200-run target against HBS last week as a chance for some time in the middle after the first couple of wickets fell. Bar Sahil Kothari no ACC bat has yet broken 200 runs for the season, and no ACC bowler has reached 10 wickets. It will at the least take the sort of collective performance that ACC have yet to produce to take four points home from Schiedam.
RL: One token of ACC’s problems is their inability to find a settled batting order; Kothari has had five different opening partners in ten matches, and the rest of the top six have been shuffled about as well. Excelsior’s issues are much less complex, effectively amounting to where best to deploy Tim Etman, who has struggled in an opening slot and may be happier batting down the order. For the rest, the Schiedammers’ attack is sharp and the batting reasonably solid, even if they found life difficult against Punjab last week. ACC, though, are a different proposition, and Excelsior may have their eye on their net run rate as well as on the result itself. That, of course, can be a trap, as HCC nearly found out to their cost a couple of weeks ago, but with the mid-table battle as tight as it is, a big win would stand the hosts in great stead for the run in. ACC will be severely tested to deny it to them.
BdJ: After a thoroughly miserable season Sparta 1888 suddenly produced a quite remarkable performance to upset VOC last week, and will hope to repeat the performance against a struggling VRA Amsterdam at the Bos come Saturday. Their had been hints that Sparta were capable of springing something all season, not least the form of Garnett Tarr and Mudassar Bukhari with the bat, and the rest of the line up have put up scores on occasion, notably Iqbal last week and Latif a couple of weeks prior. The latter will miss Saturday’s game due to international obligations with Belgium taking him off to Malta along with Sparta occasional Sherry Butt (and indeed your faithful correspondent), but VRA will no longer be looking at the fixture as easy points, especially given their own struggles. Though Quirijn Gunning’s return means the Amsterdammers can once again field their first-choice new-ball pair, the same isn’t true of their top order. With Ben Cooper injured and Vikram Singh in spotty form VRA’s batting looks dubious at best. Currently languishing on 18 points in 7th place, a loss would effectively put VRA out of contention. Sparta of course are even further from a playoff spot, but may relish the chance of taking their hosts down with them.
RL: Bukhari and Max Hoornweg will no doubt relish the opportunity of bowling at VRA’s top and middle order, although they won’t have forgotten how they were blitzed by Marcus Andrew at the Bermweg after they had reduced the Amsterdam side to 67 for five. Eric Szwarczynski is still a reassuring presence in the middle and Peter Borren a menacing one, but neither Singh nor Shirase Rasool has been having a stellar season (having only played five games, Rasool is barely having a season at all), and VRA’s capacity for sudden collapse has been one of the features of the campaign. Not that Sparta’s foundations have been any sounder, and last week’s cornucopia of runs against VOC, while not exactly coming from nowhere, was at any rate a significant turnaround, triggered by a decent opening partnership for the first time this season. The absence of Mamoon Latif will indeed make some difference, but it’s Bukhari, Tarr and Hoornweg who are crucial to Sparta’s chances, and if they’re at their best it could be Sparta who come out on top.
BdJ: Currently sitting in fourth place, HBS Craeyenhout have a chance to consolidate their position when they take on Dosti-United at Drieburg on Sunday. After a comprehensive victory over ACC in difficult batting conditions, the Crows look as favoured as can be against a Dosti side that has been winless since the times Corona was still a beer served with lime. Dosti skipper Vinoo Tewarie was the only bat to cross five as his side were brushed aside by HCC last week, and though Rahil Ahmed has on occasion been at his flamboyant best at the top of the order there’s been precious little to back him up thus far this summer. Though given their precarious hold on a play-off position HBS can ill afford to take any game lightly, one suspects they may be thinking as much about net run rate as points ahead of this particular fixture.
RL: What the man said. With a couple of exceptions Dosti have fluctuated between dire and abject this season, and you have to think that their run of failures, especially with the bat, can only be having a corrosive effect on Vinoo Tewarie’s side. Even the players who look of genuinely Topklasse quality – Tewarie himself, Ahmed, Mahesh Hans, Waheed Masood and Asief Hoseinbaks – are clearly finding it near-impossible to carry on the fight against overwhelming odds, and with Tayo Walbrugh, Ryan Klein, Navjit Singh and Co. coming to call the prospects again seem bleak. Winning the toss here would present Hobson’s choice to either captain: should Ferdi Vink, for example, try to emulate HCC’s brief encounter last week, or let his batters loose? Nothing’s a given in cricket, but for Dosti to be competitive in this case would require a massive effort of will as well as skill.
BdJ’s picks: Voorburg, Punjab, Excelsior, VRA, HBS.
RL’s picks: HCC, Punjab, Excelsior, Sparta, HBS.