Group B Preview

Bertus de Jong 15/04/22

While the rather drastic Topklasse restructure that sees the competition expanded to 12 teams and then split into two groups for the first phase of the competition has rather divided opinion, it’s probably too early to say whether there are any clear winners or losers from the introduction of the one-off 2022 format. The easing of global travel restrictions and consequent influx of overseas players for the coming summer will naturally reshuffle the relative strengths of the teams, especially as clubs have not all availed themselves of the reopened borders to the same extent, yet whether by luck or judgement the two pools seem to have come out comparatively well-balanced.

2021 runners-up Voorburg CC have made by a distance the most eye-catching signings for the coming season, with South Africa international Janneman Malan added to the VCC roster for the first phase of the competition, and Malan’s elder brother Andre replacing him for the back end of the summer. North West Dragons seam all-rounder Delano Potgieter will also feature for the first half of the season, strengthening a pace attack that also boasts the returning Logan van Beek and fellow Netherlands internationals Vivian Kingma and Bas de Leede, as well as Ali Qasim Ahmed and the veteran Stef Mulder.

VCC will hope de Leede’s pre-season form with the bat continues, the skipper likely to shoulder more responsibility in the middle order in the absence of the injured Sybrand Engelbrecht and Aryan Dutt, who has moved to VRA. In addition to the South African trio, brothers Musa and Shariz Ahmed will also be turning out for VCC this season, occasional Netherlands opening bat Musa coming from HCC and national under 19s spinner Shariz arriving from Groen & Wit. The latter will join legspinner Philippe Boissevain in the slow-bowling section, and with the unheralded but dependable Mohit Hingorani behind the sticks there’s few obvious weaknesses in the Voorburg side.

VCC’s chief concern will likely be the demands placed on their Dutch internationals by Oranje’s hectic summer schedule, but if they can keep something close to a full strength team on the park through the season they look like strong contenders to take the title.

Conversely 2021 bronze-medallists VRA have seen a number of departures and retirements over the winter, with Dutch international Ben Cooper taking early retirement and the stalwart Eric Szwarczynski also hanging up his boots. Pace spearhead Quirijn Gunning will also be unavailable, having cycled off in the general direction of Australia, while promising young spinner Luke Hartsink is also understood to have stepped back from the game. With plans to bring the iconic Nepali pace duo Sompal Kami and Karan KC to the Bos having fallen through at the last minute, the Amsterdammers are left looking rather bereft of star power and generally threadbare.

They will look to the ever-improving Vikram Singh to both deliver on his promise at the top of the order and shoulder more responsibility with the ball, likely opening the bowler with southpaw Ashir Abid. The arrival of Singh’s fellow Dutch-international Aryan Dutt from VCC will go some way to shoring up both the batting and bowling, With Jack Balbirnie and veteran gloveman Mitch Lees both enjoying solid but unspectacular seasons last year, much will depend on evergreen skipper Peter Borren’s form with the bat, the former national captain also likely to play a holding role with the ball through the middle overs.

Offspinner Leon Turmaine will lend some experience in the slow-bowling department, but VRA will be relying to a great extent youth be it local youngsters such as Udit Nashier, Debrup Dasgupta and Shirase Rasool or two new arrivals – untested South African rookies Johan Smal and Eduard Visser the club’s only overseas acquisitions for the season. All told the venerable Amsterdam club looks to be heading toward something of a transitional phase, and without any high-profile pros will likely be happy enough merely to survive in the top flight another year.

Similarly VOC Rotterdam will be doing without any big-name overseas for the coming season, with sometime VCC-er Matt Smith the Rotterdammer’s only major foreign signing. Sparta quick Max Hoornweg has also come across from Capelle, but with former Netherlands seamer Ahsan Malik going the other way and all-rounder Dirk van Baren bowing out, the pace attack remains reliant on Pierce Fletcher and the veteran Jelte Schoonheim. While Netherlands skipper Pieter Seelaar remains a force with both bat and ball, his workload will have to be carefully managed given a demanding schedule and a dodgy back, likely asking more of young fingerspinners Arnav Jain and Siebe van Wingerden.

Van Baren’s retirement, coupled with Corey Rutgers again resolving to demote himself from the first team, also leaves the batting looking rather top-heavy. Though in Dutch internationals Max O’Dowd and Scott Edwards VOC have an enviable opening pair, the middle order looks comparatively fragile and Tim de Kok may be asked to rein in his naturally aggressive tendencies at three. While the quality of VOC’s Dutch internationals means a top three finish in the first phase is well within reach, should they fail to make the cut they may struggle at the business end of the season, given their limited depth and the Netherlands’ intense international schedule.

