Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 30/07/21
Three rounds to go, and still seven teams in the hunt for a place in the top four. The weather may have done its best to ruin a season which was always going to be a difficult one, but the outcome is one of the most exciting contests in a very long time – helped, of course, by the reintroduction of the play-off system. With seven points (less than two matches) separating second from seventh there is little room for any mis-steps, and only the most sure-footed will be contesting the semi-finals towards the end of August.
RL: The undoubted Eight-pointer of the Day pits HBS (currently fourth) against VOC Rotterdam (fifth) at Craeyenhout. Buoyed by the return of Tayo Walbrugh and Ryan Klein and the presence of Wesley Barresi, the Crows had a good win over Excelsior last week, and they will need to carry that form into another clash with a key rival. Victory here would enable VOC to leapfrog over their opponents and back into the four, and with Excelsior and HCC yet to play they have one of the tougher assignments in the final weeks. They, too, were boosted by the return of Bobby Hanif from injury, but the batting remains a worry once Max O’Dowd and Scott Edwards have returned to the side-line. They disposed of Dosti efficiently enough last Sunday, but Pieter Seelaar’s absence leaves a massive gap in both batting and bowling, and in this Aesopic contest between the Crows and the Bloodhounds it’s the men in black who seem more likely to come out on top.
BdJ: Word is the Dutch skipper may yet be seen again in VOC colours this season, perhaps even as early as Sunday. Certainly his return would go some way toward steadying a shaky middle order even if he doesn’t bowl his full quota. Even so it’s hard to look past Walbrugh and Klein’s form thus far this season, combined with the fact that VOC haven’t won a game against a side that wasn’t Dosti in the last five rounds.
RL: One can imagine that a lot of people in Schiedam are cursing the South African Warriors for not having started their pre-season training a week later, but as it is Excelsior ‘20 (sixth) will go into their match against HCC (second) at De Diepput without Tristan Stubbs. The Lions’ ruthless demolition of Sparta has made the statistics we quoted last week even more striking: over their last six matches HCC’s attack has now taken 60 wickets at an average cost of 8.15 runs per wicket. Excelsior, even without Stubbs, are likely to put up more resistance than Sparta, but even so they will need to be at their absolute best to cope with the threat of Overdijk, Bijloos, Klaus and Floyd. HCC have won all those six matches by bowling first and skittling their opponents, so winning the toss and attempting to put the home side’s top order under pressure might well be Excelsior’s best option. That said, the last time HCC batted first they recovered from 11 for four to post 237 for eight, so there’s no question but that they bat in depth.
BdJ: Excelsior’s strangle and chase strategy generally comes off best on home turf, and it’s worth noting that Stubbs’ departure also weakens their slow bowling attack somewhat. His absence thus puts even more on the shoulders of Lorenzo Ingram. Together with Umar Baker, who’s had a rather inconspicuous season thus far. With their last two games pitting them against fellow potential top-four contenders VOC and VRA, the Schiedammers route to the play-offs is far from easy. HCC could in principle afford to drop points this week, though they will likely have their sights on a top two slot at this stage. A home encounter with a weakened Excelsior will look to the Lions like a fine opportunity to stake that claim.
RL: Leaders Punjab Rotterdam, smarting from their defeat by Voorburg last Sunday, will entertain Sparta 1888, whose collapse against HCC was spectacular even by their standards. They were, of course, missing Mudassar Bukhari as well as their Belgian contingent, which left them ill-fitted to face the onslaught of the HCC attack. Punjab’s bowling is a different proposition, exponents of line and length rather than out-and-out cutting power, but they will also test their visitors’ resolution, albeit in a different way. Then there’s the home side’s top and middle order: they may have been out of sorts in recent weeks, but on their own patch, where they seem to have measured to the last millimeter the distance to every corner of the boundary, they can take a visiting attack to pieces in double-quick time if they’re in the mood. It’s hard to know at this stage what Sparta’s side will look like this week, but they will all need to come to the party if they’re not to see Punjab reverse their losing run.
