Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 28/05/23
Most of the outstanding issues were settled on Saturday, but there’s still one top six spot up for grabs as we head into the final Phase 1 round. And with all points being carried through to Phase 2, three sides level at the foot of the table and a crowded pack in the middle, any win now could turn out to make all the difference when the four semi- finalists and the side heading for next year’s Hoofdklasse are being sorted out in August.
RJL: ACC head to Thurlede knowing that victory here will see them squeeze into the championship group and slam the door behind them. Their win over a depleted Salland on Saturday was decisive enough, but Excelsior were competitive all the way against Punjab, and they will not be easy opponents on their own turf. There may not be as much at stake for the Schiedammers as for their visitors, but they are a textbook example of how vital any points picked up now could be at the business end of the season, and while they may still be struggling to work out the most effective disposal of their talents, you can’t write off any team with the likes of Lorenzo Ingram and Tom Heggelman in it. Heino Kuhn, on the other hand, has made a bigger difference to ACC than just the runs he has scored, and the journeymen from ’t Loopveld thoroughly deserve their mid-table position. This has all the hallmarks of a very hard-fought encounter.
BdJ: Excelsior owe their place in the bottom four to an ongoing reliance on Ingram both for wickets and runs, though at least the veteran alrounder has been delivering on both fronts in recent weeks. What’s more the contributions of Heggelman and Stan van Troost against Punjab underscored the point that an underperfroming team is by definition one that you’d expect to improve – if only by reversion to the mean. Conversely ACC have arguably outperformed expectations thus far, with Raza and young Potdar especially impressing with the bat. This will be only their second outing on grass this season, and while they did take two points home from VRA in their first, they just barely managed to chase a two-figure target to get them. Despite trailing ACC by four points on the table, Excelsior still arguably look favourites on paper here. But the momentum, it must be said, is with the Amsterdammers.
RJL: Meanwhile, VRA Amsterdam will be keeping more than a weather-eye on events in Schiedam as they take on HCC at De Diepput. They not only have to beat a Lions side which has been cohering more and more after a disastrous start to their title defence, but they also have to hope that ACC slip up as they round the turn. Boris Gorlee’s emphatic return to form is an ominous sign, especially when added to the always-lurking threat posed by Jonathan Vandiar. Replacing Leon Turmaine with Vikram Singh in the captaincy certainly did not yield immediate effects for the Amsterdammers, although perhaps a match against the runaway leaders was not the fairest test of its supposed merits. Three defeats on the trot have landed VRA, who at one point looked like possible title contenders, in this difficult position; they have potential match-winners aplenty, but they will need to put in a consistent team effort if they are to overcome a resurgent HCC.
BdJ: Fair to say that the mid-stream horse exchange did not result in an instant turnaround for the stuggling Amsterdam side, problems of inconsistent batting and giving away an over-generous amount of extras with the ball persisting. Ashit Abid remains a threat with the new ball, and when Eduard Visser gets his lines right the right armer is also a wicket-taker, but the VRA attack has lacked rather for penetration and containment of late. Whether the captaincy change proves an effective remedy or merely another symptom of their troubles remains to be seen, but they’re running out of road for a turnaround, and will be taking on an HCC side with a top order that’s coming into form and a lower order that’s proved one of the more dangerous in the competition, thanks in no small part to Hidde Overdijk’s impressive all-round form. At the start of the season VRA might have headed to the Hague with a degree of confidence, but as it stands de Diepput looks like their last chance saloon.
RJL: Back in second spot after their dismissal of HBS, VOC Rotterdam are the last team in Phase 1 to have a crack at overturning a dominant Voorburg. Eighties from Lane Berry and Scott Edwards on Saturday again demonstrated how vital they and Max O’Dowd are to VOC’s prospects of regaining the title they last won in 2018, although Arnav Jain’s success with both bat and ball showed that they are more than three-trick ponies. Voorburg, though, have virtually no weaknesses in a side now strengthened by the addition of Logan van Beek, and a win here would not only enable them to finish Phase 1 in style, but would, even at this stage, almost assure them of a place in the top four come August. We could debate endlessly whether such dominance is really in the interests of Dutch cricket, but with six members of the side heading to Zimbabwe in their squad, Voorburg are, at least in the 50-over competition, way out in front, and VOC will have a massive task if they are to inflict a second defeat on the leaders.
