Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 28/04/23
Given that at the time of writing we don’t know the outcome of Saturday’s matches and we only have one complete (if rain-affected) game to go on, anything below is bound to be a bit provisional. An early-season double weekend is an interesting phenomenon, in part the result of the need to compress the Topklasse season because of (a) the once-more aborted Euroslam and (b) the World Cup qualifier in Zimbabwe in June; we don’t have the stats, but memory suggests that clubs often have great difficulty managing two wins on successive days. Still, let’s go with what we know . . .
RJL: ACC’s attack did very well on their own (astro)turf against HBS on the opening day, and will now face a VOC Rotterdam top order which seems likely to be a much more formidable proposition. As Punjab discovered all too clearly, it’s vital to remove VOC’s Big Three of O’Dowd, Berry and Edwards if you’re to have any chance of restricting them to a moderate score. Not that they don’t have plenty of resources in the middle order, with Tim de Kok, Burhan Niaz and Jelte Schoonheim all capable of chiming in if needed. The Amsterdammers’ batting is, by contrast, an unknown quantity, although any line-up with Heino Kuhn in it demands plenty of respect. VOC’s bowling has been strengthened by the arrival of Asief Hoseinbaks from Dosti, although that may mean that there are fewer opportunities for young Siebe van Wingerden. But the fact remains: if ACC can’t achieve early breakthroughs it looks as if the task might be too great for them.
BdJ: Given the amount of changes to this ACC line-up it’s a little early to judge the strength of the side, but on the early evidence their threat with the ball lies in their slow bowlers. Yet even if they are able to get past VOC’s top order, the promotion of Arnav Jain to open alongside O’Dowd frees up Edwards to take a floating role in the middle order, and as a counter to spin there’s few better. VOC remain a batting-heavy side of course, and it’s fair to say the arrival of Hoseinbaks from Dosti doesn’t quite make up for the absence of Pieter Seelaar. Whether ACC have the batting to take advantage is open to question, but certainly Kuhn’s return doesn’t hurt.
RJL: As we keep saying, this Sparta side looks a lot more challenging to its opponents than its immediate predecessors, and their encounter with Punjab at the Bermweg on Sunday has the makings of a titanic battle. Mudassar Bukhari looked on the opening day as if his hunger for runs is very far from diminished, and with his fellow ex-international Ahsan Malik still spearheading the attack the home side may be a little sharper than that of Punjab. The men in green were without Sohail Bhatti on the opening day, and he would add some incisiveness to the Punjab new-ball attack were he to play. There remain questions, though, about the consistency of the Spartans’ top order, and they will need Sam Ferguson, Garnett Tarr and Will Clark all to get among the runs if they are to counter Punjab’s powerful top five.
BdJ: Punjab certainly looked to be at least one bowler light against VOC, and while Sparta’s new-look top order doesn’t look to have quite settled into Dutch conditions yet the quality is there to take advantage. It was Saqib Zulfiqar that was the chief architect of their collapse in the last completed match between the two, however, and while the loss of Myburgh and Vandiar leave some big shoes to fill, there’s little evidence to suggest that Punjab are incapable of running up serious scores. The seam trio of Bukhari, Malik and Khalid Ahmadi provide plenty of wicket-taking potential, but if a pair of Punjab bats can get set then containment may prove difficult.
RJL: Excelsior ‘20 are next up in the Who’s-Got-What-It-Takes-to-Beat-Voorburg? Contest, which last year ran until the end of May, when it turned out that the answer was VOC (this involves the assumption that Salland didn’t spring a surprise on Saturday). We can keep singing the praises of a Voorburg side which seems to have all the bases covered, but Excelsior’s main strength may turn out to be the sheer experience they are able to bring to the game: five key members of the team have played nearly 850 top flight matches between them, winning the title three times out of six attempts, and that can’t be discounted, even against the team of all the talents that Voorburg has assembled. Hart vs. Levitt will be an interesting match-up, but no-one should underestimate the capacity of Lorenzo Ingram to turn a game, either with bat or ball. None of which means that the home side won’t go into this game strong favourites.
