Round 4 preview

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 05/05/23

We’re just two weeks into the season but already the table looks to be splitting in half, with the top and bottom ends of the table separated by a huge gulf in net run rate, if not yet points. While Voorburg are clear at the top thanks only to having got an extra game in, the gap between them and ACC at the bottom already looks nigh-insurmountable. With a couple of catch-up games from Round 1 this Sunday giving up seven games total this weekend, there’s a every chance we’ll have a good idea who’ll be challenging for the title and who’s headed to the relegation battle barely a fortnight after the first ball was bowled.

BdJ: When frontrunners Voorburg head over to Craeyenhout to take on the beleaguered HBS they’ll have a decent chance at extending their lead at the top. As expected, the Crows’ batting has looked reliant on Walbrugh and Barresi, and the bowling has lacked for any real penetration. Voorburg meanwhile brushed aside Salland and then Excelsior for their second and third emphatic wins last week, Shariz Ahmad has been making hay, taking eleven wickets over the weekend. The showing of seamer Sajjad Kamal, up from the twos, suggests there’s plenty of depth in the VCC ranks, while Mees van Vliet also looks to have found some rhythm for his new club. VCC don’t quite have the batting depth or pace menace of previous seasons, but have looked arguably a stronger side. There’s been signs of promise in the new crop of youngsters at HBS, Swapnil Patel’s debut fifty in their opener stands out, but it would take something remarkable for them to deny Voorburg a fourth consecutive win.

RL: Barresi looked in really good nick during the Pro Series match on Wednesday, and HBS will need him and Walbrugh to be firing on all cylinders if they are to have a realistic chance of upsetting rampant Voorburg. But Michael Levitt and Noah Croes have done enough already to show that they are major assets in the Westvliet club’s top order, and the hard-pressed HBS attack will need to find additional incisiveness if they are to put their visitors under pressure. Voorburg are already looking like nailed-on top-six candidates, while HBS will need to raise their game considerably if they are to have any chance of avoiding a place in the bottom four.

BdJ: Similarly VOC Rotterdam will start as overwhelming favourites when they welcome Salland to Hazelaarweg. To say the VOC top order is in form would be an grotesque understatement. In their last three innings, one of which was cut short by rain, VOC have piled on north of 750 runs for the loss of just 14 wickets. Salland, meanwhile, have lost twice as many wickets for half as many runs so far this season. Fair to say we’ve not yet seen the best of their two new overseas, batter Finn Raxworthy and seamer Fraser Bartholomew, and if the pair find their feet Salland shouldn’t be total pushovers, especially at Hazelaarweg where their array of spinners may find assistance. VOC’s middle order may also be vulnerable if they Salland can get into them, but getting past the top three looks a challenge.

RL: It was Salland’s victory at the Hazelaarweg last season which was crucial to VOC missing out on the top half of their group table, and neither side will have forgotten that in the end the Deventer side finished four points ahead of their hosts. The advent of Lane Berry has given extra power to the Rotterdammers’ top order, though, and that in turn lightens the pressure on players like Tim de Kok and Burhan Niaz. And the way Arnav Jain and Max Hoornweg hot-knifed their way through the ACC batting last Sunday suggests that the Salland top five will need to be at their best to give their side any chance. Even when Piyarange Ottachchige and Venkat Ganesan put on 90 against Voorburg on Saturday, however, the batting collapse which followed reinforced the sense that Victor Lubbers’s team may struggle to reproduce last year’s relegation-avoiding performances.

BdJ: A third such fixture sees unbeaten Sparta 1888 take on winless ACC at ’t Loopveld, and again there’s been little to suggest an impending reversal of fortunes. ACC were abject last week against both Punjab and VOC, especially the latter. At the very least they’ll need more consistent contributions from their two South African pros, Thomas Hobson and Heino Kuhn (and ideally from Dosti refugees Ahmed and Hans) if they’re to avoid a similar outcome against Sparta, who look genuine top-table contenders this year. An experienced and in-form seam attack in Malik, Ahmadi and Bukhari, all of whom are also capable of contributing with the bat, lend the Spartans a look of stability they previously lacked. With the addition of Ferguson and Clark alongside the reutrning Garnett Tarr, who was in the runs against Punjab last week, Sparta have a deep batting line-up that looks capable of putting up serious totals, and it would take a whiplash-inducing turnaround at ’t Loopveld to deny them the points on Saturday.

RL: What the man said. Sparta are quite literally a different team this year, albeit still built around the familiar ex-international pairing of Ahsan Malik and Mudassar Bukhari, and while ACC were somewhat unfortunate on Sunday to come up against O’Dowd and Edwards in full cry, the have done little to suggest that they aren’t heading towards a battle to avoid relegation. Het Loopveld is a ground which traditionally favours the bowlers, but Sparta’s powerful batting line-up could nevertheless prosper there, and the home side’s attack, which did well against HBS in the rained-off opening-day fixture, will need to reproduce that form if they are to keep Sparta’s total within bounds. But it’s the Amsterdammers’ batting which gives greatest cause for concern, and skipper Kuhn will be looking for much more solid performances from his top six to make the side more competitive.

