Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 29/04/22
We’re still just two weeks into the 2022 Season, but it’s fair to say that the pre-season favourites on both sides of the draw have already established a degree of dominance, with VCC, Punjab and HBS all three from three and the former especially having stamped their authority on Group B. While it’s still early days, it does look like most of the tension will be in the mid-table(s) for the first phase at least.
BdJ: Defending champions Punjab Rotterdam will look to consolidate their spot at the top of the Group A table when they take on Sparta 1888 at Bermweg, though having made something of a meal of a two-figure chase against ACC last week they have reason to be wary of a Sparta attack that has begun to find its stride. Belgium international Khalid Ahmadi currently leads the wicket-taking tables in the competition, and together with Mudassar Bukhari and Ahsan Malik Sparta have the makings of a pace attack that could trouble the title-holders. Nonetheless it should be noted that Stephan Myburgh did not bat on Sunday and Punjab’s batting card is stronger than anything the Spartans have yet bowled at, while the Bermweg side’s own batting has looked suspect at best. While another two points for Punjab is not a foregone conclusion, a win for the hosts would be a significant upset.
RL: Nor should we forget Nasratullah Ibrahimkhil when we tally up Sparta’s seam resources, but Punjab have picked up Ashiqullah Said and Safiullah Salarazai over the winter, and the latter in particular has looked like an extremely valuable acquisition. With Suleiman Tariq on the spot as ever and Sohail Bhatti having rejoined the ranks on Sunday, the champions’ seam attack looks even stronger than it was last year, when it consistently kept opposing batting line-ups under the cosh. And notably, Sikander Zulfiqar has barely had a bowl so far. How successful Sparta’s bowlers are likely to be against Punjab’s formidable top six is, of course, another matter, and even with the odd sign of frailty in that department the Rotterdammers appear strong enough to make sure of the points.
BdJ: At the toe-end of the table the still winless ACC welcome the likewise thrice-beaten Kampong to het Loopveld, with both teams needing to break their duck if they’re to keep any realistic hope of avoiding the relegation pool. ACC’s renovated team has looked rather less than the sum of its parts thus far, with their trio of South African signings yet to find any consistency and single digit scores the norm for the rest of the batting. The sole consistent performer thus far has been ACC’s own Mees van Vliet, who has taken three wickets in each of the first three games. Similarly for Kampong it has been young Alex Roy that has stood out with the ball, his seven wickets thus far accounting for more than half their total tally for the season. With Cole Briggs yet to find his feet in the competition Kampong have certainly felt the absence of their headline overseas signing in Pite van Biljon, Ratha Alphonse the only Kampong bat to have passed 100 runs for the season so far. With early signs suggesting both sides might end up in the lower pool for the second phase, they’ll be doubly keen to get points on the board on Saturday given that said points could well stay there all season.
RL: Another four-pointer at the lower end, with Kampong having looked a little more convincing so far than their opponents this week. They gave HBS a run for their money last Saturday, and if they struggled for runs against HCC the following day, it took the combined efforts of Zac Worden and Hidde Overdijk to raise the tempo for the first time in the match. Both sides have produced bits-and-pieces efforts in their first three games, ACC fighting hard in the field to defend impossibly low totals, but they really need their batters to find some consistent form if they are to lift themselves away from the depths of looming relegation. Usman Malik has occupied the crease for long periods for Kampong, but his side’s bowling, Roy apart, has been rather pedestrian, and if ACC are to bat themselves into form they may not get a better opportunity than this throughout the first phase.
BdJ: Of the unbeaten sides, HBS Craeyenhout have looked the most beatable, and in third-placed HCC face their sternest test of the season thus far on Sunday. The HBS batting has been somewhat inconsistent so far in the season despite its enviable depth, bowled out for just 137 at Bermweg last week and needing Ryan Klein to bail them out with the ball. HBS do lead the century count for the season though with both Tayo Walbrugh and Toby Visée both tonning up against ACC and Kampong respectively, and should the Crows’ line-up fire at once they could put the game beyond HCC. Nonetheless this is probably the toughest match of the week to call, with HCC’s new overseas Tim Pringle and Zac Worden both settling in well and Hidde Overdijk in fine form with bat and ball HCC look entirely capable of breaking their hosts’ nascent winning streak.
RL: The move from Saturday is part of the HBS club’s Super Sunday, but as m’colleague observes, HCC undoubtedly have the potential to spoil the party and move level with their hosts. More important, perhaps, with both sides very likely to proceed to the Championship pool, points garnered now could be crucial in the battle for play-off places at the back end of the season. With three half-centuries in as many innings Worden really looks the part, and the comparison between the Australian and HBS’s Walbrugh will be one of many fascinating features of this encounter. HCC certainly have the more balanced attack, although the combination of Ryan and Kyle Klein gives additional cutting edge to the Crows’ line-up, and they bat deeper than their opponents. But the fact that this has been evident reveals a certain fragility in the top order, and all in all HCC probably start as favourites here.