Excelsior ‘20 Schiedam have had a rather lean couple of years since taking the title in 2019, twice finishing in the lower half of the table. They’ll be looking to improve on that showing at least, though they will have to do without their most valuable player from last season, as the prolific Tristan Stubbs won’t be returning to Thurlede this season. In his place comes a familiar face in the form of Northern Districts’ seam all-rounder Brett Hampton who returns to the club after a decade’s absence. He joins Schiedam stalwart Lorenzo Ingram to make up a formidable overseas duo that will likely be key to the 2019 champion’s fortunes both with bat and ball.

For the rest the line-up looks both familiar and familial, with the Excelsior youth production line ensuring a steady supply of van Troosts, Etmans and Kroesens. To challenge for a top three spot Excelsior will need their home-grown players to provide rather more in the way of runs than in seasons past – keeper-opener Roel Verhagen the only local bat to have managed more than 250 runs across the last two seasons. Pre-season showings against ACC and Punjab have promised some improvement in that regard, but Excelsior’s principle strength remains their disciplined bowling attack, while none of Niels Etman, Rens van Troost, Tom Heggelman or Klaas Roelfsema bowl express pace, the Shciedam seam section is notoriously difficult to get away, while in the spin section Ingram remains a stand-out and Umar Baker has thrived at Thurlede since making the move from VOC.

With a solid pre-season behind them and enjoying the good fortune of playing their first match against VCC before the cavalry arrives for Voorburg, Excelsior look set to get their season started on the right foot, but in a significantly stronger field they will need to recapture their winning ways in quick time if they are not to end up in the wrong half of the table again.

2021 Hoodfklasse champions Salland CC will be making what is technically their debut in the top-flight this season, the Deventer-based outfit now independent from the venerable multi-sport club Koninklijke UD that last contested the top division in 2000. Yet like their predecessors, the team is dominated by scions of the Lubbers family, with all-rounder Victor captaining the side and his brother Reinder leading the seam attack, while Curtis and Desmond Lubbers also occasionally feature in the first team, and indeed patriarch Steven Lubbers made a brief first-team return at the recent ECN T10 tournament at Capelle.

In recent years Salland have also established a strong German connection, with numerous members of the German national team featuring in their successful Hoofdklasse campaign. There has been something of a changing of the guard in that respect, with Hamid Wardak and Vijay Chikkannaiah heading back to Germany for the 2022 season, but left-arm spinner Elam Barathi and seam all-rounder Sahir Naqash will be joined by the national captain Venkat Ghanisan and finger-spinner Ghulam Ahmadi for the upcoming Topklasse season.

While the German contingent are at least in part responsible for the club’s promotion to the top flight, their potential international commitments may well leave Salland short of players when the German national team are in action. While with the likes of Lubber, Gul Nasir and Gijs van Molen they don’t lack for depth in the seam bowling department, the batting is a different question, especially as overseas signing Justin Gilliland may not be available for the whole season. Should Salland manage to pick up some early wins while at full strength a top three finish in the first phase would secure their place in the top-flight for another year, with potentially three teams facing relegation this season an immediate return to the Hoofdklasse is far from out of the question either.

Since their 2015 title run, Amsterdammers Dosti-United have been in something of a slump, recording just a single win over the last two seasons and at times struggling to get 11 men on the field. Yet while the Drieburgers are keeping their cards close to their chest ahead of the 2022 season, rumour has it that after two years of belt-tightening they are once again prepared to dip into the war chest. The rumoured return of sometime South Africa international Stiaan van Zyl has been the principle subject of gossip, but one that appears to have proved unfounded. Kings XI all-rounder Shivam Sharma is another name that has been floating around, along with Punjab’s Amitoze Singh.

The addition of a handful of overseas could potentially transform Dosti from top-flight whipping boys to title-contenders at a stroke, with the local core of the side having had to step up in the interim and despite the run of results looking arguably the stronger for it. Skipper Vinoo Tewarie had an intermittently impressive season despite missing out on his side’s sole victory, and likewise Rahil Ahmed showed occasional flashes of the form that once earned him a brief career in Orange. Spin all-rounder Mahesh Hans has similarly grown into his senior role in the side, while pace spearhead Wahid Masood also bowled consistently better than his figures might suggest. With the Hoseinbaks brothers rounding out the side Dosti have never looked more than two or three players short of a decent team, and with a few judicious acquisitions could well emerge from two woeful seasons as dark-horse contenders.

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