Just 24 hours away from the first round of games in what is now best called the league phase of the 2021 Topklasse season, it has emerged that this year’s competition will also feature a playoff finals phase in the second half of August.
Following the ten team double round-robin league phase, the top four teams will contest IPL-style playoff finals. The top two teams will be face off in a de-facto semi final, with the winner progressing to the grand final, while the third and fourth-placed teams will contest an eliminator playoff. The winner of the eliminator will then meet the loser of the first semi final to contend for the second spot in the national final.
The new format means the 2021 season will be the first iteration of the Dutch domestic 50-over competition to feature a national final since the 2016 season, when the decision was made to revert to a ten team format and scrap the best-of-three finals.
At the other end of the table, the bottom four teams will contest a similar series of playoffs to determine who takes the wooden spoon, though with no risk of relegation this season (the league is instead slated to expand to 12 teams for 2022) the lower table play-offs are effectively more of a post-season denoument, or perhaps a dress rehearsal for the relegation battle expected next year.
Topklasse Finals Schedule
Sun Aug 22: First Semi Final (1st v 2nd) Sun Aug 22: Elimination Playoff (3rd vs 4th)
Sun Aug 29: Second Semi Final (loser SF1 vs winner EPO)
Sat Sept 4: Topklasse Final (winner SF1 vs winner SF2)
“Relegation” Playoffs Schedule
Sun Aug 22: First Playoff (7th v 8th) Sun Aug 22: Second Playoff (9th vs 10th)
Sun Aug 29: Third Playoff (loser PO1 vs winner PO2)
Sat Sept 4: Woode Spoon Playoff (loser PO2 vs loser PO3)
As the Netherlands slowly emerges from Coronavirus lockdown the KNCB have confirmed that Topklasse cricket can resume this coming weekend, albeit subject to certain restrictions and protocols to protect the health of players, officials and spectators (details of which are expected to be made public within the next few days), and without the prospect of relegation or an official national title to contend for.
The restrictions imposed by the Dutch government to combat the spread of COVID-19 have prevented any inter-club cricket thus far in the 2020 season, though individual clubs had begun to organise ad-hoc intra-club matches in the past few weeks.
Beginning from Sunday, however, the regular competition will continue effectively unchanged from the original schedule with regular matches being played on Sundays, treating the first half of the season as essentially written off. The initially planned 10-team double round robin format which would have seen each club play their nine rivals home and away can be fairly simply cut in half, such that each fixture will now be played either at home or away, though with only eight rounds left in the current schedule space will have to be found for one additional round to complete a nine-match per team calendar, the traditional free weekend at the end of July the obvious option.
Despite the ambition to run a “full-half” all-play-all competition, however, the 2020 season will not be accorded the status of a national championship and, as was already decided early in the year as the likely impact of the pandemic became apparent, there will be no promotion and relegation between the Topklasse and Hoofdklasse or any of the lower leagues this season. With significant international travel restrictions still in place, most Topklasse sides will be missing their overseas players, whilst a number of Dutch national team players who typically play abroad during the Dutch winter also remain outside the country, meaning several teams will be severely under-strength.
A handful of clubs are understood to have lobbied for the Topklasse itself to be replaced with a short-format league, but it seems the advocates of 50-over cricket won out in the end. Given the likely reliance of many clubs on their youth players, the value of the longer format for development was a significant consideration.
“Keeping the development of younger players in mind (longer bowling spells, more time in the middle, building an innings) played a role in the decision making, especially since most clubs are without overseas players/coaches and will rely more havily on their youth players. The national coaches/captain have also been consulted and expressed the same opinion.” -a KNCB spokesperson told Tkcricket.
It is as yet unclear when and in what form Twenty20 cricket will resume, but the board are optimistic that some form of T20 competition can be arrange. “The exact format and number of teams is not clear yet, but we’re aiming for a TK/HK T20 on Friday evenings or Saturday afternoons, with a regional based poule phase and finals day.”
Provisional fixtures for the first round of Topklasse games on Sunday July 5th are as follows. Live coverage, as always, only on Tkcricket.
ACC vs HCC at het Loopveld
VOC vs VCC at Hazelaarweg
Excelsior vs Sparta at Thurlede
HBS vs Punjab at Craeyenhout
Dosti vs VRA at Drieburg
The announcement of a new European “Champions League” competition for clubs from around the continent has precipitated immediate controversy in the Netherlands, with HBS Craeyenhout contesting VOC Rotterdam’s right to represent the Dutch in the tournament.
The new initiative will see clubs from the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Romania, Russia and Spain meet at the Desert Springs facility in Almería in southern Spain at the end of July next year to compete for the title of European Champions. The KNCB announced yesterday that they had nominated 2018 Topklasse champions VOC as the Dutch representatives, but HBS maintain that as winners of the T20 Cup last year by rights they should be the ones making the trip. “We will be contesting VOC’s nomination. It makes no sense to send the TK champion to a T20 tournament” incoming HBS cricket Chair Ewout Boendermaker told TKcricket.
