Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 29/04/22
I know I keep going on about this, it’s very early in the campaign, and a couple of upsets on Saturday could make this and everything that follows look nonsensical, but even the first week of a 12-team Topklasse makes the case for an eight-team competition look unanswerable. The gaps in quality are all too obvious, and the opening round at least tended to confirm the sense that this year’s Topklasse might feature a very long tail. It’s also true, of course, that winning twice in a double weekend is a tough ask, so if there are to be any early upsets this weekend might well provide an opportunity.
RL: As the most competitive of the losing sides on the opening day, ACC may fancy their chances when they visit Het Zomercomplex to take on Punjab Rotterdam. Much is likely to depend on the contributions of Thomas Hobson, Robert Ackermann and Robin Smith, while for the home side there will be for the Zulfiqar brothers the extra incentive of taking on the club where they first made their reputations. With Punjab’s attack bolstered by the arrival of Ashiqullah Said and Samiullah Salarazai they are likely to give even less away with the ball than they did last year and to have a little more penetration into the bargain, while Mubashar Hussain continues to develop as the fourth seamer. So Anis Raza’s men will face a huge challenge, and they will need to be at their very best in all departments if they are to take the points back to Amstelveen.
BdJ: Punjab’s trip to het Loopveld at the back end of last season turned out to be one of their tougher fixtures, managing just 214 runs and for a time looking like they would struggle to defend it, though their last match against ACC on home turf was a comfortable win. The ACC of 2022 are a largely different outfit than that of last season however, welcoming not just the three above-mentioned South Africans but also a fair number of other newcomers, several of whom will likely debut at the weekend. Whether a change of personnel will herald a change in fortunes is hard to anticipate of course, yet there’s certainly a chance the Amsterdammers will spring a surprise on their hosts come Sunday. With Punjab seemingly picking up where they left off last season however, an ACC win would still be just that.
RL: Sparta 1888 will welcome HBS Craeyenhout to the Bermweg, and will likewise need to fire on all cylinders against the well-balanced Crows. The four South Africans in the HBS line-up – Tayo Walbrugh, Gavin Kaplan, and the brothers Ryan and Kyle Klein, although the latter pair are bearers of Dutch passports – make a formidable array, especially when one adds the explosive power of Tobias Visée and the cultured batting skills (and occasional off-spin) of Wesley Barresi. Sparta have undergone some rebuilding during the winter, but on first impression may be looking at relegation avoidance rather than anything more ambitious. But Mudassar Bukhari remains a potential trump card with both bat and ball, and Sparta will be hoping, too, that Ahsan Malik quickly regains some of his old cutting power.
BdJ: In the absence of Bukhari and overseas Samit Gohil last week Sparta altogether outclassed by HCC, and their fixtures this coming weekend don’t look much easier. The depth of HBS batting will be a particular concern for Sparta, whose bowlers collectively managed to pick up just two wickets last week, and with Walbrugh, Visée and Barresi in the line-up containment may prove difficult. Gohil certainly has the pedigree to suggest that he can lend a lot to the Sparta batting, but much will depend on how quickly he adjusts to Dutch conditions, and how much support he gets from the rest of the card.
RL: After two away games Kampong Utrecht can celebrate the return of Topklasse cricket to Maarschalkerweerd, a ground which has been completely transformed since the club was last in the top flight a quarter of a century ago. Their opponents on Sunday are HCC, strong title contenders who are likely to be determined to ensure that the celebrations do not include a home victory. With their outstanding, well-balanced attack and a batting line-up reinforced by the arrival of Zac Worden, the Lions should be capable of casting a shadow over Kampong’s party, but Usman Malik will be hoping that his young team can rise to the occasion and pull off a surprise. The top order showed against Punjab that they are not short of ability, but they will need to develop more productive partnerships if they are to post totals which challenge the likes of HCC.
BdJ: Kampong had a tough reintroduction to top-flight cricket last week, though it’s fair to say the rest of Group A will envy Punjab the chance to play them before the arrival of Pite van Biljon. HCC won’t be so lucky, but on the evidence available should still start as favourites on their first (and for the first phase only) outing on grass this season. While HCC’s locals have traditionally done better on familiar artificial wickets, Pringle and Worden will both likely be looking forward to the trip to Utrecht on Sunday.