BdJ: Logan van Beek’s brief stopover in the Netherlands was well-timed for VCC as it turned out, given that Vivian Kingma managed to roll his ankle in the warm-up on Saturday. Kingma’s injury is particularly galling given that he wasn’t going to be bowling in the match with the World Cup Qualifier rapidly-approaching and the Netherlands’ seam options drastically curtailed by the T20 Blast. Van Beek notably also bowled just three overs in that match, and with Kingma’s fitness potentially in doubt for Zimbabwe it’s likely he and Ryan Klein will both be encouraged to take it easy in their final match before departure. VCC’s slow-bowling unit remains the envy of the competition however, with Musa Nadeem also impressing with the ball on a VRA track that would not have looked out of place at Hazelaarweg. In these circumstances VOC might not mind playing what’s effectively a four-point Phase 2 match away from home, and while the Kennel-dwellers remain the Bloodhounds’ most consistent threat, it’s notable that most all of the side have most all put in a couple of (occasionally match-winning) performances this season. Whether they have what it takes to steal a march on the frontrunners is another question of course, but for once Voorburg may have reason to worry.
RJL: Having been pipped at the post by HCC on Saturday, Sparta 1888 make the journey to Deventer in the hunt for two points which would keep them neck-and-neck with their rivals for the top four. At least one of the four teams currently on ten points will miss out on the play-offs, and Sparta’s patchy form means that any win now could turn out to be vital later. They will take on a Salland outfit currently at the foot of the table, with a net run rate which means that they probably need to get at least one more win than their relegation rivals if they are to have any hope of staying up. Deprived of their German internationals they never looked likely to overcome ACC on Saturday, and even at full strength their good days have been few and far between. Sparta will have been buoyed by Garnett Tarr’s century against HCC but their batting remains inconsistent, and despite a fighting performance from Ahsan Malik in that game their bowling resources have been stretched by injury. They might, however, have enough shots in their locker to enable them to bring the points back to Capelle.
BdJ: Salland skipper Victor Lubbers set his side the rather modest target of “survival” at the start of the season, and as things stands it looks like that may have been overambitious. The absence of the German delegation was certainly felt last week, most notably in the person of Venkat Ganesan, but that in itself speaks to the Deventer side’s lack of depth. Consequently they’ve been particularly vulnerable to the risk of an underperforming overseas player, and Finn Raxworthy’s trouble adapting to Dutch conditions has left them without a reliable source of runs. Certainly Sparta have been more fortunate in that regard, and indeed in the astute acquisition of Joost Kroesen, though with their seam section arguably showing its age after a brutal Phase 1 shedule they will doubtless be glad of the mid-season switch to T20.
RJL: There was a moment there where HBS Craeyenhout might have believed that they had a chance of squeezing out of the relegation zone, but if so it was very firmly destroyed by VOC on Saturday. So now they’re another side for whom a win at this point would be gold dust, and they will be hoping that they can come back from that performance to take the points from Punjab Rotterdam on Monday. The Rotterdammers had to work hard for their victory over Excelsior, Mohsin Riaz’s century proving to be the difference, and they are another side which will not want to slip up going into what promises to be a very tough battle for the top four. Walbrugh and Barresi apart, Punjab are a stronger and much more seasoned outfit than their hosts, their attack well-balanced and their top six as powerful as any, and even if they are not the force they were a couple of seasons ago they will want to be in a position to mount a title challenge in the final straight. Walbrugh and Barresi will need plenty of support if HBS are to pull off an upset.
BdJ: HBS were another side with modest ambitions at the start of the season, and last Saturday again showed that the cautious pessimism at Craeyenhout was not unwarranted. Certainly their have been positives to be drawn from the early season, notably Kyle Klein stepping up to take a premature role as a senior player, and Lucas del Bianco’s solid showing for his new club thus far. Nonetheless if the Crows are to avoid another rebuilding phase in the Hoofdklasse they could certainly use the two points on offer. Punjab will likewise need every point they can get for the second phase of course, and it would be a surprise if they didn’t pocket them. Four bats averaging over forty up against a callow bowling attack at Craeyenhout is a recipe for big runs, and though Punjab haven’t quite got the value out of their eye-catching signing Aaliyan Mahmood that they might have hoped, the bowling has generally been solid enough. Saqib Zulfiqar in particular has been in fine form with ball as well as bat, and Sulaiman Tariq remains a steday performer. It’s possible of course that with a top six spot secured Punjab may take their eye off the ball, but the smart money says they’ll be starting phase 2 on 12 points.
RJL’s picks: Excelsior, HCC, Voorburg, Sparta, Punjab.
BdJ’s picks: ACC, HCC, Voorburg, Sparta, Punjab