As it turns out the first edition of the European Cricket League will in fact be contested in the newly-fashionable T10 format, organisers confirmed today, but the eight clubs participating have qualified through various formats. “Each federation has chosen their top competition champion – some 50 over, some 40 over, some T20.” a spokesman for the ECL clarified. It is hard to argue that the Topklasse is certainly the more prestigious title in the Netherlands, with the T20 competition even suffering from occasional no-shows, yet it’s difficult to deny that the choice of 50-over Champions for a 10-over competition is on the face of it rather surprising.
Dutch cricket, of course, loves nothing better than a spot of controversy and Dutch fans are quick to pounce on the merest hint of competitievervalsing, indeed the ECL would hardly be a proper competition if there wasn’t someone at the ALV decrying it as a stitch-up. Yet while rumours of a berth at a new European club championship for the Topklasse champions have been circulating since at least mid-July, it’s nonetheless concerning that some clubs appear to have been better-informed than others.
Not for the first time Dutch cricket finds itself plunged into a needless controversy that could have been headed off by better communication or consultation, though at least the organisers of the new competition can take comfort from the evident fact that a place at the European Championships is seen as a prize worth fighting over.
The European Cricket League will take place from July 30th to August 1st 2019 at Desert Springs Club, Almería. The following sides have qualified:
SG Findorff Cricket Bremen (Germany)
Svanholm CC (Denmark)
VOC Rotterdam (the Netherlands)
Brescia CC (Italy)
Cluj CC (Romania)
St Petersburg (Russia)
Dreux CC (France)
Catalunya CC (Spain)
The KNCB’s Commissie van Beroep (appeals committee) ruled in favour of Punjab Rotterdam CC this week in their long-running dispute with the KNCB over questions of player eligibility. The ruling would appear to critically undermine the board’s current rules governing the participation of overseas players in the Dutch domestic competition.
The dispute originially arose early last season, precipitated by Punjab’s selection of Belgian nationals Mamoon Latif and Ali Raza, who were deemed overseas players under Article 12 of the Competitiereglement, to represent the club’s first XI in the Topklasse.
The KNCB initially imposed a number of sanctions on the club, including awarding their match against ACC to the Amsterdam club by default, imposing a 6-point penalty as well as threatening fines. Punjab contended that as EU nationals Latif and Raza were entitled to equal treatment under EU law, and that they could not be counted toward the quota of 2 overseas players in the side, and continued to field the pair throughout the season.
The matter was first referred to the Tuchtcommissie, who in June nominally ruled in the KNCB’s favour, but scrapped the board’s competitive penalties and imposed a fine of a mere € 126 on Punjab -the lightest possible penalty – hinting that the rules themselves might not accord with Dutch or European law.
The KNCB duly appealed the decision, but last week the Commissie van Beroep sided decisively with Punjab. The CvB ruled that Article 12 of the Competitiereglemen amounted to discrimination on the basis of nationality and was consequently unlawful. Crucially, they based their ruling not on EU law but on the Dutch Algemene wet gelijke behandeling (general equal treatmenet act) thus seeming to preclude not only discrimination against EU passport-holders but any direct restriction on the basis of nationality whatsoever.
Kortom: je mag er zoveel laten invliegen als je als club zou willen
The current two-player limit for overseas players in the Topklasse applies to any non-Netherlands passport-holder with the exception of those players who have participated in a domestic league in the Netherlands in three of the preceding four years and played a minimum of 8 matches in the immediately preceding season. Lifting that restriction for EU citizens might not have caused undue disruption given that the Dutch season naturally coincides with the domestic seasons of its European neighbours, and there are moreover comparatively few cricketers in the rest of continental Europe likely to have a significant impact at Topklasse level.
This week’s ruling, however, would seem to open the door to an unlimited number of players from further afield turning out in the Dutch competition, threatening to crowd out local talent, a prospect provoking dismay on social media.
Volgend jaar spelen er dus nog maar 5 Nederlandse in de @KNCBcricket topklasse👋
The KNCB do not appear to have been caught entirely unawares by the ruling however, and were already planning to amend the rules for the coming season; “we’ll be looking at moving to a system more in line with the approach they take in Scotland and Ireland for 2019” KNCB secretary Robert Vermeulen told TKcricket earlier this year. The board is understood to have consulted with clubs regarding potential changes to the overseas player rules even before the ruling was published last week, and is expected to present its proposals at the KNCB’s Algemene Ledenvergadering (general members meeting) scheduled for the 15th of this month.
The player-eligibility dispute between the KNCB and Punjab CC Rotterdam that has disrupted the 2018 season looks set to continue for the foreseeable future, with neither party willing to back down. Punjab’s persistence in selecting Belgian nationals Mamoon Latif and Ali Raza, whom the board has deemed to be overseas players under Article 12 of the Competitiereglement, has thus far seen them forfeit a victory against ACC Amsterdam and incur a further 6 point penalty, with the prospect of fines to follow.
