Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 12/08/21
For some at least, the final set of round-robin matches has morphed into the first of the play-offs, with – at the time of writing – two places in the top four up for grabs. Within that elite circle, too, second spot with its double chance of a berth in the final is yet to be finally decided, so three of this week’s matches have the greatest possible significance for the championship. The scriptwriters of the KNCB must be pretty happy with their work.
RL: Still with a chance of claiming second if they win and Voorburg lose, HCC, currently third, are at home to VOC Rotterdam, clinging on to fourth on net run rate. These sides’ previous encounter, at the Hazelaarweg on 12 June, was a ding-dong battle in which HCC recovered from a Pierce Fletcher-induced 11 for four to reach 237 for eight, only to see the game taken away from them by Max O’Dowd and Pieter Seelaar. The Lions fought back through Clayton Floyd’s late five-for, but he’s likely to be missing this week after sustaining a hand injury against Punjab last Sunday. That has a big impact on the balance of the attack, but HCC’s four seamers remain a potent force, albeit one which will need to cope with the threat represented by O’Dowd and Scott Edwards. On the other side of the balance sheet, the visitors’ bowling unit will be fully tested by their hosts’ talented, if somewhat hit-or-miss, batting line-up. And they’ll go into this game knowing that in one of the many scenarios, they’ll be doing it all again in next week’s semi-final.
BdJ: One of two games of the round, this. Likely a must-win for VOC, and potentially also for HCC, depending on results elsewhere. Had it rained a little harder or longer last week HCC might have already secured their spot in the playoffs, ironically by means of a washout much like those that plagued their early season. Fair to say the weather has been relentlessly unkind to last year’s table-toppers on way or another, and notwithstanding any potential contest of Sunday’s result, it currently looks like they’ll have to get it done themselves. They have the pace attack to do so, with VOC still vulnerable to an early decapitation strike, but the loss of league lead wicket-taker Clayton Floyd means they may struggle to contain the VOC top order if they can’t find wickets early. Conversely, Seelaar’s return strengthens VOC both in the middle order and the middle overs. Though home advantage at least makes HCC marginal favourites on paper, they will have to overcome the frustrations of the past week and a fired-up full strength VOC to cement their progression to the playoffs.
RL: Denied their last chance of reaching the play-offs by the freakish weather last Sunday, Excelsior ‘20 can play the role of spoilers this week by beating VRA Amsterdam at Thurlede. The Amsterdammers’ sequence of five wins on the trot has carried them from a fairly distant seventh to the brink of the top four, and they will know that victory here will carry them over the loser of HCC-VOC and into the play-offs. The return of Ben Cooper has come in the nick of time for them, while Excelsior have clearly been weakened by the departure of Tristan Stubbs. On the other hand, the Schiedammers always look a better side with Tom Heggelman in it, and it was striking to see him coming in at four against VOC last week. If VRA can put out their strongest eleven – which is far from being a given – they must start as favourites even at Thurlede, and with a crack at the championship on the line, it’s a fair bet that there will be a three-line whip in operation in the Amsterdamse Bos.
BdJ: Hard to say whether a three line whip will mean much to VRA’s herd of cats, even those of them still physically capable of taking the field. That said, VRA will likely be fielding something not all too far off a first-choice side come Sunday, and anyway have not seemed unduly reliant on any one or two players in the way that Excelsior’s fortunes have depended on Ingram and Stubbs, bar arguably skipper Peter Borren’s leadership. Ingram of course remains capable of winning games almost single handed and his team mates generally offer better support at home than they do away. Heading to Thurlede needing a win is not a situation any team wants to find themselves in, but VRA would have taken it five weeks ago and will be making the trip with momentum on their side.
RL: HBS Craeyenhout could still squeeze into fourth spot, but they would need both VOC and VRA to lose, as well as pulling off a home win against a resurgent Voorburg. They will have been buoyed by Wesley Barresi’s 81 against VRA last Sunday, but Tayo Walbrugh has not been the force he was since he tested positive for Covid, and the Crows will be hoping that he chooses this moment to reassert himself. Voorburg’s total demolition of Dosti doesn’t in itself prove very much, but Logan van Beek and Viv Kingma looked pretty sharp with the new ball, and with Bas de Leede and Stef Mulder to follow, not to mention Aryan Dutt’s options of seam and spin, they can be relied upon to give the HBS top order a hard time. Ryan Klein certainly has the capability to respond in kind, and if the rest of the Crows’ seam attack is a little less menacing, the spinners have the potential to cause some problems for a Voorburg line-up which has been steady rather than all-powerful. This one is, as the psephologists say, too close to call.
