Rod Lyall and Bertus de Jong 26/08/2022
Writing this before the penultimate round of Championship Pool matches adds an element of unreality to the exercise: by Saturday evening we will have a clearer idea of what five of the top six will need to do on Sunday to make the semi-finals, or indeed whether that is still possible. In the Relegation Pool things are much more certain: most of the attention will be on events at the Bermweg, where Sparta and Dosti have a shoot-out to decide which of them gets the lifeline of a play-off against the champions of the Hoofdklasse (currently likely to be Hermes-DVS or Quick Haag, or just possibly Rood en Wit or Bloemendaal). The other four Relegation Pool sides will be playing for pride, and perhaps with an eye to next year.
RL: Depending upon the outcome of their Saturday encounters against HBS and VRA respectively, Excelsior and HCC may well be battling to stay in the four (in Excelsior’s case) or to hold on to second position, with its double-crack at the grand final (in HCC’s). Excelsior have the advantage of literally playing on their own turf, but they also know that despite a valiant Lorenzo Ingram century they fell just short against these opponents at De Diepput after Tonny Staal had hammered 143. Niels Etman, Tom Heggelman and Brett Hampton are a different proposition at Thurlede, but Excelsior will need early wickets to contain HCC’s batting line-up, while they will equally need their own top order to perform well against a well-balanced HCC attack. The Lions are finishing strongly after a patchy start to the campaign, but with so much at stake this is likely to be a very tight game indeed.
BdJ: With both teams reluctantly facing a double-header there’s a real question of what sort of a side each will be able to muster for the second fixture. The late notice for last Saturday’s switch is understood to have caused player-availability headaches for both captains for the weekend, and it’s possible the outcome will be determined by just how successful Gorlee and Heggelman have been in their respective last minute ring-rounds. One thing that is certain however, is that the hosts will be without Brett Hampton, whose departure will put even more on the shoulders of Ingram in the middle order, especially when it comes to dealing with HCC’s left arm spin threat.
RL: Having played fewer matches than their main rivals for a top four spot HBS Craeyenhout can be fairly sanguine about their final-round encounter with Voorburg at Westvliet, and will be especially so if they carry into this game the points from Saturday. There’s little more to say about the attributes of a Voorburg side which has lost just twice all season, and which will presumably be intent on completing their regular programme in style as they move into the finals phase. At their best (which means with Tayo Walbrugh and Wesley Barresi on song with the bat and Ryan Klein and Ferdi Vink cutting through with the ball) the Crows can be a match for anyone in the competition, and after being in second spot for much of the second phase they will be very keen to regain that privileged place if its humanly possible. With 809 runs under his belt with at least three matches (and perhaps as many as five) to go, moreover, Walburgh has an outside chance of becoming the first batter since 2017 to reach 1000 runs in a top-flight season.
BdJ: Another two teams hit with late-season departures, HBS are understood to be without Gavin Kaplan (and likely the semi-retired Toby Visée who has been only intermittently available all season) while Voorburg have lost Logan van Beek, who received a summons from New Zealand A over the weekend. The latter’s call-up alongside former Netherlands team-mate and newly-ascended Blackcap Michael Rippon will be of concern to the Oranje fans too of course, though such questions rather beyond the remit of a lowly Topklasse preview. The rest of VCC’s international contingent will be back however, having given good account of themselves against Pakistan. The game will of course be an exercise in momentum-building for the Voorburgers, already assured of the top spot, while for HBS it may yet prove decisive.
RL: Whether VRA Amsterdam still have a chance of reaching the four at 11:00 on Sunday will depend on Saturday’s events, and in particular on whether they have managed to bring the points back to Amstelveen from De Diepput. Either way, Peter Borren’s side will want to finish the regular season with a win over Punjab Rotterdam, whose own prospects of a semi-final spot may well demand a win here. They will, of course, be without Johan Smal, while Punjab will still have Jonathan Vandiar, the continuation of whose purple patch looks crucial to their hopes of – unlikely though it may appear from here – successfully defending their Topklasse title. If the weather holds the VRA ground could be the setting for a bonanza of runs, but that would need the home side’s top order to show what it is capable of rather more successfully than they have done for much of the season.
BdJ: While Ireland women did manage to rack up a record score there on Wednesday, the VRA square looks to be showing the effects of a long season in recent weeks. Neither the pitch nor the outfield are likely to be near as quick as they were when England visited, nor the boundaries as near as they were at the Zomercomplex when these sides last met. Despite the limitations of both sides bowling, expect runs to be somewhat harder to come by that in their last encounter, and fielding to have a more discernible role in the game. Depending on how other games shake out this fixture could prove a de-facto eliminator or an irrelevance to composition of the final four, though it will surely be keenly contested regardless.