BdJ: VRA will also be looking to preserve an unbeaten record when they head down to Rotterdam to take on Punjab. The Amsterdammers have generally enjoyed their trips to the Zomercomplex, winning their previous three encounters there convincingly. They are, of course, now without long-serving skipper Peter Borren, who particularly enjoyed Punjab’s short boundaries. But successor Leon Turmaine has impressed in the role thus far, and has been known to cash in with the bat at the Zomercomplex himself. Likwise Johan Smal and Vikram Singh have gone well there recently, though the latter has picked up another injury in Wednesday’s Pro Series match and is unlikely to feature, Teja Nidamanuru will doubtless be looking forward to a return to his old home ground. That said, while Punjab’s 1-1 record this season arguably flatters their actual performance (their one win has come against ACC and they looked in trouble against VOC before the rain came) it perhaps also undersells their potential. Despite the loss of Vandiar, Myburgh and Nidamanuru Punjab had looked menancing in pre-season, and the performance of Mohammad Riaz last week at least suggests there’s more to the club than just Zulfiqars.

RL: The return of Shoaib Minhas and the arrival of Aaliyan Mahmood, Mohsin Riaz and Muhammad Shafiq has added a good deal to Punjab’s resources, and once they have settled into the side they seem likely to be a force in the top half of the table. But then so do VRA, whose cohort of younger players is well balanced by the experience of Turmaine, Johan Smal and Jack Balbirnie. It would not be a surprise, then, if these teams were to remain in contention all the way to August, and Saturday has the hallmarks of a genuine four-pointer. Defeat by Sparta on Sunday showed that Punjab are some way short of their title-winning form of two years ago, while VRA have looked much more convincing in their two-and-a-half games so far. Even without Vikram Singh the Amsterdammers will go into this important encounter as favourites.

BdJ: Excelsior will need to bounce back quickly from their loss to VRA and shellacking at the hands of VCC last weekend, as a home defeat to HCC would leave them in a near-inescapable hole. Certainly HCC look eminently beatable, despite cruising to victory over Salland last week they’ve not looked the part of defending champions thus far. Rather, HCC this season are something of a rarity – a side that looks like it could end up in either half of the table come the cut-off. Three new acquisitions have nonetheless impressed, Ratha Alphonse slotted in nicely at top of the order since moving from Kampong, behind only the prolific Vandiar in the runs for his new club. Daniel Doram also looks a more-than-useful replacement for the injured Tim Pringle. Having gathered substantial first class experience with Leeward Islands since he was last in the Netherlands a decade ago, the tall left-arm spinner is already back on the national selectors’ radar. Doram’s return to these shores means that, together with Clayton Floyd, HCC can still count on 20 overs of quality left-arm spin. Excelsior of course have ten of their own thanks to the stalwart Lorenzo Ingram, but the veteran will need more support from the rest of the side both with bat and ball if Excelsior are to turn their season around.

RL: Early-season form suggests that there will be room for one of these two sides in the top six but possibly not both, and this is accordingly the most significant match of the round – and the most difficult to predict. Key factors may be how the HCC top order cope with Excelsior overseas player Michael Hart, who bowled very well against VRA, and correspondingly how Excelsior deal with Doram, who bowled very well indeed in Wednesday’s Pro Series game. With 32 runs in six innings between them Tonny Staal and Boris Gorlee have had a rough start to their campaign for the defending champions, and they will be hoping to do much better here. But Excelsior remain a better side than they have been able to show until now, and with Tom Heggelman now the most experienced captain in the competition it would be unwise to write them off just yet. We’ve been desperately short of tight matches so far, but we might just get one here.

BdJ: Finally a couple of do-overs from Round 1 are on the schedule for Sunday, though VRA and HBS have both apparently managed to push back their catch-up games by a week owing to the departure of Netherlands A for England depriving them of a player or two. Punjab vs VOC and Sparta vs Excelsior will be going ahead though, and VOC and Sparta both look in good shape for a four-point weekend. While VOC were starting cold in their opener two weeks ago they’re quite the opposite now, and Sparta’s overseas have likewise had time to settle in. That said you’d expect at least an upset or two at some point. The season sure could use some.

RL: The form book certainly indicates that VOC and Sparta will start as strong favourites in these replays, assuming that this time the weather allows a result, although the Sparta-Excelsior game was the most evenly-poised when it was abandoned a fortnight ago. The Schiedammers’ attack would need to reproduce that effort to give their side a chance here, while Sulaiman Tariq will know that his bowlers will need to do much better against O’Dowd and Co. than they were able to achieve first time round. If there is a surprise on Sunday it seems more likely to be at the Bermweg, but then, the essence of a surprise is that it comes when you’re not looking for it.

BdJ’s picks: Voorburg, VOC, Sparta, VRA, HCC; VOC, Sparta.
RL’s picks: Voorburg, VOC, Sparta, VRA, Excelsior; VOC, Sparta.

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