Sparta go top as Voorburg falter

Rod Lyall 15/05/2023

Sparta 1888 moved to the top of the Topklasse table on Saturday, their 6-wicket victory over VOC Rotterdam comfortable enough to enable them to take full advantage of Voorburg’s defeat at the hands of Punjab Rotterdam.

Their win was built on a five-wicket haul by former international Ahsan Malik, the fourth of his Topklasse career, and VOC were on the back foot from the start as he removed the big three of Max O’Dowd, Lane Berry and Scott Edwards, adding Tim de Kok to his tally to leave the Bloodhounds reeling at 38 for four.

They never really recovered, Francois Fourie top-scoring with 26, and were all out for 117, with Malik finishing with five for 30.

Sparta stuttered slightly when they replied, but Garnett Tarr’s aggressive 54-ball 57 set them back on course, and they needed only 18.5 overs to knock off the runs.

That margin of victory was sufficient to take them ahead of Voorburg on net run rate, after the previous leaders suffered their first loss of the season, to Punjab Rotterdam.

Put in to bat by Sulaiman Tariq, Voorburg’s innings was a stop-and-start affair, opener Nehaan Gigani’s 49 the best individual score and the highest partnership a fifth-wicket stand of 71 between Sybrand Engelbrecht and Shariz Ahmad, both of whom made 33.

That they eventually reached 216 for eight was due to Viv Kingma, who smacked an enterprising 39 not out in the closing overs, while Punjab’s most successful bowler was Saqib Zulfiqar with four for 37.

A Punjab victory seemed unlikely when Kingma and Karl Nieuwoudt combined to reduce them to 14 for three, but then Saqib and Shoaib Minhas put on 124 in a fourth-wicket partnership which turned the match around, and after Saqib’s departure for 43 his brother Sikander supported Minhas in adding the further 80 required for the win.

Minhas settled the issue with the winning six which took his own score to exactly 100, Sikander remaining not out on 38.

By Sunday night Punjab were in fifth place on the table, behind not only the two leaders and VOC but also VRA Amsterdam, whose mixed weekend included a low-scoring defeat at the hands of ACC on Saturday and a much more convincing victory over Salland the following day.

VRA’s innings against ACC never got going, and they were bowled out for a disappointing 95 after Devanshu Arya had run through the middle order to finish with figures of four for 8 from eight overs, Mahesh Hans finishing things off with two for 8 from five.

That total looked healthier, however, when Ashir Abid again grabbed early wickets, ACC collapsing to 7 for three inside 16 deliveries, and at 48 for six they seemed to be heading for an extraordinary defeat.

But VRA dropped vital catches, enabling Thomas Hobson to make 46, and then Ammar Zaidi led the crawl to victory, his unbeaten 23 coming from 62 deliveries as he and Arya gradually picked off the remaining 26 needed for the win.

Any questions about VRA’s batting, though, were answered on Sunday, when in their replayed Round 1 match against Salland Leon Turmaine’s side posted 284 for six, despite losing Shirase Rasool off the first ball of the game.

Vikram Singh and Johan Smal overcame that initial setback with a second-wicket stand of 152, and after Smal had departed for 78 Singh went on to his fourth Topklasse century, passing 2000 runs in the process – a notable achievement for a player who is still just 20.

Akhil Gopinath was the most successful of the Salland bowlers with three for 51, but 284 was always likely to prove too much for the Deventer team’s batting and they were dismissed for 164, their challenge not greatly helped by three run-outs.

Turmaine himself took three for 24 to reduce Salland to 106 for six, but there was a partial rally from Fraser Bartholomew (29) and Gijs van Molen (32) before Teja Nidamanuru finished off the innings.

It was a big contrast with Salland’s effort the previous day, when they had overpowered Excelsior ‘20 at Het Schootsveld.

Salland’s German internationals Venkat Ganesan (four for 21), Talha Khan (three for 16) and Elam Bharathi (two for 31) claimed nine wickets between them as Excelsior were dismissed for 126 in a match reduced to 40 overs after a wet pitch delayed the start, and Ganesan then completed a fine double with an unbeaten 54 to steer his side to an eight-wicket victory.

He shared an opening stand of 80 with Piyaranga Ottachchige (44), and Salland needed only 26 overs to complete the win.

They were pushed out of the top six, however, by Sunday’s events, their defeat by VRA combining with ACC’s second win off the weekend, this time over HBS.

In conditions at Het Loopveld which strongly favoured the bowlers ACC did well to reach 203 for six, built on opener Shreyas Potdar’s patient 50 and Anis Raza’s unbeaten 44.

Then Aryan Kumar and Zinesh Master, with four for 39 and three for 20 respectively, combined to remove the HBS top and middle order, and although Tayo Walbrugh did his best to hold the innings together with 33 and Nic Adendorff resisted to the end with 47 not out, the Crows finished on 167, still 36 runs short.

It was a frustrating weekend for HBS, still looking for their first win of the season, as on Saturday they lost to HCC at De Diepput, despite a fine 103 from Walbrugh which enabled them to reach 231 for nine, Kyle Klein chipping in with 39.

Walbrugh’s knock rescued them from a perilous 91 for five, Henrico Venter taking five for 42 and Hidde Overdijk picking up three for 43 towards the close, and they seemed to have a real chance when Manjinder Singh removed danger-man Jonathan Vandiar and HCC were on 146 for five in reply.

But Clayton Floyd stood firm, sharing a stand of 72 with Overdijk, and his 55 not out saw HCC to a four-wicket win with nine balls remaining, the nearest thing to a close finish we have so far seen this season.

All ten teams will be in action again on Thursday, the Ascension Day public holiday, and then again on Saturday as the first phase of the Topklasse competition moves towards its denouement.

[This article was modified on 16 May 2023 to remove the claim that Sparta’s position at the top of the table was the first time they had achieved this.]

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