Punjab maintain that Raza and Latif, as EU citizens, ought not to be counted toward their overseas quota of 2 players in the first XI, and have signaled their intent to continue to field the pair alongside their two other overseas players at least until the question is resolved. The KNCB have made clear that so long as they continue to do so, their matches will be awarded to the opposition regardless of on-field outcome (and ignored entirely for purposes of net run rate), and a two point penalty will be imposed per round. With another double weekend coming up and little prospect of compromise on either side, the wrangle has the potential to throw the Topklasse table into confusion.
The dispute now playing out so visibly on the points table has been looming since late last year, when Punjab first questioned the current KNCB regulations regarding overseas players, Punjab club secretary Ahzar Khawaja told TKcricket. Punjab’s position is that Raza and Latif, as EU citizens, have equal right to participate in what is in their case amateur sport, and that Punjab CCR will not turn them away nor force them to play below their standard, as to do so would amount to discrimination on basis of nationality. “Imagine if a public swimming pool in Belgium were to turn me away saying ‘only Belgian nationals can swim on Saturdays'” argued Khawaja. Punjab’s position, he explained, is that EU nationals and indeed any player legally resident within the Netherlands should not be discriminated against, and that in the case of the former the KNCB’s rules are likely contrary to EU law.
The board’s own position is simple, Competitieleider Alex de la Mar explained. The rules governing the definition of overseas players and the number permitted to play for a Topklasse side were commonly agreed by the KNCB and the clubs, and Punjab were informed ahead of time that they could expect to face both competitive and financial sanction if they were to exceed their quota. “As for EU law, the board’s position is that these rules are only applicable when their is a question of employment. We’re not restricting anyone’s freedom of movement or freedom to work, just enforcing the rules that the clubs agreed to.”
The two-player limit for overseas players in the Topklasse applies to any non-Netherlands passport-holder with the exception of those players who have participated in a domestic league in the Netherlands in three of the preceding four years and played a minimum of 8 matches in the immediately preceding season. The purpose of the restriction, de la Mar maintains, is to provide an opportunity for Dutch-produced youth players to gain Topklasse experience without facing undue competition from foreign talent, with a view to eventually building a stronger local player-base
Khawaja and his club are unconvinced by this reasoning, pointing to the opportunities afforded to South African or Australian dual-passport holders immediately on arrival in the country in, for example, the Dutch A-team programme of the Pro-Series. Khawaja went on to poke fun at the idea that the pair were being flown in as ringers, “I’m not really sure how you’re supposed to fly anyone from Antwerp to Rotterdam, it’s a 45 minute train-ride.” Khawaja concedes that Punjab knew ahead of time that the KNCB would deem the players to be overseas, but claims that Punjab had attempted to raise the issue well in advance of the beginning of the season. After a promised meeting to discuss the question in March never materialised, Punjab attempted to have the issue included on the agenda of the most recent ALV. In the event, when they raised the issue from the floor Khawaja feels it was given insufficient attention. “It was the end of the meeting, the discussion didn’t last ten minutes.” he told TKC.
KNCB secretary Robert Vermeulen stated that whilst general discussions regarding the KNCB’s rules on overseas players had been ongoing since late last year, the consensus was that any change ahead of the 2018 season would be unduly disruptive to clubs’ preparations, and thus any eventual changes would apply only from 2019. “We’ll be looking at moving to a system more in line with the approach they take in Scotland and Ireland for 2019” Vermeulen explained, “but the clubs and players have been preparing for the season on the basis of the current rules, it would be impractical and unfair to other clubs to have changed them this season.” Vermeulen also denied that any March meeting had been scheduled.
With both sides seemingly digging in their heels, there is little prospect of a speedy resolution. Punjab have formally lodged their objection to the sanctions thus far imposed, and the dispute has duly been referred to the Tuchtcommissie, but though both sides are keen to see the matter resolved as soon as possible no date has yet been set for a hearing. Should the Tuchtcommisie rule in favour of the board, Punjab have the option under KNCB procedure to appeal to the Commissie van Beroep.
As both committees will be guided solely by the KNCB’s own rules, which are fairly unambiguous, it seems unlikely that either would find in Punjab’s favour. Punjab, however, despite stressing that they remain willing to sit down with the KNCB and seek a mutually acceptable resolution, have signalled their willingness to take the matter further if necessary, as it is their view that the rules themselves are incompatible with EU law. As the board are no more willing to back down, it seems almost inevitable at this point that the case will not be resolved internally.
Any ensuing court case will doubtless be fascinating to those who take a healthy interest in the interpretation EU law and its various sporting ramifications, and indeed any ruling may well have consequences well beyond Dutch domestic cricket. It will also, of course, be potentially costly for either Punjab or the KNCB (most likely both) and almost certainly drag on past the end of at least the current season, leaving the entire league table in legal limbo. For the sake of the competition it is to be hoped that it does not come to that.