Round 1 preview

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 20/04/23

The winter tombola always means that the first round of matches is enigmatic even by the standards of the Topklasse, and the reversion to ten teams together with the arrival of a score of new or returning players and the usual clutch of transfers ensures that picking winners is pretty much an exercise in sticking a pin in a telephone directory (yes, I know, nobody remembers telephone directories). Add to all that the fact the opening fixtures all have plenty of intrinsic spice, and it’s more fun contemplating the encounters in prospect than it is trying to judge who might come out on top.

RJL: No question what the opening round’s Match of the Day is: the luck of the draw has ordained that last year’s grand finalists will kick off proceedings, and that they will do so at the scene of HCC’s triumph. Some of the cast of that event will be missing, most notably departed Voorburg captain Bas de Leede, but there will equally be some significant arrivals. HCC will welcome back Jonathan Vandiar, while the home side will counter with Michael Levitt and a brace of pacemen in Ryan Klein and Mees van Vliet. With places in the squad for the World Cup qualifier in Zimbabwe up for grabs there will be players on both sides especially keen to strut their stuff and a series of fascinating match-ups in both innings should make for an enthralling game. It would, however, not be unreasonable to expect Voorburg’s more seasoned attack to give their side the advantage this time.

BdJ: The same fixture as last year’s final, but a stretch to call it a rematch given the personnel changes on both sides over the winter. VCC’s acquisitions of van Vliet and Klein go some way toward covering the seam exodus, but more responsibility will rest on the shoulders of Viv Kingma to lead the attack. Newcomer Michael Levitt’s form, hitting back-to-back tons in pre-season, suggests he has acclimatised to Dutch conditions faster than some past VCC signings, while the brothers Ahmad return with a good deal more international experience under their belts. All told a tough game first up for an HCC side in a rebuild phase, though if Vandiar can match his form from last season it may be game on.

RJL: Opening day also features the first Rotterdam derby of the season, with Punjab playing host to VOC at Het Zomercomplex. Minus Vandiar, Nidamanuru and Salarazai, Punjab may find the going tough, and the contribution of the four Zulfiqar brothers seems likely to be even more important for the side’s prospects this season. Early breakthroughs against a VOC batting line-up which includes not only O’Dowd and Edwards but also the new overseas Lane Berry will be crucial to Punjab’s chances, with the evergreen Sohail Bhatti and Sulaiman Tariq backed up by the seam of Sikander Zulfiqar and his leg-spinning triplet brother Saqib. Berry’s arrival should add substance to a line-up which often looked brittle once the two internationals had departed, although non-one should underestimate the contributions of Jelte Schoonheim with both bat and ball.

BdJ: The importance of the Zulfiqar triplets to the Punjab line-up was rather underlined in pre-season, the Rotterdammers sliding to a 38-run loss to an understrength VRA side while the trio were away in Iberia with the A-side before handing out a 129-run drubbing to Excelsior on their return. This without even the services of prodigal pair Shoaib Minhas and Khurram Shahzad, who rejoin Punjab this season. Nonetheless the loss of Salarazai, who’s understood to have followed new-ball partner Ashiqullah Said to Belgium, leaves Punjab without their two most effective quicks from last season. VOC’s top order may already be eyeing up the short boundaries at the Zomercomplex, though even with the advent of Berry, O’Dowd and Edwards may have to be mindful of the long tail behind them. They will also be starting the season comparatively cold, VOC not featuring in any formal pre-season matches, while Punjab’s hitters already have their engines running.

RJL: Neither Capelle a/d Ijssel nor Schiedam would be happy to be seen as part of Rotterdam, but Excelsior ‘20’s visit to the Bermweg to take on Sparta 1888 also has something of the flavour of a local rivalry, spiced up this time by the transfer of Joost Kroesen to the Capelle club. Reinforced by the return of Garnett Tarr and the arrival of New Zealanders Clark and Ferguson as well as Kroesen, Sparta will be looking to improve on the surprising fourth spot they achieved in the 2020 half-season, and two points here are vital if they are to challenge for the top six. Excelsior, on the other hand, will be hoping that Michael Hart slots quickly into their top order, and that Lorenzo Ingram eases past the 38 runs he needs to pass 5000 in the Topklasse and goes on to add plenty more. The Schiedammers have a well-balanced attack, but Sparta are an unknown quantity at this point, and this could be one of the day’s more intriguing encounters.

