Rod Lyall 01/06/2023
The KNCB’s innovative schedule for its new-look T20 competition gets under way on Saturday with two triple-headers, at De Diepput and Craeyenhout, and a couple of one-off matches into the bargain.
With the squad taking part in the World Cup Qualifier due to depart next week, this Saturday’s games will be the only opportunity for clubs to include their national team players before the finals day on 15 July.
The subsequent absence of those players will obviously make a big difference to some clubs, with Voorburg losing five regular players (plus Logan van Beek, who made his first appearances of the season last weekend), VRA Amsterdam three, and VOC Rotterdam the crucial contribution of Scott Edwards and Max O’Dowd.
Part of the restructuring of the KNCB’s competitions is that there will be separate promotion and relegation pathways for the 50-over and T20 leagues, which could mean that next season’s schedules will already be beginning to differ.
There is already some evidence that strength in one format does not guarantee equal strength in the other: the dominant sides in T20 over the past five years have been VOC, cup-winners three times in their last four attempts, and HBS, champions in 2018 and three times runners-up since 2017.
All of which means that the table at the end of the T20 round robin, with the top four teams going direct into the finals day, could look rather different from the current 50-over standings.
Turning to the immediate future, HCC will entertain Salland in the early game at De Diepput on Saturday, before the Overijssel side meet Excelsior ‘20 in their second match; the series will then be completed with the encounter between the hosts and the Schiedammers.
Semi-finalists in 2021, Salland’s prospects will depend a good deal on the commitments of their four German internationals, currently busy with preparations for the European T20 qualifier in late July, and their recent 50-over form does little to suggest that they will pose a significant threat to an HCC side which has been on an upward trajectory following a poor start to the season.
They will miss Clayton Floyd for most of the T20 programme, but Tonny Staal and Jonathan Vandiar are ideally suited to the shorter format, and the Lions have a well-balanced attack even without Floyd’s incisive left-armers.
For Excelsior it has been a disappointing season so far, but they are unaffected by national team call-ups and with Lorenzo Ingram in excellent form with both bat and ball they will be hoping to do much better in this competition.
The guests of HBS at Craeyenhout will be VRA Amsterdam, three times winners of the old-style T20 Cup in 2010-12, and Punjab Rotterdam.
Encouragement for the Crows will have come from the return, at least on a part-time basis, of Tobias Visée, a player for whom the T20 format might have been designed, and the outstanding form of Tayo Walbrugh; they will miss Wesley Barresi after this weekend, but most of the questions about this season’s side relate to its attack, Kyle Klein excepted, which lacks much of the punch of last year’s.
VRA have been highly inconsistent in the longer format so far, culminating in their missing-out on a place in the top six, and their problems will not be eased by the absence after this weekend of Vikram Singh, Aryan Dutt and Teja Nidamanuru.
All the more reason, then, for them to focus on picking up points while they can at Craeyenhout, and apart from the three internationals, seamers Ashir Abid and Eduard Visser have been picking up plenty of wickets, while Shirase Rasool (now, however, injured and likely to be out for some weeks) and Johan Smal have been in good form with the bat.
Three times cup winners with ACC between 2015 and 2017, the brothers Zulfiqar now form a vital partnership in the Punjab set-up, and if leg-spinning allrounder Saqib will be absent for most of the campaign, Sikander and Asad, along with elder brother Rehmat, will still be there to combine with overseas Mohsin Riaz and Shoaib Minhas to push for the club’s first-ever T20 title.
Both tri-series offer some pretty spicy encounters, but the two stand-alone fixtures are perhaps even more enticing.
While Excelsior and Salland do battle at De Diepput and Punjab take on VRA at Craeyenhout, Sparta 1888 will be at home to ACC at Sportpark Bermweg.
Both these sides have been, if not quite a revelation, certainly among the more successful Topklasse teams this season.
Despite a drubbing by Voorburg a fortnight ago Sparta finished Phase 1 of the 50-over competition in second place, and they have a side which looks equally well-suited to the shorter format: Ali Raza’s explosive batting at the top of the order, balanced by the more controlled skills of Sam Ferguson, Garnett Tarr and Will Clark, along with the new-ball effectiveness of Ahsan Malik, makes them strong contenders to reach the finals day for the first time.
Fitness worries around Mudassar Bukhari, another potential match-winner, will be a source of concern, but all in all, free of international call-ups, Sparta will start as one of the more fancied teams.
ACC may lack that explosive power, but after a dreadful start to the season Heino Kuhn is in the process of moulding an effective unit, and this competition will give them an opportunity to grow further. It is unfortunate for ACC that Kuhn will also miss most of the competition, since he will part of the coaching team with the Dutch in Zimbabwe.
Most tantalising of all, perhaps, is the clash between defending T20 champions VOC Rotterdam and runaway 50-over leaders Voorburg, whose game at Hazelaarweg will begin at 16:00.
If all the internationals are involved this will be an intriguing rematch of last Saturday’s 50-over encounter, with O’Dowd, Lane Berry and Edwards on VOC’s side and Michael Levitt, Noah Croes, Ryan Klein, Shariz Ahmad, Viv Kingma and Van Beek on the other.
There may, of course, be precautions demanded by the national coaching staff regarding the faster bowlers, but even so this promises to be an absorbing contest, although it may not tell us very much about the two clubs’ prospects in the rest of the competition.
My (very tentative!) picks: HCC, HBS; Punjab, Excelsior, Sparta; Voorburg; HCC, Punjab.