Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 26/05/23
It may seem like the season (and certainly the Summer) has only just begun, but already we’re at the business end of the first phase. Two rounds to go, and in four day’s time we’ll be into World Cup Qualifier/Topklasse T20 mode. Still plenty to play for, with only Voorburg assured of making the top six and nobody yet definitely doomed to the relegation pool.
BdJ: With points carried forward into Phase 2 not even frontrunners Voorburg can afford to coast as they head to the Bos to take on VRA. VRA need to win both of their remaining matches to be confident of a top six finish, a single win leaving them reliant on luck and net run rate to avoid the bottom four. Voorburg are well out of danger on that front, but will want to get a headstart for the second phase. In addition to form, the availability of Logan van Beek, stopping over en route to Zimbabwe, will further bolster their confidence. VCC will effectively be fielding the national team’s seam attack come Saturday, while van Beek also adds still greater depth to an intimidating batting card, with everyone down down to Vivian Kingma having made runs in one competition or another of late. In short a tough ask for a VRA side that has underperformed thus far, coming up just short against VOC last week thanks in large part to a rather sloppy effort with the ball and in the field. The form of Johan Smal and Tejan Nidamanuru with the bat is some consolation, but the hosts will want more from a line-up that in principle ought to bat down to at least eight, but in practice this season has looked a bat or two short.
RJL: VRA’s problems extend beyond the inconsistency of their batting: they had all but won their Ascension Day match at Sparta, only to see the then leaders expose the limitations of their bowling once Eduard Visser had completed his spell, and even his five-wicket haul against VOC could not prevent the Rotterdammers from posting the highest total of the day in the Bos last Saturday. Visser and Ashir Abid do have the ability to cause batting sides problems early, and they probably represent the home side’s best chance of getting on top of Voorburg. But Tyler van Luin’s six wickets in eight games is a disappointing return, and even Aryan Dutt has been less of a threat since his return from injury. Voorburg, on the other hand, are spoiled for choice in both batting and bowling, and they will go into this game strong favourites.
BdJ: Second-placed Sparta 1888 had looked to be cruising into the top six before being utterly clotheslined by VCC last week, the insult of a 9-wicket loss compounded by injuries to several key players, including the stalwart Mudassar Bukhari, lead wicket-taker Ahsan Malik, and skipper Martijn Snoep. Whether any or all will be fit when they welcome HCC to Bermweg on Saturday remains to be seen. If they’re looking for instruction on bouncing back from defeat they could do worse than looking to their opponents, who have had had something of an up and down season thus far. Their fortunes have fluctuated rather with the form of Jonatahan Vandiar, who together with Ratha Alphonse has been the principal source of runs in the HCC top order. The efforts of quicks Hidde Overdijk and Henrico Venter with the ball, backed up by the left arm spin of Floyd and Doram, have covered somewhat for HCC’s homegrown batters’ slump in form so far, but even a weakened Sparta will be a tough test for the defending champions.
RJL: After a nightmare start to the season HCC have steadily climbed up the table, and a strong finish against Sparta here and then against VRA on Monday would likely see them ensconced, not only in the top six, but in its upper reaches when the competition resumes. To Overdijk and Venter we should add Daniel Crowley, who while short of wickets has been a steady force in the attack. Sparta need all hands on deck for the exacting final weekend of Phase 1, not only physically but also mentally, and an experience like last Saturday’s is bound to leave its scars. But they had thoroughly earned their spell at the top of the table, and if they can recover the spirit which saw them come back from the dead against VRA on Ascension Day rather than the batting form which got them into that mess in the first place (and which then caused their demolition by Voorbuirg two days later), they could still halt HCC’s progress.
BdJ: Third-placed VOC Rotterdam could seal their place in the top six and end HBS Craeyenhout’s slim hopes with a win on Saturday, having closed out a narrow win over VRA last weekend. The most encouraging aspect of that win for VOC was the rally staged by the lower middle order after a rare failure from the top-order trio of O’Dowd, Berry and Edwards. If skipper Tim de Kok can regularly marshall such resistance down the card then VOC could stage a genuine challenge for the title this year, despite the questions that remain around the bowling. HBS have similar worries of course, with a green bowling attack and a continued reliance on Barresi and Walbrugh for runs. Both are in fine form however, and the young attack (with some help from Barresi’s offspin) managed to hold Excelsior to 200 last week despite Lorenzo Ingram’s first century of the season. With Kyle Klein in excellent rhythm one could imagine the requisite early wickets falling, though as VOC showed last week that may not always be enough.
