KNCB Board lights the blue touch paper

Rod Lyall 21/09/19


Let me begin by declaring an interest: on most aspects of the Dutch competition I have strong and frequently-expressed views, and on the topic of a ten-team versus an eight-team Topklasse I was the sole dissenting voice on the Board when it decided in 2016 to move from eight to ten.

So the debate which the Board initiated last week is one with plenty of personal resonance, although the central questions affect everyone with an interest in the future of the Dutch game, and the eventual outcomes ought to be those which ensure the growth of that game, both in quantity and quality.

Club representatives took part last Wednesday and Thursday in two consultative meetings, to discuss a series of proposals from the Board:

  • to reduce the top divisions again, from ten teams to eight, probably with some form of play-offs;
  • to play top division matches on Saturdays throughout the season, instead of only in the first six weeks;
  • to restructure the Twenty20 Cup, limiting it to 16 teams;
  • to consider establishing a separate competition for ‘development teams’, essentially the second elevens of clubs with a youth section; and (most radically of all)
  • to introduce over a five-year period a set of criteria to be satisfied by any club before they would be allowed to play in the top three divisions.

    These are far-reaching and, in my view at least, mostly laudable proposals, but the fact that they received a somewhat mixed reception from the club representatives was due, not only to innate conservatism and the undoubted tendency of some to consider only what was in the interest of their own club rather than the needs of Dutch cricket as a whole, but to the fact, admitted by KNCB secretary Robert Vermeulen, that the initiative had had a ‘less than optimal’ preparation.

    The Board had established a Taskforce to review the competitions back in February, but various factors had conspired to prevent it bringing its deliberations to a coherent conclusion, and the Board had now decided that if changes were to be made, the first steps needed to be taken immediately.

    But the problem was that the arguments for change had not been fully worked out, and certainly had not been presented in advance, and many remained unconvinced about the need for change at all.

    One starting point was the increasing pressure from the programme of the national men’s team, which could affect as many as eight of the 21 or 22 playing dates next season and more in 2021, even without taking into account the potential impact of the Euroslam T20 competition, assuming that it goes ahead next year.

    That demanded, the KNCB’s interim competition manager Bart Kroesen argued, greater flexibility in the domestic competition schedule, something which could scarcely be achieved with a ten-team competition with its minimum of 18 playing dates.

    That calculation immediately leads, however, into one of Dutch cricket’s perennial debates, about whether, and to what extent, the competition can fairly be allowed to continue when national team players are unavailable to take part.

    As the demands upon those players increase the impact upon their clubs grows correspondingly, especially when the national team management seeks to limit players’ role in club matches they are released to play, as for example permitting bowlers to complete no more than five overs.

    In some cases this amounts to a contractual problem: if a player is contracted both to the KNCB and to a club, which commitment takes precedence, and will the Bond be prepared to take on the whole cost of that player if his availability for the club drops below a certain level?

    There are, from this perspective, broadly two alternatives: either the top competitions can be played only when all players are available, in which case there may be room only for 14 or so matches and the limitation to eight teams becomes essential, or it is played through with or without the members of the national team, in which case a ten-team competition is feasible but there are serious concerns about its fairness (summed up in the much-used Dutch term competitievervalsing, or distortion of the competition).

    Whether this is the right basis on which to decide the league structure is itself a matter of dispute, and one to which we shall return in a further article, but other arguments, such as the claim that the expansion to ten teams in 2016 has failed to produce the projected increase in the number of young Dutch-produced players taking part, or that the ten-team league is more or less competitive than its eight-team predecessor, either come down to highly subjective judgements or rely on evidence which the Board is not yet able to produce.

    Everyone agrees that a key objective of the domestic competition ought to be the creation of an environment in which talented young Dutch cricketers can develop and prosper, and most agree that this is not enhanced by the elimination, in order to comply with the Netherlands’ stringent anti-discrimination laws, of any check on the influx of overseas players.

    But there is less agreement about how best to achieve that objective, and a good deal of fractiousness (to put it mildly) about the Board’s apparent inability – at this stage at least –  to convert broad strategic objectives into a coherent, consistent, well-argued plan for a stable, equitable league structure.

    The previous reduction of the top leagues from ten teams to eight, in 2010, was the result of a long, comprehensive consultation process, which ran from August 2008 to March 2009, and even then some of the conclusions were immediately undermined by compromise and continuing resistance from some intransigent quarters.

    The reversal of that change in 2016 was much more ad hoc, but both bear witness to deep-seated divisions in the Dutch game, and the absence of a clear consensus on the best way forward.

    If the current Board can achieve that it will be greatest contribution to the future of Dutch cricket it could possibly make, but it may take more than a couple of meetings, or even a winter of debate, to achieve that goal.

    We will attempt, over the next couple of weeks, to contribute to the discussion by considering each of the Board’s proposals in greater detail.

     

     

Topklasse Team of the Year 2018

Rod Lyall and Bertus de Jong 09/09/18


As the dust settles on another Topklasse campaign, Bertus de Jong and Rod Lyall discuss their Team of the Year.