BdJ: 2021 runners-up Voorburg will be the first team to make the trip out to Deventer to take on newly-promoted Salland, and with Logan van Beek back to strengthen an already intimidating team they’ll be confident of bringing points back. Though Janneman Malan has not looked entirely at home on the rather sluggish early-season Dutch wickets, VCC have had little trouble so far, with Delano Potgieter adjusting quickly and Bas de Leede in fine form with the bat. Salland have had a tough reintroduction to the top flight so far, the form of skipper Victor Lubbers of particular concern, though they showed against VOC that if they can get runs on the board they have a sufficiently disciplined slow bowling attack to choke teams out. With a general reluctance to force the pace with the bat and particularly cautious approach to spin the closest thing to a weakness in the VCC side, Salland may think the match-up rather suits them. Nonetheless the Voorburgers are pre-season favourites for good reason, and an awful lot would have to go right for the hosts if they are to orchestrate an upset.
RL: Salland’s victory over VOC last Saturday was the one big upset of the season to date, but a win against Voorburg would surpass that and then some. Venkat Ganesan has been the Deventer side’s main asset in their initial games, especially against VOC, with Sahir Naqash and Elam Bharathi also making useful contributions. But that’s a long way short of a winning combination, and when one views Voorburg’s assembly of potential match-winners it’s hard to see anything other than a comfortable victory for the group leaders.
BdJ: Third-placed VRA will also be hitting the road for the first time in the season when they head down to Hazelaarweg to take on VOC Rotterdam. Given the winter exodus at Amstelveen, VRA will be fairly pleased to be in the top half of the table, and a win against the struggling VOC could go a long way toward keeping them there. Though Eric Szwarczynski and Ben Cooper have been hard to replace in the batting line-up, unheralded newcomers Eduard Visser and Anish Shah have proved their talents with the new ball, and if Johan Smal turns out as effective with the bat then VRA may suddenly look a surprisingly strong outfit. Conversely VOC continue to look dependent on their trio of internationals, with Max O’Dowd and Scott Edwards forced to adopt a cautious approach at the top of the order owing to the fragility of the rest of the batting, and Pieter Seelaar shouldering more responsibility with the ball than he might like. They remain a tough team to beat at home however, and it’s doubtful whether VRA’s new pair of pacers will find much reward at Hazelaarweg. Rather the visitors will likely look to young slow bowlers Udit Nashier and Aryan Dutt together with the experienced Leon Turmaine to try to replicate Salland’s success.
RL: The traditional rivalry between these two sides has taken on a new dimension this season, with both likely to be in a tough contest for one of two spots in the Championship group. VOC had a nightmare weekend, losing to Salland as well as to Voorburg, while VRA, having been demolished by Excelsior, recovered with a thoroughly convincing victory against bottom-of-the-table Dosti. VOC have suffered further with the knee injury to the dependable Bobby Hanif, and although the advent of Max Hoornweg has compensated to a degree for the loss to Sparta of the experienced Ahsan Malik, the Rotterdammers’ attack looks less than overwhelming. The batting is, of course, always dangerous if O’Dowd or Edwards gets going, but even the contribution of teenager Burhan Niaz has failed to lend conviction to the line-up. VRA’s own frailties were all too evident against Excelsior, but Peter Borren and Jack Balbirnie remain key to the Amsterdam side’s success, and in Vikram Singh and Shirase Rasool they have young talents more than capable of taking on the VOC bowling.
BdJ: Finally Dosti will also be heading south to take on Excelsior ‘20 at Thurlede. The Drieburgers have yet to find their first win of the season despite impressing in patches, and there’s little to suggest that they’ll break their streak on Saturday. Wahid Masood remains the only Dosti bat to have managed a half-century, and while the bowling has looked disciplined they have yet to bowl a team out. Conversely Excelsior are coming off the back of two emphatic wins, having bowled out VRA and then Salland last week for less than 200 runs combined, and lost just four wickets over the entire weekend. Though one might make the case that Excelsior’s batting was found wanting on the one occasion that it’s been genuinely tested, nonetheless bar the arribval of belated reinforcements at Dosti it’s difficult to see them turning over the Schiedammers on their own turf.
RL: In a highly-competitive group every win is vital, not only for the points gained but potentially for net run rate as well, and Excelsior will be looking for a convincing victory over the still-hapless Dosti. Strikingly, no-one has yet posted a fifty for the Schiedammers, Lorenzo Ingram’s 41 against Voorburg their best so far, but Excelsior are, as they have so often been, more than the sum of their parts, and they have unquestionably been boosted by the arrival of Brett Hampton, who proved his worth in the demolition of VRA. In the absence of the promised reinforcements Dosti continue to look out of their depth, even with the battling efforts of Wahid Masood with both bat and ball, and the Drieburgers will be looking for more decisive contributions from Kuldeep Diwan if they are to lift themselves out of their three-year doldrums.
BdJ’s picks: HBS, ACC, Punjab, VRA, VCC, Excelsior
RL’s picks: HCC, Kampong, Punjab, VRA, VCC, Excelsior.