Preview Finals Weekend

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 03/09/21

The KNCB’s scriptwriters were back in top form last weekend, as after all the hassle of the previous two weeks actual cricket became the headline once more, and Punjab hauled themselves out of a seemingly hopeless situation to claim the first grand final spot and home advantage for the season’s climax this Sunday. First, though, Voorburg and VRA Amsterdam will have to play off on Saturday to decide who their opponents will be.

RL: Having come so close to victory last Sunday, only to see it torn from their grasp by an innings of rare character and accomplishment, Voorburg will need to discover resources of character of their own as they try to achieve a rematch with Punjab. That they have resources of ability, especially in the bowling department, is beyond question, although the sharpness of the attack was effectively blunted towards the latter stages of last week’s encounter. Still and all, Viv Kingma and Logan van Beek, backed up by Bas de Leede and Aryan Dutt, did well against the might of Punjab’s top order, and VRA’s rather more fragile batting will need to be at its very best to cope with that threat. If we assume that the Amsterdammers will be at full strength for this one – and if not now, when? – then a top six of Vikram Singh; Zamaan Khan, Shirase Rasool or Luke Scully; Ben Cooper; Eric Szwarczynski; Peter Borren; and Jack Balbirnie is, on paper at least, the equal of any in the competitition. Lack of consistency has, of course, been one of the hallmarks of their season, but they are no strangers to the big occasion, and there are few in Dutch domestic cricket bigger than this. Setting a decent tempo has been the bugbear of Voorburg’s batting this year, but they showed last week, mainly through the efforts of De Leede, Sybrand Engelbrecht and Van Beek, that even a slowish start need not be terminal if the side has wickets in hand. Engelbrecht is Voorburg’s leading run-scorer and only centurion, and getting him early might well be crucial for VRA’s chances. New-ball pairing Quirijn Gunning and Ashir Abid may lack the menace of Van Beek and Kingma but they have claimed early wickets often enough, and with seamers Singh and Borren and spinners Leon Turmaine, Udit Nashier and Balbirnie available to take over VRA’s bowling resources are far from negligible.

BdJ: It’s fair to say that VCC’s attack is better suited to their own conditions than the Zomercomplex, where pace on the ball is ever a risky strategy. Against Punjab the wet conditions didn’t help either as lateral movement didn’t last and the visitors weren’t willing to risk deploying Boissevain’s legspin given how tough it was to keep the ball dry. In retrospect that may have been a mistake, and one suspects it’s not one that will be repeated. Voorburg’s traditionally slow starts with the bat are arguably a sign of a lack of faith in their lower middle order, preferring to build a platform for the likes of Engelbrecht, Dutt and van Beek to launch from rather than going hard from the start, and it’s a strategy that has largely worked for them, thanks in part to the strength of their bowling. Against a line-up with the potential hitting power of VRA it’s perhaps not the soundest approach however, and risks the hosts underexploiting VRA’s bowling woes. Though the visitors’ persistent availability issues are unlikely to be a factor for a semi-final, the improbably numerous injuries that have plagued them through the season persist. With Quirijn Gunning, Udit Nashier and Luke Hartsink all less than fully fit, even if VRA can field their first-choice attack it will be somewhat under-strength. What VRA do have, however, is momentum. A six-game winning streak heading into this fixture will lend the visitors a degree of confidence that their hosts, having seen a place in the final slip away last week, may struggle to match.

RL: And then the winners will proceed to the Zomercomplex on Sunday to take on Punjab. Leaders after the round-robin phase, the Rotterdammers have shown in recent weeks both that they are far from invincible and that they fight all the way to the final delivery. They will undoubtedly miss injured allrounder Teja Nidamanuru whoever their opponents may be, and in view of the way Irfan ul Haq stepped up last week when Nidamanuru was forced to leave the field and the faltering of the top order it may be that his absence will be felt especially keenly when the side bats. The depth of Punjab’s resources has been tested less than any other side in the competition: they’ve used only 13 players all season. But with Steph Myburgh and the four Zulfiqars in the line-up they remain a powerful unit, and the bowlers, if a little short of cutting edge, make up for that with discipline and an evident loathing of giving runs away. It has all the makings of a really cracking denouement.