BdJ: The enduring influence of the evergreen Ingram, 40 years young as of a fortnight ago, has been indispensable to Excelsior’s success over the years, and there’s been little sign of him slowing down in recent seasons. The continued development of Niels Etman also affords Excelsior an enviable left-right new ball pairing with Hart, and while VCC’s top order remains imposing, the batting isn’t as deep as it was last season. The VCC bowling unit is perhaps the more intimidating aspect of the side, with 20 overs of quality legspin and another 20 over international standard seam available to new skipper Sybrand Engelbrecht. While Excelsior certainly have as good a shot as anyone at taking points off VCC, it indeed remains a long one.
RJL: After two tricky away games HCC will doubtless be glad to get back to De Diepput, where they will face Salland on Sunday. A double weekend with a trip to Den Haag will be a big ask for Salland’s itinerant squad, and they won’t relish the prospect of trying to contain Tonny Staal and Jonathan Vandiar on the champions’ historic but diminutive home ground. It’s a big ask for the champions to regroup after their losses since last season, but there’s enough talent in their squad to more than hold their own in what promises to be an intensely competitive campaign even by Topklasse standards. Their first objective (like everybody else’s, no doubt) will be the secure a place in the top six, and for that a win against Salland might be thought to be a sine qua non. As always, a lot depends on who the Overijssel side are able to bring to the Randstad, but they will certainly be hoping to improve on their rather dismal effort on the opening day.
BdJ: Assembling a first-choice eleven is invariably a tougher task for Salland than most sides, as evidenced by the amount of time the venerable Steven Lubbers spent on the field for them last season. That said the arrival of two young Kiwi overseas in Finn Raxworthy and Fraser Bartholomew may alleviate that issue somewhat, though the Deventer side will be looking for a better showing with the bat this weekend from Raxworthy at least. He should have a somewhat easier time of it at de Diepput if he can adapt to a mat, HCC’s seam attack looking rather innocuous on Saturday. We’ve not had a look at the Salland attack yet given the rain at the Bos and their lack of warm-up games, but if they can get a full strength side to the Hague there likely won’t be much to hit on offer for the hosts. Salland’s stated objectives this season don’t rise much higher than survival, but two points collected at de Diepput would certainly help that cause.
RJL: Having demolished most of Salland’s batting on Day 1 VRA will be keen to repeat the dose against HBS, who were suffering a similar experience against ACC more or less simultaneously on the other side of Amstelveen, and who will now come to the Amsterdamse Bos to face what looks to be a very decent side. Having last year managed to be rather less than the sum of its parts last season, VRA will be hoping that new skipper Leon Turmaine is able to pull together his squad’s mix of youth and experience, the former part of the rich legacy Peter Borren leaves behind him, and they certainly made a promising start last Saturday. For HBS the challenge is to absorb the much greater numerical losses they have suffered, and their new captain Wesley Barresi, returning to the ground where he really built his Dutch reputation, will be he and Tayo Walbrugh meet conditions a little more conducive to batting than last week’s. On the other hand, it’s the Crows’ attack which has been most severely depleted, and with Singh, Rasool, Balbirnie et al. in the VRA top order favourable batting conditions might do the home side even more favours.
BdJ: While there were no particular demons in the VRA deck last Saturday, certainly nothing to justify the scoreline when the rain came, it would be foolish to arrive at the Bos in April expecting a late summer road, and both Barresi and Walbrugh’s most recent big scores at the ground have come toward the back end of the season. While it remains to be seen whether Turmaine can marshal the resources at his disposal as astutely as Borren did, it’s fair to say he has more to work with than Barresi, who leads an HBS side at the very base of what looks a mountainous rebuilding phase. The bowling especially looks rather thin, and one suspects Barresi will have to contribute as much with ball as with bat if the Crows are to score an upset.
RL’s picks: VOC, Sparta, Voorburg, HCC, VRA.
BdJ’s picks: VOC, Punjab, Voorburg, HCC, VRA.