Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 14/07/21
With five rounds of the league phase remaining and a single point separating the teams placed from third to sixth, the battle for top four spots is really heating up. It seems more than probable that every point will matter all the way to the final round, in which context it’s striking that all five matches were completed last weekend despite the weather – the difference between one point and four certainly concentrates minds, and a couple of games which in other circumstances might have been abandoned were (most creditably) played to a finish. This is also the moment at which the Topklasse programme moves from Saturday to Sunday, making room for the group phase of the T20 Cup to get under way on Saturdays.
RL: Sunday’s Eight-pointer of the Week is the meeting between HCC and HBS, currently third and second respectively, at De Diepput. HCC have now won four on the trot, and although three of them have been against sides in the bottom four they do appear to have recovered from their blip earlier in the season. Boris Gorlee’s taking over the captaincy may have been a factor, but the return of allrounder Hidde Overdijk on a regular basis is likely to have been an even greater one. The wicket-taking of Clayton Floyd, who collected his third five-wicket haul in the side’s highly impressive victory over Voorburg last Saturday, is evidently another, although there remain doubts about the solidity of the top order. HBS have also improved as the campaign has gone on, and with Benno Boddendijk emerging as an effective seamer beside Ryan Klein and Ferdi Vink the attack looks better balanced than previously, if the batting remains overly dependent on Tayo Walbrugh and Navjit Singh. This has all the signs of being a very absorbing battle indeed.
BdJ: The Singh and Walbrugh partnership has indeed been indispensible to HBS’ fortunes this season, though Julian de Mey continues to justify his promotion up the order and Tobias Visée remains a menace. Coming up against the HCC attack, which is collectively the most in-form of the league at the moment, will nonetheless prove a stern test for a line up that rather lacks for depth. The HCC batting is likewise something of a vulnerability however, with none of the top order really finding any consistency yet this season. If this is likely to be the most important match of the round it is equally the toughest to call.
RL: Now ten points clear at the top, Punjab Rotterdam will entertain VRA Amsterdam at the Zomercomplex. If not yet mathematically certain of reaching the play-offs Punjab are probably within one win of getting there, and the odds are strongly in favour of their holding on to their table-topping position until the end of the league phase. VRA, on the other hand, are already six points adrift of the chasing pack, and they will know that defeat here would surely extinguish any remaining hope of squeezing into the top four. Beating Punjab on their own patch is, clearly, a daunting assignment, but the Amsterdammers brought their A game to last week’s defeat of Sparta, and if they can repeat that effort they are capable of at least testing a Punjab side which, if it has no obvious weaknesses, is after all mortal. Injuries and other absences have not made VRA’s campaign any easier, but with Quirijn Gunning back and Eric Szwarczynski looking in good nick, this game could be a lot closer than the form book alone suggests.
BdJ: While VRA are now accustomed to slow starts, this season they’ve taken even longer to really settle. Injuries and availability problems certainly haven’t helped, and the loss of Ben Cooper, even if out of form, strips them of a potential match-winner. Punjab meanwhile have match-winners aplenty in their batting line-up and momentum on their side. Their bowling attack too, despite a lack of personnel changes, has looked much stronger than in seasons past, not least due to the increasingly impressive Mubashar Hussain. For VRA time is running out to challenge for a play-off spot however, and they have the talent to capitalise on any complacency.
RL: After losing to HCC at home last week Voorburg will doubtless view their trip to the Bermweg to face Sparta 1888 with some trepidation. Voorburg’s problems of injury and absence have been even more acute than VRA’s, but the questionmarks about their batting don’t only stem from that: from the very start of the season they have had trouble pacing an innings, and the fact that when batting first they have only passed 200 once – and that against ACC’s limited attack – speaks volumes. Sparta, of course, are not without problems of their own, and they will be keen to show that their batting display against VOC was not the swallow which fails to make a summer. Their dependence on Garnett Tarr and Mudassar Bukhari with the bat remains a huge issue, and while their bowling can at its best prove effective, the batting has seldom matched it. For Voorburg, Bas de Leede has been bowling with pace and fire, as his effort defending a low total against HCC again showed, but he will need plenty of support if his side is to maintain its challenge on the run in. That said, three of their remaining fixtures, including this one, are against the bottom three sides, so that at least is a point in their favour.