BdJ: After such a dominant early season, Punjab’s entry into the final lacked a certain pomp for sure, though it indeed illustrated a degree of resilience that they’ve not had to call upon much. As much as the Zulfiqar-heavy middle order, the obduracy of the Punjab tail has been a somewhat un-remarked strength of the table-topping Rotterdammers. That may again come into play regardless of who they face in the final, especially if VRA’s rickety bowling attack is called upon to play two days in succession. That said, should the Amsterdammers get through to the final they arguably have a better shot at spoiling Punjab’s party. The ability to bring in pinch-hitters such as Marcus Andrew and Shirase Rasool whose style of play is well-suited to Punjab’s artificial wicket and short boundaries makes them better able to at least partially negate the hosts’ home advatage. It’s worth noting that since Sieb van Wingerden’s six-for saw VOC roll Punjab in their own back yard back in May, VRA are the only visiting side to have taken points home from the Zomercomplex. Conversely, VCC have now lost there twice. It’s hard to argue that either would be favourites over a Punjab side that, despite their late wobbles, has consistently looked the strongest in the competition, but one suspects that the Rotterdammers themselves will be rooting for Voorburg tomorrow.

RL’s picks: Voorburg, Punjab.
BdJ’s picks: VRA, VRA.

Round 18 Preview

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 12/08/21

For some at least, the final set of round-robin matches has morphed into the first of the play-offs, with – at the time of writing – two places in the top four up for grabs. Within that elite circle, too, second spot with its double chance of a berth in the final is yet to be finally decided, so three of this week’s matches have the greatest possible significance for the championship. The scriptwriters of the KNCB must be pretty happy with their work.

RL: Still with a chance of claiming second if they win and Voorburg lose, HCC, currently third, are at home to VOC Rotterdam, clinging on to fourth on net run rate. These sides’ previous encounter, at the Hazelaarweg on 12 June, was a ding-dong battle in which HCC recovered from a Pierce Fletcher-induced 11 for four to reach 237 for eight, only to see the game taken away from them by Max O’Dowd and Pieter Seelaar. The Lions fought back through Clayton Floyd’s late five-for, but he’s likely to be missing this week after sustaining a hand injury against Punjab last Sunday. That has a big impact on the balance of the attack, but HCC’s four seamers remain a potent force, albeit one which will need to cope with the threat represented by O’Dowd and Scott Edwards. On the other side of the balance sheet, the visitors’ bowling unit will be fully tested by their hosts’ talented, if somewhat hit-or-miss, batting line-up. And they’ll go into this game knowing that in one of the many scenarios, they’ll be doing it all again in next week’s semi-final.

BdJ: One of two games of the round, this. Likely a must-win for VOC, and potentially also for HCC, depending on results elsewhere. Had it rained a little harder or longer last week HCC might have already secured their spot in the playoffs, ironically by means of a washout much like those that plagued their early season. Fair to say the weather has been relentlessly unkind to last year’s table-toppers on way or another, and notwithstanding any potential contest of Sunday’s result, it currently looks like they’ll have to get it done themselves. They have the pace attack to do so, with VOC still vulnerable to an early decapitation strike, but the loss of league lead wicket-taker Clayton Floyd means they may struggle to contain the VOC top order if they can’t find wickets early. Conversely, Seelaar’s return strengthens VOC both in the middle order and the middle overs. Though home advantage at least makes HCC marginal favourites on paper, they will have to overcome the frustrations of the past week and a fired-up full strength VOC to cement their progression to the playoffs.

RL: Denied their last chance of reaching the play-offs by the freakish weather last Sunday, Excelsior ‘20 can play the role of spoilers this week by beating VRA Amsterdam at Thurlede. The Amsterdammers’ sequence of five wins on the trot has carried them from a fairly distant seventh to the brink of the top four, and they will know that victory here will carry them over the loser of HCC-VOC and into the play-offs. The return of Ben Cooper has come in the nick of time for them, while Excelsior have clearly been weakened by the departure of Tristan Stubbs. On the other hand, the Schiedammers always look a better side with Tom Heggelman in it, and it was striking to see him coming in at four against VOC last week. If VRA can put out their strongest eleven – which is far from being a given – they must start as favourites even at Thurlede, and with a crack at the championship on the line, it’s a fair bet that there will be a three-line whip in operation in the Amsterdamse Bos.