BdJ: With, Visée, Walbrugh and now an in-form Barresi in the line-up the HBS top order looks almost as intimidating as that of 2018/19, though the VCC arguably boast the attack best-suited to neutralising that threat. On the other side of the equation, neither HBS’ bowling nor VCC’s batting has looked particularly threatening this season, the Crows over-reliant on Ryan Klein for wickets while the VCC top order has been more obdurate than explosive thus far. Should HBS bat first the match might well be decided early one way or the other, and either way one suspects that’ll be the innings that draws the most eyeballs. If HBS’ batting against VCC’s attack is a box-office match-up, the converse promises to be more block-fest than blockbuster.
RL: Assured of top spot going into the play-offs, Punjab Rotterdam travel to Amstelveen to take on ACC. For those members of the side named Zulfiqar it’s a return to their roots, since Het Loopveld is where they learned their cricket and where, at the age of fifteen, triplets Sikander, Saqib and Asad made their Topklasse debut. A great deal has happened since then, and ACC have had a tough season while the Zulfiqars’ adopted club is riding high. But Anis Raza’s men will have been encouraged by the way they earned their win against Sparta last Sunday, and they have shown in the past that they can make ‘t Loopveld a testing place to visit. Punjab’s top order, on the other hand, have demonstrated often enough that when fours are at a premium there’s always the aerial route, and with Steph Myburgh in vintage form and an attack which is adept at making opponents work hard for every run, they will be keen to go into the play-offs in winning mood.
BdJ: Though for Punjab this fixture is arguably little more than a warm-up for the playoffs, one suspects they will relish a trip to het Loopveld as a chance to build momentum going into the season’s decisive phase. While other sides have struggled to pace their innings in the face of ACC’s nagging attack and sluggish outfield, the Zulfiqars naturally all know how to score on their old ground and neither Myburgh nor Nidamanuru need necessarily be troubled by the length of the grass. Punjab’s attack is also well suited to take advatage of conditions, while ACC themselves have a habit of going into their shell in the face of disciplined bowling, especially if they lose a few early. That said, are not above losing concentration and rapid wickets in the face of weaker sides, as they showed against Dosti early in the season. While it’s hard to see ACC winning this one might just imagine Punjab contriving to lose.
RL: The season ends for Dosti Amsterdam and Sparta 1888 – though probably not soon enough for either – with a foot-of-the-table encounter at Sportpark Drieburg. When these sides met at the Bermweg back in June it turned out to be a real nail-biter, with Dosti failing by just three runs to chase down Sparta’s total of 217. Sparta have won only once since, while their hosts on Sunday have extended their losing run to 25 matches, or 28 if No Results are included. A win for either here would clearly be a morale-booster, and especially for a Dosti side which has battled gamely on occasions, even when manifestly out-classed. Sparta have more potential match-winners, not least Ali Raza who played his one substantial innings of the season last week, but if Dosti can muster a final team effort they could just pull off that elusive win.
BdJ: Though in the absence of any threat of relegation there will be little but pride on the line at Drieburg, one suspects Sparta will be keen to avoid a place in the history books as the club that broke Dosti’s record winless streak by becoming the first team to lose to the former Topklasse champions in over two years. Yet for Dosti one suspects signing off with a win may go some way toward holding the side together over the winter, given the toll two winless season must take even on Dosti’s seemingly inexaustible morale. On paper there’s every chance of the points-drought at Drieburg ending on Sunday. Mahesh Hans, Vinoo Tewarie and Rahil Ahmed have all put up solid scores on occasion through the season, and Sparta’s attack looking somewhat pedestrian, especially in the absence of Mudassar t-Bukhari. Bar Asief Hoseinbaks, though, the hosts lack reliable wicket-takers and have struggled to find 50 overs of even adequate Topklasse-level bowling. Removing Garnett Tarr in reasonably quick time looks like a necessary (if not necessarily sufficient) condition for a Dosti victory, an outcome which for once looks merely improbable rather than implausible.
RL’s picks: HCC, VRA, Voorburg, Punjab, Sparta.
BdJ’s picks: VOC, VRA, VCC, Punjab, Sparta