BdJ: While de Leede has stepped up commendably to lead the attack in lieu of Kingma and van Beek, his form with the bat has been patchy and, especially without van Beek, Voorburg have lacked the batting depth to do without his contributions. Though Mohit Hingorani has done a decent job at the top and Karl Nieuwoudt has grown into his role in the lower middle order, the tail is too long for the VCC top order to play with much freedom. In Bukhari and Max Hoornweg Sparta have the potential to take early wickets and put VCC on the back foot. While the Sparta batting, Tarr and Bukari excepted, has been inconsistently poor, they have shown themselves capable of taking advantage if they get on top of the opposition. A win for the hosts would certainly still be an upset, but it does have the air of plausibility.
RL: VOC Rotterdam, on the other hand, complete their programme with games against HBS, Excelsior and HCC, so they will be keen to extract maximum advantage from their encounters with ACC at Het Loopveld this week and Dosti the following one. Another of the injury-plagued contenders, VOC have lost two of their last three matches, and even a century opening stand between Edwards and O’Dowd wasn’t enough to save them from defeat by Punjab. But they will be enormously encouraged by ACC’s dismal batting performances in the past two weeks, and although the Amsterdammers’ bowlers battled personfully against Excelsior last Saturday their inability to take wickets left them dreadfully exposed to the Ingram/Stubbs onslaught in the final overs. Sahil Kothari has been their one genuine success of the summer, and unless he plays and plays well it’s hard to see VOC heading back south without the points.
BdJ: VOC have indeed struggled in the absence of Pieter Seelaar, it’s difficult to see this ACC side taking advantage of their vulnerability. The Amsterdammers have, perhaps understandably, rather the look of a side treating the 2021 Topklasse as match practice for next season, especially after losing a couple of wickets in pursuit of a sizeable total. Though VOC are still well placed to challenge for a top-four spot, defeat to an ACC side that appears to be playing for pretty much the sake of it would be a humiliating blow to their confidence, if not necesarily their season. Nonetheless it’s not out of the question given the fragility of the Rotterdammers’ batting card from number three down, and unlike their hosts they have a lot to lose.
RL: Trepidation is probably an inadequate word to account for Dosti-United’s feelings as they eye the arrival of Excelsior ‘20’s Ingram and Stubbs at Sportpark Drieburg. The Amsterdam club’s belated withdrawal from the T20 Cup underlines the crisis which the club is facing, having lost 21 Topklasse matches on the trot, and one can only feel the deepest sympathy for Vinoo Tewarie and his men as they struggle week in, week out to keep their heads above water. The cover they have had in the past from a group of outstanding overseas players has been missing for the past couple of seasons as a result of the pandemic, and that has left them dreadfully exposed. Outside the top four and needing every point they can get, Excelsior have no reason to take their foot off the accelerator, and they are likely to be another side taking four crucial points back down the A4 on Saturday afternoon.
BdJ: One might make a case that Dosti have suffered somewhat from the decision to dispense with relegation for the past two seasons, and that a stint in the Hoofdklasse might have suited them better, but if nothing else they are to be commended for taking their poor run of results in good humour. Rahil Ahmed has at times looked back to his best at the top of the order and most of Dosti’s games have seen at least one or two commendable individual performances from a diverse selection of the side. They’ve never really looked likely to put together a consistently competitive showing over two innings, however, and even should they do so on Sunday it’s unlikely to be enough without the wickets of Stubbs and Ingram. Both coming off unbeaten centuries against ACC, neither look in the mood to go easy on sub-standard bowling. Though on paper Dosti’s attack boasts genuine wicket-takers in Masood, and Asief Hoseinbaks, and Tewarie himself has a knack for breaking partnerships with his legspin, it’s difficult to see a match-winning performance being assembled by an understrength team that has looked less than the modest sum of its parts.
RL’s picks: HBS, Punjab, Voorburg, VOC, Excelsior.
BdJ’s picks: HBS, Punjab, Voorburg, VOC, Excelsior.