BdJ: Hard to say whether a three line whip will mean much to VRA’s herd of cats, even those of them still physically capable of taking the field. That said, VRA will likely be fielding something not all too far off a first-choice side come Sunday, and anyway have not seemed unduly reliant on any one or two players in the way that Excelsior’s fortunes have depended on Ingram and Stubbs, bar arguably skipper Peter Borren’s leadership. Ingram of course remains capable of winning games almost single handed and his team mates generally offer better support at home than they do away. Heading to Thurlede needing a win is not a situation any team wants to find themselves in, but VRA would have taken it five weeks ago and will be making the trip with momentum on their side.

RL: HBS Craeyenhout could still squeeze into fourth spot, but they would need both VOC and VRA to lose, as well as pulling off a home win against a resurgent Voorburg. They will have been buoyed by Wesley Barresi’s 81 against VRA last Sunday, but Tayo Walbrugh has not been the force he was since he tested positive for Covid, and the Crows will be hoping that he chooses this moment to reassert himself. Voorburg’s total demolition of Dosti doesn’t in itself prove very much, but Logan van Beek and Viv Kingma looked pretty sharp with the new ball, and with Bas de Leede and Stef Mulder to follow, not to mention Aryan Dutt’s options of seam and spin, they can be relied upon to give the HBS top order a hard time. Ryan Klein certainly has the capability to respond in kind, and if the rest of the Crows’ seam attack is a little less menacing, the spinners have the potential to cause some problems for a Voorburg line-up which has been steady rather than all-powerful. This one is, as the psephologists say, too close to call.

BdJ: With, Visée, Walbrugh and now an in-form Barresi in the line-up the HBS top order looks almost as intimidating as that of 2018/19, though the VCC arguably boast the attack best-suited to neutralising that threat. On the other side of the equation, neither HBS’ bowling nor VCC’s batting has looked particularly threatening this season, the Crows over-reliant on Ryan Klein for wickets while the VCC top order has been more obdurate than explosive thus far. Should HBS bat first the match might well be decided early one way or the other, and either way one suspects that’ll be the innings that draws the most eyeballs. If HBS’ batting against VCC’s attack is a box-office match-up, the converse promises to be more block-fest than blockbuster.

RL: Assured of top spot going into the play-offs, Punjab Rotterdam travel to Amstelveen to take on ACC. For those members of the side named Zulfiqar it’s a return to their roots, since Het Loopveld is where they learned their cricket and where, at the age of fifteen, triplets Sikander, Saqib and Asad made their Topklasse debut. A great deal has happened since then, and ACC have had a tough season while the Zulfiqars’ adopted club is riding high. But Anis Raza’s men will have been encouraged by the way they earned their win against Sparta last Sunday, and they have shown in the past that they can make ‘t Loopveld a testing place to visit. Punjab’s top order, on the other hand, have demonstrated often enough that when fours are at a premium there’s always the aerial route, and with Steph Myburgh in vintage form and an attack which is adept at making opponents work hard for every run, they will be keen to go into the play-offs in winning mood.

BdJ: Though for Punjab this fixture is arguably little more than a warm-up for the playoffs, one suspects they will relish a trip to het Loopveld as a chance to build momentum going into the season’s decisive phase. While other sides have struggled to pace their innings in the face of ACC’s nagging attack and sluggish outfield, the Zulfiqars naturally all know how to score on their old ground and neither Myburgh nor Nidamanuru need necessarily be troubled by the length of the grass. Punjab’s attack is also well suited to take advatage of conditions, while ACC themselves have a habit of going into their shell in the face of disciplined bowling, especially if they lose a few early. That said, are not above losing concentration and rapid wickets in the face of weaker sides, as they showed against Dosti early in the season. While it’s hard to see ACC winning this one might just imagine Punjab contriving to lose.

RL: The season ends for Dosti Amsterdam and Sparta 1888 – though probably not soon enough for either – with a foot-of-the-table encounter at Sportpark Drieburg. When these sides met at the Bermweg back in June it turned out to be a real nail-biter, with Dosti failing by just three runs to chase down Sparta’s total of 217. Sparta have won only once since, while their hosts on Sunday have extended their losing run to 25 matches, or 28 if No Results are included. A win for either here would clearly be a morale-booster, and especially for a Dosti side which has battled gamely on occasions, even when manifestly out-classed. Sparta have more potential match-winners, not least Ali Raza who played his one substantial innings of the season last week, but if Dosti can muster a final team effort they could just pull off that elusive win.