BdJ: If one defeat is a hiccough and a second is a stumble, then heaven knows how mixed up that metaphor will get should Punjab be forced to call housekeeping on Sunday. The loss of Bukhari leaves a significant hole in both the batting and bowling for Sparta, and on the face of it the match looks like a fine chance for the table leaders to get back to their winning ways as they look to build some momentum going into the play-offs. Conversely, though dropping out of the top four altogether is no longer a risk for the Rotterdammers, the prospect of taking a losing streak into the bottom half of the draw is not one they will relish.
RL: If HBS-VOC is the Eight-pointer of the Day, Voorburg’s visit to ‘t Loopveld to take on ACC is perhaps the Banana Skin of the Round. VOC discovered to their cost a fortnight ago that a trip to Amstelveen can be far from straightforward, and on a ground where runs can be at a premium Voorburg’s problems with pacing an innings could well be magnified. On the other hand, their attack has stepped up impressively, with Sajjad Kamal and Stef Mulder outstanding in last week’s win over Punjab, and they will seek to impose themselves on an ACC line-up which has been struggling for runs. With Dosti their next opponents Voorburg will be keen to consolidate their top four spot before they face HBS in the final round, while their hosts have nothing except honour to play for. That, though, should be incentive enough, and the younger component of their side have reputations to establish in advance of what is likely to be a much tougher campaign next season.
BdJ: Though ACC’s ambitions likely did not extend much further than team-building and development this season, the flip side of that is that for much of their young side this season is effectively an audition for a regular first team spot in 2022, when the Amsterdammers are expected to bring in some bigger guns. At home they have occasionally proved a handful when they get runs on the board, aided by the turgid outfield at het Loopveld and, at least early in the season, a remarkably disciplined approach to fielding. That discipline has slipped somewhat in recent weeks but, as VOC showed, timing a chase remains a tricky proposition as indeed does scoring rapid risk free-runs at any point with attempted acceleration usually resulting in wickets falling. Such considerations are not enough to make VCC underdogs by any stretch, but putting together a win at het Loopveld remains a different sort of challenge to the one the met at home against Punjab last week.
RL: Every match day is High Noon for VRA Amsterdam now, given that they are six points outside the four in seventh spot, and they need not only to win all their remaining games but to see the other results go their way. Even if all goes well they may need to improve their NRR considerably as well, and they will no doubt view their visit to Sportpark Drieburg to take on Dosti Amsterdam in that light. They posted 302 for six when the sides met in the Bos at the end of May, and Dosti’s fortunes have if anything declined further since then. VRA’s line-up has tended to vary from week to week, but Luke Scully and Jack Balbirnie have added significantly to their batting resources, compensating for the absence of Ben Cooper and the variable availability of Eric Szwarczynski, while the attack benefits from the continued development of Ashir Abid and Luke Hartink. It’s hard to know what remains to be said about Dosti, except that the end of the league phase probably can’t come quickly enough for Vinoo Tewarie and his embattled outfit.
BdJ: VRA’s improbable procession of injuries has continued unabated meanwhile, with Hartsink reportedly out for the rest of the season with a fractured wrist, Cooper still recovering, and Udit Nashier out with a shoulder complaint it’s not even clear that they will have 11 men on Sunday. Still two wins short of a top four slot they can’t afford any slip-ups, and losing to Dosti would certainly be an emphatic way to end their play-off hopes. Given the state of Dosti at the moment it’s likely that any side VRA cobble together will start as favourites of course, but no Topklasse team has ever been due a win more than Vinoo Tewarie’s side, and given the season-ending consequences of defeat for VRA this match would be my pick for the round’s pre-eminent banana skin.
RL’s picks: HBS, HCC, Punjab, Voorburg, VRA.
BdJ’s picks: HBS, HCC, Punjab, Voorburg, VRA.