RL: Voorburg complete a double weekend at home by taking on VOC Rotterdam. This is without doubt the match of the round, between two teams who seem among the strongest contenders for a semi-final place in four months’ time. That, of course, is a bold prediction, given how many things can go wrong along the way, but in their different ways both stand out among many of their rivals. One factor may favour the visitors: apart from the arrival of Max Hoornweg from Sparta, VOC have a settled team, whereas with at least four new players joining the Voorburg squad – Janneman Malan, Delano Potgieter, and the brothers Musa and Shariz Ahmad – it may be a little while before everybody has settled into their role. There might, therefore, be an advantage in playing Bas de Leede’s side earlier rather than later, and VOC certainly have the players to capitalise, especially if Voorburg show their accustomed reluctance to take opposing attacks by the scruff of the neck.
BdJ: Given a packed international schedule coming up, VOC will be looking to get as many wins in the bag as feasible before they are deprived of their international contingent, especially as there are significant questions around the Bloodhounds’ bench strength. Taking two points back from Westvliet is a tall order however, especially with VCC also at full strength. Certainly Voorburg took their time with the bat at Thurlede, but whether that is a product of an entrenched habit of caution or more of the loss of early wickets and a modest target is open to question. VOC of course have a formidable (if top-heavy) batting line-up of their own, but whether they have the bowling to hold off VCC either by containment or penetration is the chief concern.
RL: With ACC in the other group the only Amsterdam derbies in this season’s initial phase will be those between VRA and Dosti, who visit the Bos on Sunday. After two barren years Dosti will be hoping for brighter things this time round, especially if they are able to call upon Amitoze Singh and Shivam Sharma as well as Kuldeep Diwan to take some of the heat off their local contingent. But VRA started promisingly against Salland, and with South African paceman Eduard Visser and Dutch international allrounder Aryan Dutt enhancing their squad Peter Borren will be looking to his young side to keep up the pressure on more fancied outfits. Dosti, though, have the potential to pull of an upset here, and if their combination clicks they, too, could be contention to make the cut come mid-June.
BdJ: With reinforcements expected this week, Dosti will perhaps be more optimistic about their third fixture than either of their preceding matches, but VRA showed last week that despite something of a winter exodus they remain a capable outfit. The new generation at the Bos have yet to really establish themselves, but the likes of Vikram Singh, Udit Nashier and Shirase Rasool continue to improve, and with the arrival of Visser and Johan Smal there may even be some tricky selection questions ahead despite the departures of Cooper, Szwarczynski and Gunning. Though precisely who the visitors will be brining with them across the Amstel in not yet known, they will have to be at their best if they’re to take any points back across the water.
RL: After visiting Hazelaarweg on Saturday, Salland will move west to Thurlede on Sunday to take on Excelsior ‘20. The Overijssel outfit are not likely to face many easy opponents in the initial phase, and Excelsior will be as testing a challenge as any, especially on their own turf. Salland, though, are no strangers to grass wickets. Excelsior’s pace attack of Brett Hampton, Niels Etman and Rens van Troost, backed up by Rens Heinsbroek and the spin of Lorenzo Ingram and Umar Baker, is capable of causing problems for most sides, and if the Schiedammers’ batting is not quite as threatening as it once was it’s not (yet) clear that Salland have the bowlers to exploit any weakness. That said, if Victor Lubbers’ men are to put up a decent showing on their first appearance in the Topklasse, this is the kind of game they will need to win.
Excelsior have shown an uncharacteristic vulnerability at home this season, both in their opener against VCC and the week before in a warm-up against HBS, but losses to two pre-season favourites do not necessarily portend defeat at the hands of the newly-promoted Salland, who themselves look below their best. Lubbers himself had a poor day with bat and against VRA, and on the evidence we’ve seen it’s hard to see his side picking up many wins if that proves anything but a blip. Still more concerning was Salland’s generally slapdash fielding, a deficiency which the Deventer side will have to rapidly remedy if they are to be competitive in the top division. With looming international duty for the German contingent likely limit the number of games Salland contest at full strength, early wins are crucial to their survival chances, especially wins that may be carried forward to the second phase.
RL’s picks: Punjab, HBS, HCC, VOC, VRA, Excelsior.
BdJ’s picks: Punjab, HBS, HCC, VCC, VRA, Excelsior.