Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 24/08/20
It’s the turn of the top six this Saturday, as the postponed Championship Pool matches from last Sunday are played the day before the final round of matches. Leaders Voorburg can afford to relax, but for everyone else there are burning issues to be settled: even bottom-placed VRA can squeeze into the top four with a brace of wins, while for the other four sides, level on points, two crucial matches will determine who gets a double crack at the grand final along with Voorburg and who misses out on a play-off place altogether. It could scarcely be a more thrilling climax to a unique Topklasse season.
BdJ: It remains a tough road to the top four for VRA and given their disadvantage in terms of points average and net run rate a win against HCC on Saturday looks necessary but perhaps not sufficient condition for a place in the play-offs. Word is HCC only reluctantly went along with the rescheduling, doubtless in part because VRA would otherwise miss two key players in Vikram Singh and Aryan Dutt, and potentially even skipper Peter Borren, while of HCC only Tim Pringle was currently in conclave with the national side. HCC being able to muster a full team for back to back fixtures this weekend is not a sure thing either, though by then VRA will be without the services of Johan Smal. The availability uncertainty makes prognosticating a tough task, but it seems as though HCC are the more worried of the two.
RL: One question is how quickly Pringle recovers from the toe injury he sustained in the second ODI against Pakistan, which may have contributed to his missing the final match of the series. That apart, HCC have the more balanced and experienced of the two attacks, although the key figure in their victory over Voorburg last time out was the least experienced of the lot, Felix Bennett. Neither side has performed consistently this season, but VRA have been particularly mercurial, and much will depend on whether they bring their A-game to De Diepput. Borren’s century against HBS was outstanding, and if he can repeat that form the Amsterdammers will have a real chance of extending their title challenge into the final game of the second round robin.
BdJ: Similarly Excelsior ‘20 will play HBS Craeyenhout a week late only under protest, with HBS originally implying they’d be willing to do without Ryan Klein and play this week only for Wesley Barresi to receive a surprise call-up. With Toby Visée in semi-retirement and Gavin Kaplan understood to be unavailable, the prospect of missing both Klein and Barresi too seemed a bit much for the Crows, who belatedly requested to move the match, to the Schiedammers’ evident irritation. The move does rather speak to HBS’s reliance on the quartet this season, with home-grown talents such as Ferdi Vink and Julien de Mey having a comparatively quiet 2022, the latter’s impressive rearguard stand at VRA notwithstanding. Excelsior too have gotten good value from Ingram and Hampton of course, but the local core of the side has generally offered more support. Walbrugh’s imperious form with the bat probably makes HBS marginal favourites at home, but it will likely take more than a solo effort to claim the points come next weekend.
RL: The encounter between these sides at Thurlede having been rained off with Excelsior in a fairly strong position at 175 for five, Roel Verhagen’s team will be keen to finish the job this time, especially since defeat here could put them at a real disadvantage in their battle to stay in the top four. The only one of the top six without any representative in the current national side, Excelsior have held their position by being more than the sum of their parts, helped of course by significant contributions with both bat and ball from Ingram and Hampton. Defeat by Punjab was clearly a major setback, but if Niels Etman and Tom Heggelman can get amongst the HBS top order early (and in particular if they can find a way of removing the always-threatening Walbrugh), they could have a real chance.
BdJ: Despite being secure in the top-spot already, Voorburg likewise have elected to wait on the return of their internationals before taking on Punjab. With the brothers Ahmad, Bas de Leede, Logan van Beek and Viv Kingma all on national duty that’s perhaps understandable, though only four of the five return to VCC as van Beek’s call-up for New Zealand A’s tour of India sees him miss the rest of the season. Still there’s no doubt every team but Punjab will be happy with the decision to postpone. That’s not to say the frontrunner’s victory is assured of course. Jonathan Vandiar has been in excellent touch and Punjab’s batting depth remains enviable. Nonetheless Voorburg are top of the table for a reason, and the very fact that they’re insisting on postponing the fixture suggests they’ve no intention of sliding to a second defeat this season.
RL: Released from the pressures of the national side’s busy programme, Voorburg’s bevy of Dutch representatives can focus on bringing the championship trophy to Westvliet for the first time – they were still playing at the old Duivesteijn ground when they took the title back in 2002 – and they are likely to prove a handful for the defending champions on Saturday. After losing four on the trot, including a 10-wicket defeat at the hands of Voorburg, Punjab came back in style with their 112-run win against Excelsior last time out, and they will need to raise their game still further if they are to reclaim a place in the top four this weekend. Vandiar’s tally of 476 runs in four innings is truly remarkable, and if he can further extend that run Voorburg could have a fight on their hands. But the home side’s overall strength seems likely to tell in the end.
BdJ’s picks: VRA, HBS, VCC.
RL’s picks: HCC, Excelsior, VCC.