Bertus de Jong and Rod Lyall 07/08/2021
As the league phase of the Topklasse heads into the final straight, there’s still three top-four slots left undecided, with Punjab are assured of a spot in the playoffs, while HCC and VCC are just one win or some helpful neutral results away, while four more teams are still in at least arithmetic contention. HCC and Voorburg are effectively guaranteed a place if they win or tie either of their remaining games, fourth-placed VOC will be looking to hold off challengers HBS and VRA, while one particular string of results might still see Excelsior sneak into the top four.
BdJ: First-placed Punjab Rotterdam assured of a place in the play-offs and nearest rivals HCC are vulnerable only should they lose both their remaining matches and VOC win both of theirs, but both will looking up rather than down at this point. Topping the table will confer more than just bragging rights this year as the top two finishers effectively gain a lifeline in the playoff phase and the first-placed side initial home advantage. Seeing off HCC would guarantee Punjab pole position in the next phase, but the Rotterdammers have been looking a little wobbly of late, losing two of their last three matches. Their obliteration of Sparta last week was of course a reminder of how the Punjab batting can take a game away if they get on top, but the HCC attack has consistently proved the most effective in the league, and if their batting lacks the explosive power of their opponents, it has the advantage of strength in depth.
RL: It’s certainly true that no attack in the competition – with the possible exception of a full-strength Voorburg – is better fitted to trouble Punjab’s powerful batting line-up than HCC’s, although it was evident last week that it is a good deal less devastating without Hidde Overdijk. The Lions’ batting has, in a sense, been the victim of the bowlers’ success, chasing low totals in T20 mode doing nothing for the building of an innings. But they will be hoping that Tonny Staal’s half-century last Sunday, his first since the opening day of the season, betokens a timely return to form in advance of the business end of competition, while Damian Crowley’s unbeaten 93 confirms how important he is in the middle order. Punjab’s containing bowlers have stood the side in good stead throughout the campaign, but the mouth-watering aspect of this game is the contest between the Topklasse’s most destructive attack and its finest top order.
BdJ: While the top-table clash at the Zomercomplex may be the week’s most eye-catching fixture, the clash between VRA Amsterdam and HBS Craeyenhout is arguably more consequential. With both teams currently outside the top four the fixture is effectively a knock-out, or at least will likely prove such in retrospect. VRA’s principal difficulty all season has just been getting 11 fit men on the field, with an improbable string of illnesses, absences and injuries leading to some surprise call-ups (and indeed recalls) over the course of the summer. The return of Eric Szwarczynski and Ben Cooper will do much to shore up the batting however, while Leon Turmaine’s form with the ball means young Luke Hartsink’s season-ending bike accident need not be season-ending for his team-mates too. HBS have had their own availability issues of course, though with both Walbrugh and Klein back in the side and Toby Visée finding some form they look close to full strength for Sunday. That said it’s a testament to VRA’s depth that they’ve managed to compete at all this season, and though HBS doubtless have the two biggest names on the field the home side looked the more balanced of the two likely elevens on Sunday.
RL: This, too, is a fascinating encounter. Having Szwarczynski and Cooper back in the side will give VRA a huge boost at a crucial moment, while the Crows have on the whole been a more settled unit. They will be smarting after last week’s loss to VOC, the more so for having had such a stellar start, and the prospect of bowling to Singh, Cooper, Szwarczynski and Borren after the mauling they received from O’Dowd and Rutgers will be less than enthralling. On the other hand, Tayo Walbrugh may well relish the idea of batting on the Bos’s turf – always assuming that the overnight rain which is again on the cards doesn’t make life unduly difficult. The two attacks, too, make an interesting comparison: Gunning and Abid have looked sharp with the new ball for VRA, with Singh and Borren providing seam back-up and Turmaine (and the unhappily absent Hartsink) the spin option, while Klein and Ferdi Vink have been the leading edge of a four-man seam attack with Sander Geenevasen and the steadily-improving Benno Boddendijk, with the spin coming from Julian de Mey, Navjit Singh and, on occasion, Wesley Barresi.