BdJ: Though in the absence of any threat of relegation there will be little but pride on the line at Drieburg, one suspects Sparta will be keen to avoid a place in the history books as the club that broke Dosti’s record winless streak by becoming the first team to lose to the former Topklasse champions in over two years. Yet for Dosti one suspects signing off with a win may go some way toward holding the side together over the winter, given the toll two winless season must take even on Dosti’s seemingly inexaustible morale. On paper there’s every chance of the points-drought at Drieburg ending on Sunday. Mahesh Hans, Vinoo Tewarie and Rahil Ahmed have all put up solid scores on occasion through the season, and Sparta’s attack looking somewhat pedestrian, especially in the absence of Mudassar t-Bukhari. Bar Asief Hoseinbaks, though, the hosts lack reliable wicket-takers and have struggled to find 50 overs of even adequate Topklasse-level bowling. Removing Garnett Tarr in reasonably quick time looks like a necessary (if not necessarily sufficient) condition for a Dosti victory, an outcome which for once looks merely improbable rather than implausible.

RL’s picks: HCC, VRA, Voorburg, Punjab, Sparta.
BdJ’s picks: VOC, VRA, VCC, Punjab, Sparta

Round 17 Preview

Bertus de Jong and Rod Lyall 07/08/2021

As the league phase of the Topklasse heads into the final straight, there’s still three top-four slots left undecided, with Punjab are assured of a spot in the playoffs, while HCC and VCC are just one win or some helpful neutral results away, while four more teams are still in at least arithmetic contention. HCC and Voorburg are effectively guaranteed a place if they win or tie either of their remaining games, fourth-placed VOC will be looking to hold off challengers HBS and VRA, while one particular string of results might still see Excelsior sneak into the top four.

BdJ: First-placed Punjab Rotterdam assured of a place in the play-offs and nearest rivals HCC are vulnerable only should they lose both their remaining matches and VOC win both of theirs, but both will looking up rather than down at this point. Topping the table will confer more than just bragging rights this year as the top two finishers effectively gain a lifeline in the playoff phase and the first-placed side initial home advantage. Seeing off HCC would guarantee Punjab pole position in the next phase, but the Rotterdammers have been looking a little wobbly of late, losing two of their last three matches. Their obliteration of Sparta last week was of course a reminder of how the Punjab batting can take a game away if they get on top, but the HCC attack has consistently proved the most effective in the league, and if their batting lacks the explosive power of their opponents, it has the advantage of strength in depth.

RL: It’s certainly true that no attack in the competition – with the possible exception of a full-strength Voorburg – is better fitted to trouble Punjab’s powerful batting line-up than HCC’s, although it was evident last week that it is a good deal less devastating without Hidde Overdijk. The Lions’ batting has, in a sense, been the victim of the bowlers’ success, chasing low totals in T20 mode doing nothing for the building of an innings. But they will be hoping that Tonny Staal’s half-century last Sunday, his first since the opening day of the season, betokens a timely return to form in advance of the business end of competition, while Damian Crowley’s unbeaten 93 confirms how important he is in the middle order. Punjab’s containing bowlers have stood the side in good stead throughout the campaign, but the mouth-watering aspect of this game is the contest between the Topklasse’s most destructive attack and its finest top order.

BdJ: While the top-table clash at the Zomercomplex may be the week’s most eye-catching fixture, the clash between VRA Amsterdam and HBS Craeyenhout is arguably more consequential. With both teams currently outside the top four the fixture is effectively a knock-out, or at least will likely prove such in retrospect. VRA’s principal difficulty all season has just been getting 11 fit men on the field, with an improbable string of illnesses, absences and injuries leading to some surprise call-ups (and indeed recalls) over the course of the summer. The return of Eric Szwarczynski and Ben Cooper will do much to shore up the batting however, while Leon Turmaine’s form with the ball means young Luke Hartsink’s season-ending bike accident need not be season-ending for his team-mates too. HBS have had their own availability issues of course, though with both Walbrugh and Klein back in the side and Toby Visée finding some form they look close to full strength for Sunday. That said it’s a testament to VRA’s depth that they’ve managed to compete at all this season, and though HBS doubtless have the two biggest names on the field the home side looked the more balanced of the two likely elevens on Sunday.

