Bertus de Jong 16/04/23
After comfortable finishes in the top half of the table last season big name departures over the winter at HBC Craeyenhout and Punjab Rotterdam have left both clubs with significant gaps to fill. While Punjab retain the services of the four Zulfiqar brothers, skipper Sulaiman Tariq nonetheless faces a rebuilding task with big name bats departing for pastures new and two Afghan quicks heading south. HBS meanwhile have seen a series of retirements leaving new skipper Wesley Barresi to take charge of a comparatively untested squad of youngsters.
Punjab’s strong early showing last season owed a lot to their lead scorer Jonathan Vandiar, who will be turning out for HCC this summer, and to all-rounder and new Netherlands international Teja Nidamanuru, who has left for VRA. Word is the prolific Stephan Myburgh may also spend more time on the sidelines than on the middle this season, having been brought into the national set-up in a coaching role. Add to that Afghan pace occasionals Samiullah Salarazai and Ashiqullah Said both playing their cricket South of the border in Belgium these days, and the Rotterdammers have lost close to half a side’s worth of first-choice players.
The core of the side remains intact however, the dependable Sulaiman Tariq will lead the attack and the side for another season, and be able to call on a full complement of Zulfiqars. Of the four, Rehmat and Asad have been a fairly reliable source of top-order runs, while Sikander and Saqib’s all-round talents lend the side a degree of balance and batting depth. The veteran Sohail Bhatti will likely have to shoulder more responsibility with both the new ball and with the bat down the order, but the Rotterdammers will be glad of the return of Shoaib Minhas and Khurram Shahzad after a four-season sojourn at Hermes.
Minhas and Shahzad played a key role with bat and ball in Punjab’s first season in the Topklasse prior to the arrival of the Zulfiqars, and their presence goes some way toward offsetting the effect of the departures over the off-season. Nonetheless it may take some time for the new-look side to bed in, and if there’s a return to the inconsistent selection and player rotation of the past it could well hamper Punjab’s season.
The steady presence of the four Zulfiqars at the Zomercomplex along with Tariq and reliable stalwarts such as Yasir Usman, Mubashar and Mudassar Hussain nonetheless ensures a degree of stability that ought to allow the Rotterdam side to weather the departures, and indeed their pre-season form gives considerable casue for optimism.
Meanwhile over at Craeyenhout HBS have seen a similar exodus, the Crows seeing with a string of senior retirements. Former skipper Ferdi Vink and his brother Stephan are both understood to be hanging up their spikes, along with all-rounder Navjit Singh and the explosive keeper-bat Tobias Visée. Player coach Gavin Kaplan will also be absent this season, while Ryan Klein has moved to VCC, though his younger brother Kyle remains at HBS.
The experienced Wesley Barresi will take over the captaincy for the 2023, and will be able to call on the experience of now well-integrated overseas bat Tayo Walbrugh to provide some continuity at the top of the order at least. Should Walbrugh replicate his form from last season, when he finished top of the run tables with 844 runs at an average over 60, it should go some way to smoothing what otherwise looks a potentially rough transitional year for the Crows.
The loss of Singh, Visée, Vink and Klein leaves the top order looking rather thin otherwise, and the HBS faithful will hope Reese Mason can grow into a senior role at the top and that slow southpaw Julian de Mey recovers some of his past form with the bat. Leading the attack will be new acquisition Nic Adendorff, a right arm seam-bowling all-rounder brought over by Barresi from the Titans academy.
For the rest the season will be something of a baptism of fire for the youth and second-team graduates that make up the remainder of the squad. Bowlers Benno Boddendijk and Yoran Visée boast a modicum of top-flight experience, though all told the seam attack looks rather green. Keeper-bat Martijn Scholte has also had a run in the firsts without quite finding his feet, and HBS will hope he and graduates Adil Ahmed, Elmar Boendermaker and Leon Stadhouder will be able to grow into their roles.
In the circumstances survival will presumably be the first goal for the venerable Hague side, who will not want to repeat their brief stint in the Hoofdklasse a decade ago. Much will depend on captain Barresi, not only to contribute with bat and ball but also to get the best out of a comparatively inexperienced side.