BdJ: While last week’s defeat at HCC has taken Excelsior’s fate out of their own hands, they aren’t quite out of it yet. Should VRA take the points at the Bos on Sunday then the Schiedammers could enter the final round in contention, but first they need to dislodge VOC Rotterdam from their current spot in fourth, a tough ask away at Hazelaarweg. Though the Bloodhounds have been rather over-reliant on openers Scott Edwards and Max O’Dowd for runs this season, the return of a rejuvenated Corey Rutgers, unburdened of his Belgian responsibilities, has lent a degree of solidity to the middle order. Conversely the loss of Tristan Stubbs has been keenly felt at Excelsior, whose youthful side will have to do more to support the evergreen Lorenzo Ingram if they are to upset VOC on their own turf.
RL: The return of Tom Heggelman from holiday will give Excelsior a welcome boost, as the return of Pieter Seelaar from injury did VOC last week. Both sides will have been disappointed by the contributions of some of their home-grown batters in the course of the season, but the trump card for VOC has been the contribution of their two Dutch international openers, who have between them produced 1336 runs, or more than half of the side’s runs from the bat. Heggelman’s men will need to figure out a way to get both of them early if they are to prevail, and then hope that a couple of their batters are able to share substantial partnerships with Ingram. That will involve dealing with a VOC attack which has on the whole been more effective than the top order, with Pierce Fletcher providing the cutting edge and Siebe van Wingerden one of the most improved players of the campaign.
BdJ: At Westvliet Voorburgwill look at a home fixture against Dosti-United as a golden opportunity to break into the top two ahead of the final round. With Logan van Beek and Vivian Kingma back and bowling the VCC attack is back to full strength, and though the batting has looked brittle when genuinely tested it would be remarkable if it were to be so on Sunday. Though Dosti still have the capability of springing an upset, it would be a brave man to bet against them extending their record-breaking losing streak at Westvliet this week.
RL: Currently at a net run rate disadvantage to HCC, with whom they are level on points, Voorburg will want to take full advantage of their meeting with Dosti ahead of next week’s tough final assignment against HBS. The Amsterdammers’ bits-and-pieces side, shorn of the protection of a battery of overseas players, has looked hopelessly outclassed all season, a few brief periods of competitiveness aside, and Bas de Leede’s men will start as unbackable favourites. The return of Van Beek from England and Kingma from the physiotherapist’s table gives them a much more formidable look, well as their replacements have performed, and while they have largely failed to dominate with the bat it seems improbable that Asief Hoseinbaks, Mahesh Hans and Co. will be able to contain them for long.
BdJ: Finally Sparta 1888 and ACC will contest what would have been a crucial game were relegation on the cards this season, though as it is they will be playing purely for pride at Bermweg. Both teams have plenty of that of course, as well as a couple of wins under their belt, both most recently against VOC. Sparta have looked abject since losing the combative Mudassar Bukhari however, sinking to heavy defeats to VCC and Punjab. ACC looked equally poor last week against VCC however, and have developed a habit of just looking to bat time if they lose a couple of early wickets. Should Sparta be able to make early inroads into the ACC line-up, something they’ve shown themselves capable of even without Bukhari, they may just be able to get on top of the Amsterdammers and give the home fans some thing to cheer for in their final home game of the season.
RL: These sides have displayed contrasting styles of awfulness with the bat in recent games, Sparta collapsing dramatically from almost any position – which is to say, whether Garnett Tarr and Bukhari make runs or not – and ACC limping along at not much more than two runs an over. Should Bukhari return this week it will give the home side a much-needed boost, but with their Belgian contingent proving a big disappointment and the rest of the side, with the notable exception of paceman Max Hoornweg, performing fitfully at best, a win here would provide scant consolation as the club looks towards next season. ACC, on the other hand, do have a handful of promising youth players, but the club’s decision to go without any overseas this year has left them very, very exposed, and the senior members of the side have been unable to provide the cover or support they need.
Bertus de Jong’s picks: HCC, VRA, VOC, Voorburg, Sparta
Rod Lyall’s picks: Punjab, VRA, VOC, Voorburg, Sparta.