RL: This, too, is a fascinating encounter. Having Szwarczynski and Cooper back in the side will give VRA a huge boost at a crucial moment, while the Crows have on the whole been a more settled unit. They will be smarting after last week’s loss to VOC, the more so for having had such a stellar start, and the prospect of bowling to Singh, Cooper, Szwarczynski and Borren after the mauling they received from O’Dowd and Rutgers will be less than enthralling. On the other hand, Tayo Walbrugh may well relish the idea of batting on the Bos’s turf – always assuming that the overnight rain which is again on the cards doesn’t make life unduly difficult. The two attacks, too, make an interesting comparison: Gunning and Abid have looked sharp with the new ball for VRA, with Singh and Borren providing seam back-up and Turmaine (and the unhappily absent Hartsink) the spin option, while Klein and Ferdi Vink have been the leading edge of a four-man seam attack with Sander Geenevasen and the steadily-improving Benno Boddendijk, with the spin coming from Julian de Mey, Navjit Singh and, on occasion, Wesley Barresi.

BdJ: While last week’s defeat at HCC has taken Excelsior’s fate out of their own hands, they aren’t quite out of it yet. Should VRA take the points at the Bos on Sunday then the Schiedammers could enter the final round in contention, but first they need to dislodge VOC Rotterdam from their current spot in fourth, a tough ask away at Hazelaarweg. Though the Bloodhounds have been rather over-reliant on openers Scott Edwards and Max O’Dowd for runs this season, the return of a rejuvenated Corey Rutgers, unburdened of his Belgian responsibilities, has lent a degree of solidity to the middle order. Conversely the loss of Tristan Stubbs has been keenly felt at Excelsior, whose youthful side will have to do more to support the evergreen Lorenzo Ingram if they are to upset VOC on their own turf.

RL: The return of Tom Heggelman from holiday will give Excelsior a welcome boost, as the return of Pieter Seelaar from injury did VOC last week. Both sides will have been disappointed by the contributions of some of their home-grown batters in the course of the season, but the trump card for VOC has been the contribution of their two Dutch international openers, who have between them produced 1336 runs, or more than half of the side’s runs from the bat. Heggelman’s men will need to figure out a way to get both of them early if they are to prevail, and then hope that a couple of their batters are able to share substantial partnerships with Ingram. That will involve dealing with a VOC attack which has on the whole been more effective than the top order, with Pierce Fletcher providing the cutting edge and Siebe van Wingerden one of the most improved players of the campaign.

BdJ: At Westvliet Voorburgwill look at a home fixture against Dosti-United as a golden opportunity to break into the top two ahead of the final round. With Logan van Beek and Vivian Kingma back and bowling the VCC attack is back to full strength, and though the batting has looked brittle when genuinely tested it would be remarkable if it were to be so on Sunday. Though Dosti still have the capability of springing an upset, it would be a brave man to bet against them extending their record-breaking losing streak at Westvliet this week.

RL: Currently at a net run rate disadvantage to HCC, with whom they are level on points, Voorburg will want to take full advantage of their meeting with Dosti ahead of next week’s tough final assignment against HBS. The Amsterdammers’ bits-and-pieces side, shorn of the protection of a battery of overseas players, has looked hopelessly outclassed all season, a few brief periods of competitiveness aside, and Bas de Leede’s men will start as unbackable favourites. The return of Van Beek from England and Kingma from the physiotherapist’s table gives them a much more formidable look, well as their replacements have performed, and while they have largely failed to dominate with the bat it seems improbable that Asief Hoseinbaks, Mahesh Hans and Co. will be able to contain them for long.

BdJ: Finally Sparta 1888 and ACC will contest what would have been a crucial game were relegation on the cards this season, though as it is they will be playing purely for pride at Bermweg. Both teams have plenty of that of course, as well as a couple of wins under their belt, both most recently against VOC. Sparta have looked abject since losing the combative Mudassar Bukhari however, sinking to heavy defeats to VCC and Punjab. ACC looked equally poor last week against VCC however, and have developed a habit of just looking to bat time if they lose a couple of early wickets. Should Sparta be able to make early inroads into the ACC line-up, something they’ve shown themselves capable of even without Bukhari, they may just be able to get on top of the Amsterdammers and give the home fans some thing to cheer for in their final home game of the season.

