Round 5 Preview

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 11/05/23

One thing about the structure of this year’s Topklasse is that Phase 1 is more a sprint than a marathon: we’re still not halfway into May, and we’re already up to the halfway point in the race to decide which six sides will contest the championship when the competition resumes in July, and which four will be fighting relegation. Which means that even at this stage some matches are of absolutely vital significance for the clubs involved.

RL: One such is the encounter between HCC and HBS at De Diepput. Still looking for their first win, the Crows will have been encouraged by their effort against table-topping Voorburg last Saturday, but they need to go one step further and start putting points on the board if they are to escape the drop which is already beginning to loom. HCC, on the other hand, will need to recover quickly from the way in which their batting fell apart against Excelsior; without the injured Jonathan Vandiar they succumbed all too tamely, and although Daniel Doram is a potential match-winner with the ball, he obviously needs to have a half-decent total to bowl at (or be given the chance to bowl first). The HBS recovery from a seemingly desperate position into one in which they had an outside chance of pulling off an upset was due very largely to Tayo Walbrugh’s first substantial innings of the season, and HCC will want to see the back of him as quickly as possible if they are to get their campaign back on course with victory over a Crows side which is even more depleted than theirs.

BdJ: The absence of Vandiar rather exposed an underperforming HCC batting order last week, despite the depth added by bowling all-rounder such as Doram, Floyd and Hidde Overdijk down the order and the addition of Ratha Alphonse at the top, the Lions will be looking to the now-experienced Gorlee and Staal to find some form. HBS’s tactic of dropping Walbrugh down the order with Barresi to act as backstop or finishers for an inexperienced batting card almost paid off against VCC, and it’s unlikely they’ll need 320-odd to take points home on Saturday. Nonetheless the bowling department is more of a concern for the Crows than it is even for a seam-strapped HCC. The latter remain favourites on paper, the former on form. Tough call.

RL: One of the more remarkable performances of last weekend was Salland’s defeat of VOC, and they will want to repeat the dose when they welcome Excelsior ‘20 to Het Schootsveld. With their two overseas players beginning to feel at home, Fraser Bartholomew with the ball and Finn Raxworthy with the bat, and the German contingent led by Venkat Ganesan also performing well, Victor Lubbers’s side could prove a handful for an Excelsior team in which Lorenzo Ingram is once again proving his enormous worth. But having demolished HCC on Saturday the Schiedammers were unable to defend their total of 221 against Sparta on Sunday, which will be a source of some concern as they travel to Deventer. The return of Roel Verhagen, currently as a specialist batter, is a bonus, but Michael Hart’s five wickets in five innings at an average cost of 30-plus does less than justice to his efforts as the spearhead of their attack, and they will be hoping that he can get amongst the Salland top order.

BdJ: It’s been the ever-improving Niels Etman that’s looked the more threatening spearhead for Excelsior thus far this season, though it’s perhaps unfair to judge Hart on his efforts bowling off four steps on a wet mat last week. Yet while the weather’s looking better for Saturday the Australian’s unlikely to feel much more at home bowling in Deventer’s oh-so-very-Dutch conditions. It’s been his batting that’s earned his keep in Schideam so far this season, and indeed what Excelsior have needed with Verhagen and Lorenzo Ingram the only other bats averaging over 15. If Salland can get as much out of their two new overseas as Excelsior traditionally get out of theirs then they could yet prove a handful at home, but there’s a lot riding on Raxworthy in particular to shore up the batting.

RL: Having suffered their first defeat at Het Zomercomplex last Saturday, VRA Amsterdam will be keen to make sure of the points when they take on Amstelveen rivals ACC in the Amsterdam derby in the Bos this week. Their batting struggled against Punjab’s nagging attack, and they will be hoping that Vikram Singh has recovered from injury and is again able, not only to open but also to add his pace to the attack. Their opponents came back well from their double defeat the previous weekend to surprise Sparta last Saturday, and Shreyas Potdar will enjoy his return to the Bos, where he made a hundred, admittedly against a rather raw Under-18 attack, in a midweek game ten days ago. With Heino Kuhn and Thomas Hobson getting starts against Sparta the Amsterdammers’ batting looked a lot less fragile, but VRA remain strong in all departments of the game, and will certainly start as favourites here.

BdJ: Some profoundly questionable shot selection saw the VRA top order dig their side into a hole last week, and the return of Singh as a bat at least ought to relieve some of the pressure. With questions as to whether he and Visser both will be fit to bowl, however, the attack may be missing some of its usual bite. ACC’s humiliation at the hands of VOC seems to have done them some good too, though they’ll want more out of both Hobson and Kuhn if they’re to be remotely competitive this season. Overseas do tend to go well at the Bos though, VRA generally providing the closest thing they’ll see to a familiar sort of wicket. The ingredients are certainly there for an upset, but an upset is what it would be.