Overseas players

Jay Bista
Jay Bista

RL: In my view four players stand out: Taruwar Kohli (Dosti United), Jay Bista (Quick Haag), Lorenzo Ingram (Excelsior), and Sharn Gomes (HBS Craeyenhout). Kohli’s form early in the season shot Dosti up the table, and in addition to his three centuries and two fifties in his first seven innings he took valuable wickets as well. He was less dominant as the campaign progressed, but even so, only his early departure prevented him from topping the batting aggregates. That honour went instead to Bista, whose contribution to a struggling Quick side was enormous, and he was more responsible than anyone for his team staying in the top flight.

Gomes, too, was at his most consistent in the first half, with six half-centuries and a hundred in his first ten innings, but thereafter he fell away, while Ingram, after hitting back-to-back centuries at the end of May, was less influential as Excelsior’s title defence foundered. Kohli and Bista are therefore my pick for the two overseas player spots.

BdJ: Yep, Kohli and Bista are probably the easiest picks in this little exercise. Without them it would be hard to see Dosti or Quick surviving the season. Kohli’s efforts saw Dosti top the table early and ensured they were never in any real danger of relegation, with four centuries and leading the run aggregates when he departed with 722 runs at an average of 60+ he faces no real competition for his spot. Bista meanwhile would be my pick for season MVP, holding Quick above water all-but single-handedly, making 800+ runs largely from the opening spot and stepping up to take the captaincy in Jeroen Brand’s absence.

Were we permitted a third overseas player my pick would be Bryce Street ahead of Gomes or Ingram though. In trying to fill the shoes of Jonathan Vandiar, Street probably had the toughest assignment of any of the league’s overseas coaches, and he delivered admirably for HCC. With 650 runs at a shade over 40, as well as chipping in a valuable 23 wickets over the season the young Queenslander has had an excellent debut season and is pretty unlucky to miss out on a team of the year spot in my book.


Opening batsmen

BdJ: With Bista having scored heavily from the top of the order I’d say that one of the slots here has already been filled, and indeed it’s not easy to say anyone’s made a convincing case to take the second. ACC’s Richardt Frenz is ruled out as the overseas slots are full, though his contribution to the Amsterdammers’ fortunes after being promoted to open should not be underrated, with 657 runs at 40 he is statistically the most successful opener behind Bista. A case might also be made for his opening partner Rehmat Zulfiqar, who has rather outshone his siblings in domestic cricket this season and memorably smashing the season’s top-score of 188 against Quick from the top of the order.

Tobias Visée
Tobias Visée

A more conservative option might be VRA’s Dan ter Braak, who has accumulated an unshowy 620 runs at 38 over the season, but my preference would be for aggression at the top. With 523 runs at a strike rate over 150, I’d be tempted to have HBS skipper Toby Visée as a specialist batsman even were he not also top of the dismissals table with the gloves. In a season where “decent but unspectacular” could be applied to most of the league’s openers, I’m picking the one who can win a game in the first few overs.

RL: No disagreement from this quarter about opening with Visée: his ability to knock new-ball bowlers off their stride makes him an obvious choice. But given his methods you have to allow for the possibility that he won’t come off, and for that reason I’d be inclined to have Jay Bista at three rather than as an opener. That creates room for Rehmat Zulfiqar who, as m’ colleague notes, has been the most consistently successful of the four brothers this time round. A top four of Rehmat, Visée, Bista and Kohli should be enough to daunt any opening attack.


Top and middle order

RL: My proposal would then leave us with two, or at most three, specialist batting places to fill – three if, as is often the case, one or more of the batsmen is also a useful bowler. (Bista and Kohli, indeed, would also be likely to feature in the attack, as perhaps would Rehmat, so maybe we could go all the way down to No. 8 with the batsmen . . . )

The leading contenders on my list would be Ben Cooper and Peter Borren (both VRA), VOC captain Pieter Seelaar, Mohammad Hafeez (Dosti), and Wesley Barresi (HBS). These are all, of course, well established names, and it’s a little worrying that there are so few young guns forcing their way into consideration. Tonny Staal (HCC) played some valuable innings, and despite injury Sikander Zulfiqar (ACC) did so as well. But in a crowded field, it’s hard to go past the left-handed Cooper (third in the aggregates with 661 runs at 47.21), Seelaar, Borren and Hafeez, with Barresi possibly just edging out Borren.

BdJ: Indeed going purely on stats it would seem churlish to exclude Cooper, but then I am nothing if not churlish. Aside from being reluctant to disturb Kohli from his position at first drop, where he’s scored four centuries, I feel it should be pointed out that of his five fifties in the season, only Cooper’s 69 against HBS won VRA a match that mattered.

Pieter Seelaar
Pieter Seelaar

I’d also be hesitant to chance Bista as a front-line bowler given his mixed results with the ball for Quick, though obviously I’d not say the same of Hafeez, who is the only player this season who would likely make the team on the strength of both his batting and bowling. Peter Borren probably comes closest on that front, despite having what he himself described as a “pretty ordinary” season (though having averaged over 100 last year perhaps his expectations of himself have become somewhat unreasonable). The former Dutch skipper picked up 29 scalps to finish joint 5th in the wicket-taking tables, as well as scoring 565 runs from number 5. His successor at the helm of the national team, Pieter Seelaar, has had an equally successful season, with 555 runs and 50.5 and 21 wickets at 13.7 not to mention captaining his side to the title, the VOC skipper is surely a must-pick.