BdJ: Tarr’s return alongside the two young Kiwi prospects certainly lends the Spartan batting a rather more intimidating look than last season, though settling into Dutch conditions is often a trial for newcomers and it’s rare for antipodean arrivals to replicate home form at once. Clarke and Ferguson both have plenty of the latter however, and judging by how Excelsior’s balanced attack went against Punjab last week this may prove a comparatively gentle introduction. Conversely Excelsior’s Michael Hart has had a rough welcome in preseason, clubbed for 75 off his 8 overs at the Zomercomplex and going little better with the bat. The Schiedammers will be hoping their new pro finds his feet quickly, especially with the ball, after last week’s alarming showing. That said it should be noted new ball pair Niels Etman and Rens van Troost were absent that day, and their return may lend the Excelsior attack a little more penetration.

RJL: The return of South African international Heino Kuhn to Het Loopveld is one of the bigger stories of the pre-season, and if anyone can generate energy at ACC you’d think it would be him. They start their campaign against a somewhat depleted HBS, who will be relying on their new captain Wesley Barresi to lead from the front. There’s been something of an exodus from Craeyenhout, the seam attack particularly depleted, and Kyle Klein and Benno Boddendijk will find themselves called upon to deliver against an ACC top order which has been reinforced not only by the advent of Kuhn but also with the transfer of Rahil Ahmed from Dosti. But the Amsterdammers are also missing their leading wicket-taker from last season, Mees van Vliet having moved to Voorburg, and it may be the spin trio of Mahesh Hans (another acquisition from Dosti), Anis Raza and young Zinesh Master which gives them their best chance of bowling out opposing sides.

BdJ:It was indeed ACC’s slow section that caused the most trouble for VRA in their warm-up last week, and though their batting looked extremely fragile as they were rolled for 100 exactly, that was without Kuhn and the returning Thomas Hobson in the line-up. All told ACC look a somewhat stronger side this season despite the departure of van Vliet, while HBS will be fielding a comparatively more callow outfit. Nonetheless they still boast last season’s top-scorer Tayo Walbrugh at the top of the order, who struck two centuries against ACC last season. Whether ACC have the bowling to get past him and Barresi (who also averaged almost 100 against them last season) will likely prove the key question on Saturday.

RJL: One of the questions we all have is how VRA Amsterdam will cope with the departure of Peter Borren, while a more immediate one on Saturday will be which Salland they will be facing in the Amsterdamse Bos. The Deventer side’s inconsistency last season had much to do with whether or not they were able to call on their German contingent, but they may have greater stability this time round with the addition of New Zealanders Fraser Bartholomew and Finn Raxworthy. Given how competitive they could be without this infusion of new blood, they could prove a handful for a Borrenless VRA, although the home side will be looking to Teja Nidamanuru and Australian import Tyler van Luin to anchor a batting line-up which also blew hot and cold last year. Vikram Singh’s evolution into an allrounder means he may bowl a good deal more this season, and VRA’s young but fairly incisive attack will doubtless be the better for Van Luin’s presence as well.

BdJ:It’s always difficult to judge how the arrival of a single new overseas will affect the fortunes of a previously struggling club, much less two. Indeed that’s arguably the principle reason that Topklasse sides fortunes’ careen wildly {] from one season to the next. Salland arguably rode their luck to Topklasse survival last season, but with the two newcomers and a full delegation from across the Eastern border they ought to have an easier time of it in 2023. The departure of Borren along with sometime keeper Mitch Lees leaves new skipper Leon Turmaine looking a little lonely in the leadership group, and how well he manages his young side will likely prove crucial to their fortunes over the season, and indeed on Saturday.

RL’s picks: Voorburg, Punjab, Sparta, ACC, VRA.

BdJ’s picks: Voorburg, Punjab, Sparta, ACC, VRA.

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