RL: These sides have displayed contrasting styles of awfulness with the bat in recent games, Sparta collapsing dramatically from almost any position – which is to say, whether Garnett Tarr and Bukhari make runs or not – and ACC limping along at not much more than two runs an over. Should Bukhari return this week it will give the home side a much-needed boost, but with their Belgian contingent proving a big disappointment and the rest of the side, with the notable exception of paceman Max Hoornweg, performing fitfully at best, a win here would provide scant consolation as the club looks towards next season. ACC, on the other hand, do have a handful of promising youth players, but the club’s decision to go without any overseas this year has left them very, very exposed, and the senior members of the side have been unable to provide the cover or support they need.


Bertus de Jong’s picks: HCC, VRA, VOC, Voorburg, Sparta
Rod Lyall’s picks: Punjab, VRA, VOC, Voorburg, Sparta.

Preview Round 16

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 30/07/21

Three rounds to go, and still seven teams in the hunt for a place in the top four. The weather may have done its best to ruin a season which was always going to be a difficult one, but the outcome is one of the most exciting contests in a very long time – helped, of course, by the reintroduction of the play-off system. With seven points (less than two matches) separating second from seventh there is little room for any mis-steps, and only the most sure-footed will be contesting the semi-finals towards the end of August.

RL: The undoubted Eight-pointer of the Day pits HBS (currently fourth) against VOC Rotterdam (fifth) at Craeyenhout. Buoyed by the return of Tayo Walbrugh and Ryan Klein and the presence of Wesley Barresi, the Crows had a good win over Excelsior last week, and they will need to carry that form into another clash with a key rival. Victory here would enable VOC to leapfrog over their opponents and back into the four, and with Excelsior and HCC yet to play they have one of the tougher assignments in the final weeks. They, too, were boosted by the return of Bobby Hanif from injury, but the batting remains a worry once Max O’Dowd and Scott Edwards have returned to the side-line. They disposed of Dosti efficiently enough last Sunday, but Pieter Seelaar’s absence leaves a massive gap in both batting and bowling, and in this Aesopic contest between the Crows and the Bloodhounds it’s the men in black who seem more likely to come out on top.

BdJ: Word is the Dutch skipper may yet be seen again in VOC colours this season, perhaps even as early as Sunday. Certainly his return would go some way toward steadying a shaky middle order even if he doesn’t bowl his full quota. Even so it’s hard to look past Walbrugh and Klein’s form thus far this season, combined with the fact that VOC haven’t won a game against a side that wasn’t Dosti in the last five rounds.

RL: One can imagine that a lot of people in Schiedam are cursing the South African Warriors for not having started their pre-season training a week later, but as it is Excelsior ‘20 (sixth) will go into their match against HCC (second) at De Diepput without Tristan Stubbs. The Lions’ ruthless demolition of Sparta has made the statistics we quoted last week even more striking: over their last six matches HCC’s attack has now taken 60 wickets at an average cost of 8.15 runs per wicket. Excelsior, even without Stubbs, are likely to put up more resistance than Sparta, but even so they will need to be at their absolute best to cope with the threat of Overdijk, Bijloos, Klaus and Floyd. HCC have won all those six matches by bowling first and skittling their opponents, so winning the toss and attempting to put the home side’s top order under pressure might well be Excelsior’s best option. That said, the last time HCC batted first they recovered from 11 for four to post 237 for eight, so there’s no question but that they bat in depth.

BdJ: Excelsior’s strangle and chase strategy generally comes off best on home turf, and it’s worth noting that Stubbs’ departure also weakens their slow bowling attack somewhat. His absence thus puts even more on the shoulders of Lorenzo Ingram. Together with Umar Baker, who’s had a rather inconspicuous season thus far. With their last two games pitting them against fellow potential top-four contenders VOC and VRA, the Schiedammers route to the play-offs is far from easy. HCC could in principle afford to drop points this week, though they will likely have their sights on a top two slot at this stage. A home encounter with a weakened Excelsior will look to the Lions like a fine opportunity to stake that claim.