RL: Nowhere will more be at stake on Sunday than at Sportpark Bermweg, where the loser of the encounter between Sparta 1888 and Dosti Amsterdam will head into next year’s Hoofdklasse, while the winners will meet this season’s Hoofdklasse champions to decide whether they stay up. Dosti began their three-match winning run by beating Sparta at Drieburg on 7 August, while Sparta lost four on the trot before beating a greatly-weakened VOC last Saturday. Now without Samit Gohil, Sparta are even more reliant on Mudassar Bukhari (who may, it is rumoured, retired after this game) and Ahsan Malik, while Dosti’s sudden return to winning form owes much to Amitoze Singh, Kuldeep Diwan and Waheed Masood. Dosti’s escape would be Houdini-esque were they to pull it off, and it is unquestionably they who will travel to Capelle with the wind in their sails.
BdJ: It’s faintly odd to be talking about the momentum of a side that’s barely won a game in the last two years, but there’s no question Dosti have looked a different team in the last few weeks. While Singh and Diwan have certainly started pulling their weight, they seem to have dragged the rest of the team in the same direction too. Vinoo Tewarie, Waqas Raja and Asief Hoseinbaks have also added occasional contributions, and a modicum of self-belief has crept into the Dosti dressing room. It will take something of a turnaround in the Spartan camp to derail the long-delayed Dosti train now, though a Bukhari valedictory could certainly still sink his old club.
RL: A strong second phase has seen Salland Deventer firmly established at the top of the pool table and confirmed as part of next year’s ten-team Topklasse, while ACC can travel to Het Schootsveld secure in the knowledge that despite last week’s loss to Dosti they, too, have avoided the drop, by virtue of having a better points average than any rivals even if they lose again here. Whether Salland’s Germans can outdo ACC’s South Africans is likely to be a key issue, although the brothers Lubbers for the hosts and Mees van Vliet for the Amsterdammers will ensure plenty of local interest as well.
BdJ: While of no particular import to the competition, the season’s final fixture still offers ACC and Salland the chance to finish on a high, the latter especially have something of a point to prove in their first season in the top-flight (in this incarnation at least). Young van Vliet has his place at the top of the wicket-taking table to shore-up before ACC sit out the final phase, while Smith and Hobson will both be eyeing up 500-run seasons. It may only be pride on the line, but then neither side lacks for that.
RL: VOC Rotterdam, likewise, are safe as houses, while Kampong Utrecht make the journey to the Hazelaarweg knowing that after a very disappointing season they are heading back to the Hoofdklasse. It would pretty much cap things off if, having beaten Punjab and HCC in Phase One, they were to add VOC to their scalps, but in reality a higher priority ought to be starting the process of building a side capable of gaining promotion again next year. In Alex Roy, Kertan Nana, Pierre Jacod and Tushar Sharma they have the nucleus of a much better team than they have been able to show this season, and they will doubtless have benefited from an exposure which cannot have been easy at times. VOC, also, have work to do, if they are to overcome their dependence on O’Dowd, Edwards and Seelaar, which narrowly cost them a place in the top six this year. There may not seem to be much to play for at the Hazelaarweg, but finishing the season with a strong performance would offer the players some slight consolation. #ThereAreNoDeadRubbers.
BdJ: Kampong have certainly been dealt a rough hand by the format-fates this season, playing most of their away games on mats and then seeing most of their hard-won points evaporate at the phase-change, and may well feel their impending return to the Hoofdklasse is something of an injustice. The loss of Pite van Biljon to illness at the crunch phase and stop-gap replacement Tom Cooper’s insistence on scoring all his runs against Pakistan rather than the likes of Salland or Dosti did not help their cause either, though their reliance on overseas players for runs (albeit a failing they share with luckier sides) suggests the step up to Topklasse was one they weren’t quite ready for. They will doubtless have a point to prove against the Bloodhounds come Sunday though, while VOC will likely be glad to return to their accustomed happy-go-lucky approach to Topklasse competition in a pressure-free finale. Said insouciance has rarely prevented O’Dowd or Edwards from racking up runs of course, nor even the mercurial Tim de Kok on occasion. With Cooper back in Australia already, Kampong’s attack will need to be at their best and the batting considerably better if they’re to take another scalp back down to the Hoofdklasse.
RL’s picks: Excelsior, Voorburg, VRA, Dosti, Salland, VOC
BdJ’s picks: HCC, Voorburg, VRA, Dosti, ACC, VOC