RJL: Evergreen allrounder Jelte Schoonheim played a crucial role in squeezing out VOC’s two-run victory over VRA last Saturday, and with ten wickets apiece he and closed-season recruit Asief Hoseinbaks are the Rotterdammers’ leading wicket-takers. But they and the rest of the attack will need to be at their best if they are to contain Walbrugh and Barresi at the Hazelaarweg, while equally Barresi will need to figure out at way to get on top of the VOC batting line-up. As m’ colleague observes, Kyle Klein could well be the key, but he will need plenty of support from the likes of Swapnil Pote, Julian de Mey and Lucas del Bianco, now slotted into the side. Nic Adendorff has chipped in with both bat and ball in recent games, and no doubt VOC will be looking for something similar from Burhan Niaz, who shone brightly last season but who has contributed rather less this time round.
BdJ: Ingram’s sudden return to form will be a worry for Punjab Rotterdam as they host Excelsior ‘20 Schiedam at the Zomercomplex, but it’s telling that his century immediately made him the Schiedammers’ top scorer for the season. Michael Hart and Roel Verhagen are the only other Excelsior bats to have managed more than 100 runs across the season, while Ingram’s also the only bowler averaging less than 20 with the ball. Conversely Punjab have five bats in three figures, with Shoaib Minhas averaging close to 100 and Saqib Zulfiqar in superb form with bat and ball. That Excelsior remain in contention despite the majority of their side underperforming is remarkable in itself, and of course the flip side is that they’re capable of dramatic imrovement if only a couple of the passengers start pulling their weight.
RJL: To be fair, Roel Verhagen has been pretty consistent with the bat since his return from injury, and Niels Etman has done well in support of Ingram with the ball. But Excelsior are clearly yet to settle on their best top order, and Punjab’s attack is very effective at exploiting their opponents’ weaknesses. Sulaiman Tariq’s side do, on the other hand, have problems of their own at the top of the batting, their opening partnership averaging only 16 across seven innings, and although in Mohsin Riaz, Minhas, and Saqib and Sikander Zulfiqar they have plenty of fire-power to turn things round, Tim Etman will be looking to his bowlers to keep them under pressure. The unheralded appearance of Daan van Bunge last week had little direct effect on Excelsior’s fortunes, and while ‘passengers’ might be a little harsh, there’s no doubt that the Thurlede outfit will be hoping that new skipper Etman and his predecessor Tom Heggelman are able to make a bigger contribution in these last two crucial games.
BdJ: Finally ACC and Salland face a do-or-die clash at ’t Loopveld. Salland’s situation is particularly desperate, bottom of the table of four points with a negative net run rate of over an run an over. Though ACC are currently two points clear of the bottom, their equally woeful NRR means they can ill afford another defeat. Having been held afloat by opener Venkat Ganesan and skipper Victor Lubbers with the bat through the season, Salland will take some encouragement from overseas Finn Raxworthy finally finding some form last week, together with Sahir Naqash. Kiwi quick Fraser Bartholomew has taken to Dutch conditions rather quicker, and backed up by a reliable spin section Salland may fancy their chances at ACC’s traditionally bat-hostile ground. Nonethless the hosts have also shown signs of a late rally, thanks in part to Heino Kuhn’s reacclimatising to the Topklasse’s unique challenges. With the exception of a remarkable demolition of local rivals VRA’s batting, however, the ACC attack has struggled to penetrate or contain. Though both sides could in theory still sneak into the top six, realistically this is a Phase 2 four-pointer, with distance from the wooden spoon the chief prize on offer.
RJL: ACC’s performance against Voorburg on Ascension Day and HCC two days later were both encouraging efforts, and although Kuhn’s side remains to a degree an assembly of bit-part players the same might be said of Lubbers’ squad as well. Shreyas Potdar, Ammar Zaidi and Anis Raza have all stepped up with the bat when needed, and while Rahil Ahmed and Mahesh Hans have yet to really impose themselves since their transfer from Dosti, their experience contributes positively to a side in which Aryan Kumar and Joseph Reddy have stepped effectively into the gap left by the departure of Mees van Vliet. Salland, on the other hand, have the core of a good side, but their performances have been a little hit-or-miss, their victories over VOC and Excelsior balanced by disappointing efforts against HCC and, especially, HBS. If they bring their A-game to ’t Loopveld they could prove too strong for ACC, but on recent evidence that’s a big if.
BdJ’s picks: VCC, HCC, VOC, Punjab, ACC
RL’s picks: VCC, HCC, VOC, Punjab, ACC.