RL: Voorburg remain the only unbeaten team in the competition, and having survived a rather sterner test from HBS last week than they might have expected, will be confident of continuing their run when they face Punjab Rotterdam at Westvliet. Michael Levitt’s maiden Topklasse century is unlikely to be his last, and with Noah Croes, Musa Ahmad and Sybrand Engelbrecht also among the runs and Shariz Ahmad to follow, their top order is likely to cause some problems for a Punjab attack which is persistent rather than menacing. Incisiveness is, on the other hand, not lacking in a Voorburg bowling unit which includes Viv Kingma, Ryan Klein and Mees van Vliet, not to mention the spin of Shariz, the early leader among Topklasse wicket-takers. He is closely followed, however, by Punjab’s Sulaiman Tariq, and as well as the ever-vital Zulfiqars Punjab will be able to counter with Shoaib Minhas and Mohsin Riaz with the bat and Aaliyan Mahmood with the ball. This promises to be one of the more absorbing encounters of the weekend.

BdJ: VCC remain the team to beat in both the literal and colloqial sense, and on current form you’d say that this too is Voorburg’s game to lose on paper. Punjab have of course lost both a pair of match-winning bats and their most incisive seamers over the winter, but still have the sort of attack that has a habit of inducing mistakes, as epitomised by the seemingly innoccuous yet invariably effect medium pace of the skipper. And fair to say we’ve not seen the best of young Aaliyan Mahmood as yet, while the Zulfiqars lend the attack versatility and the batting depth. In short, it’s the sort of team one imagines Voorburg could lose to, as indeed they will remember all too well.

RL: The other top-of-the-table clash pits Sparta 1888 against VOC Rotterdam at the Bermweg. Time was when this was the Rotterdam derby, and Sparta’s improved fortunes this season make this once again a fixture to savour. VOC will be hoping to put last weekend’s travails with the bat, which saw them lose to Salland and stage a remarkable recovery against Punjab, firmly behind them, and that the hand injury which forced Scott Edwards to retire for a time in the latter match doesn’t cause him further trouble. But with 374 runs from five innings Lane Berry seems certain to be one of the season’s stars, and if the VOC Big Three all fire even Sparta’s old warhorse combination of Ahsan Malik and Mudassar Bukhari may be hard-pressed to keep things under control. Sparta, though, have a key trio of their own in Sam Ferguson, Garnett Tarr and Will Clark, and if they have not yet been as dominant as VOC’s, they will be crucial to their side’s chances against an attack which does not match the power of the batting. The Bermweg traditionally favours the bowlers, but they will need all the help they can get in this one.

BdJ: Sparta’s acquisitions for this season have arguably proved the most astute in the league, if not for weight of runs and wickets then for how well they slot into the side. While the three overseas have thus far been more solid than sensational, Joost Kroesen also seems to be enjoying his time at Cappelle. Meanwhile Bukhari’s unexpected transformation into a dour unbudgeable top-order anchor has come at an opportune time for the Spatrans, though his lack of penetration with the ball so far this season has left them rather dependent on Ahmadi and Malik for early wickets. And early wickets are a bit of a must against VOC, for the reasons already outlined above.

RL: Two of the Round 1 replays having been deferred for a week because of the absence of Dutch A team players last week, ACC and HBS will face their second vital match of the weekend at Het Loopveld on Sunday. The Amsterdammers’ bowlers caught the Crows on the hop on the opening day, but are perhaps unlikely to perform that trick again now that the season is in full swing. This is even more of a four-pointer now than it was first time round, and it looks like one of the more even encounters of the weekend. ACC, though, have the better-balanced and more experienced attack, and that might be the decisive factor.

BdJ: Yet another one of those supposed rarities in Dutch cricket, a fixture where both sides look better with bat than ball. HBS’s weakness in that department is particularly glaring however, with not a single bowler going at less than fives this season and Swapnil Pote (in large part thanks to VCC’s reckless death hitting last week) the only one with more than three wickets to his name. ACC have similarly only taken 19 wickets between them so far, but despite VOC’s onslaught have been comparatively frugal. That said their relative strength with the bat remains largely notional, while there’s a fair few crows with runs in the bank.

RL: Similar considerations apply to the other replay, with VRA welcoming Salland back to the Amsterdamse Bos. If Salland are unlikely to crumble again as completely as they did on the opening day, their hosts probably still have too many guns in all departments; Salland, though, have shown that they are capable of causing problems for leading sides, and games like this are vital for their chances of squeezing into the top six.

BdJ: Salland were, according the the whispers, rather put out after their opening game at the Bos had to be abandoned. There’s little in the scorebook to explain that sentiment of course, though there’s a ready logistical explanation, and it’s fair to say having come all the way from far out East again Victor Lubbers’ men will not be planning on going home empty handed. Nonetheless it would take quite a performance to turn the tables on a VRA side that looks to have all the bases covered.

RL’s picks: HCC, Salland, VRA, Voorburg, VOC; ACC, VRA.
BdJ’s picks: HCC, Excelsior, VRA, Voorburg, VOC, HBS, VRA.

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