Wicketkeeper

BdJ: Having settled on Visée at the top of the order our hands are rather tied here, though with 34 dismissals behind the stumps HBS’ skipper’s glove-work is hardly in question. One might otherwise make a strong case for VOC’s Scott Edwards, who despite trailing Visée by eleven dismissals has arguably shown himself the tidier keeper, conceding just 9 byes in 16 matches as well as racking up 576 runs at an average of 52.36 – one of only four players to average over fifty over the season.

RL: Indeed, including both Visée and Edwards, one of them as a specialist batsman, would not be a daft move. That’s probably worth looking at when we review the overall balance of the team. And we’re agreed that they are the two outstanding keepers of the season.


Seamers

RL: This is an interesting one. If we assume seam from both ends initially, there are several contenders for the new ball: Sparta’s Mudassar Bukhari, who was pipped by Hafeez as leading wicket-taker but who claimed 34 wickets at 13.82; Ali Ahmed Qasim and Hidde Overdijk, both of HCC and both with 32 wickets; and Fred Klaassen (VOC), who took 29. There are pros and cons in all four cases: Bukhari played half his games at bowler-friendly Bermweg; Ali Ahmed took 14 of his wickets in just two devastating performances; Overdijk mostly bowled first change for HCC, who preferred pairing Ali Ahmed with spinner Ryan Ninan; and Klaassen surely benefited from having Pierce Fletcher at the other end. But the VOC man was outstanding in claiming early wickets, and his left-arm pace could be genuinely threatening.

Hidde Overdijk
Hidde Overdijk

A few other seamers are certainly worthy of consideration, even if their statistics are less impressive than those of this foursome: the HBS new-ball pairing of Wessel Coster and Berend Westdijk, the latter plagued by injury, as well as their team-mate Farshad Khan; VRA’s Quirijn Gunning, and Sikander Zulfiqar, who despite also being injured has a reasonable claim as an all-rounder.

But my pick would be Klaassen and Ali Ahmed, with Overdijk as first change.

BdJ: Klaassen is a sure pick for me, consistently finding early wickets and outstanding at the death, though the question of who he shares the new ball with is a little trickier. Bukhari’s duties with Belgium took precedence over his bid to best Hafeez at the top of the wickets table in the final round, but sheer weight of wickets is hard to argue with regardless of where he took them, and as it happens he took more than half of them away from home. He would just edge Ahmed in my book, though reasonable minds may differ on that. We agree on Overdijk though, if anything, his ability to take wickets with an older ball is a plus, as first-change is a somewhat less hotly-contested spot and a creditable average just shy of 20 with the bat only strengthens his case.

Rather overlooked in the role of seam-bowling all-rounder, however, is the veteran Doc Mol, who has quietly played an absolute blinder for Quick, and is arguably as much responsible for their survival in the top flight as was Jay Bista. In the midst of what might charitably called a transitional phase for the club (less charitably as a shambles of a season) Mol’s 480 runs (including a maiden century) and 26 wickets make him their lead wicket-taker and second behind Bista in the runs. Mol’s numbers may still be modest in the scheme of things, but given the context and the pressure Quick were under from the start, it’s hard to think of a player who’s been more crucial to his side this year.


Spinners

BdJL With Seelaar and Hafeez sure of their spots the slow-bowling question more or less takes care of itself, but there’s certainly some honourable mentions to be made. First among them is Seelaar’s spinning partner at VOC, Max O’Dowd. He had the help of traditionally spin-friendly conditions at Hazelaarweg of course, but nonetheless 21 wickets at a shade over ten apiece is a remarkable effort. Leon Turmaine (VRA) also bowled better than his (still perfectly decent) figures suggest, whilst Lorenzo Ingram would be a tempting option had we another overseas slot.

RL: Turmaine’s team-mate at VRA, the evergreen Adeel Raja again demonstrated that he is, when available, still able to winkle out opposing batsmen, while Wesley Barresi would no doubt also wish to be seen as a spinning option, having claimed 16 wickets in his limited opportunities with the ball, at a strike rate of 26.06. But only O’Dowd (with a strike rate of 19.33, the best in the competition) is a real contender to balance off-spin against the very different left-armers in Seelaar and Hafeez.


So, with all the above in mind, we have:

Our Topklasse Team of the Year:

Jay Bista (Quick Haag), Tobias Visée (HBS, wk), Taruwar Kohli, Mohammad Hafeez (both Dosti United), Wesley Barresi (HBS), Peter Borren (VRA), Pieter Seelaar (VOC, captain), Geert Maarten Mol (Quick Haag), Hidde Overdijk (HCC), Mudassar Bukhari (Sparta 1888), and Fred Klaassen (VOC).