RL: Leaders Punjab Rotterdam, smarting from their defeat by Voorburg last Sunday, will entertain Sparta 1888, whose collapse against HCC was spectacular even by their standards. They were, of course, missing Mudassar Bukhari as well as their Belgian contingent, which left them ill-fitted to face the onslaught of the HCC attack. Punjab’s bowling is a different proposition, exponents of line and length rather than out-and-out cutting power, but they will also test their visitors’ resolution, albeit in a different way. Then there’s the home side’s top and middle order: they may have been out of sorts in recent weeks, but on their own patch, where they seem to have measured to the last millimeter the distance to every corner of the boundary, they can take a visiting attack to pieces in double-quick time if they’re in the mood. It’s hard to know at this stage what Sparta’s side will look like this week, but they will all need to come to the party if they’re not to see Punjab reverse their losing run.

BdJ: If one defeat is a hiccough and a second is a stumble, then heaven knows how mixed up that metaphor will get should Punjab be forced to call housekeeping on Sunday. The loss of Bukhari leaves a significant hole in both the batting and bowling for Sparta,  and on the face of it the match looks like a fine chance for the table leaders to get back to their winning ways as they look to build some momentum going into the play-offs. Conversely, though dropping out of the top four altogether is no longer a risk for the Rotterdammers, the prospect of taking a losing streak into the bottom half of the draw is not one they will relish.

RL: If HBS-VOC is the Eight-pointer of the Day, Voorburg’s visit to ‘t Loopveld to take on ACC is perhaps the Banana Skin of the Round. VOC discovered to their cost a fortnight ago that a trip to Amstelveen can be far from straightforward, and on a ground where runs can be at a premium Voorburg’s problems with pacing an innings could well be magnified. On the other hand, their attack has stepped up impressively, with Sajjad Kamal and Stef Mulder outstanding in last week’s win over Punjab, and they will seek to impose themselves on an ACC line-up which has been struggling for runs. With Dosti their next opponents Voorburg will be keen to consolidate their top four spot before they face HBS in the final round, while their hosts have nothing except honour to play for. That, though, should be incentive enough, and the younger component of their side have reputations to establish in advance of what is likely to be a much tougher campaign next season.

BdJ: Though ACC’s ambitions likely did not extend much further than team-building and development this season, the flip side of that is that for much of their young side this season is effectively an audition for a regular first team spot in 2022, when the Amsterdammers are expected to bring in some bigger guns. At home they have occasionally proved a handful when they get runs on the board, aided by the turgid outfield at het Loopveld and, at least early in the season, a remarkably disciplined approach to fielding. That discipline has slipped somewhat in recent weeks but, as VOC showed, timing a chase remains a tricky proposition as indeed does scoring rapid risk free-runs at any point with attempted acceleration usually resulting in wickets falling. Such considerations are not enough to make VCC underdogs by any stretch, but putting together a win at het Loopveld remains a different sort of challenge to the one the met at home against Punjab last week.

RL: Every match day is High Noon for VRA Amsterdam now, given that they are six points outside the four in seventh spot, and they need not only to win all their remaining games but to see the other results go their way. Even if all goes well they may need to improve their NRR considerably as well, and they will no doubt view their visit to Sportpark Drieburg to take on Dosti Amsterdam in that light. They posted 302 for six when the sides met in the Bos at the end of May, and Dosti’s fortunes have if anything declined further since then. VRA’s line-up has tended to vary from week to week, but Luke Scully and Jack Balbirnie have added significantly to their batting resources, compensating for the absence of Ben Cooper and the variable availability of Eric Szwarczynski, while the attack benefits from the continued development of Ashir Abid and Luke Hartink. It’s hard to know what remains to be said about Dosti, except that the end of the league phase probably can’t come quickly enough for Vinoo Tewarie and his embattled outfit.

BdJ: VRA’s improbable procession of injuries has continued unabated meanwhile, with Hartsink reportedly out for the rest of the season with a fractured wrist, Cooper still recovering, and Udit Nashier out with a shoulder complaint it’s not even clear that they will have 11 men on Sunday. Still two wins short of a top four slot they can’t afford any slip-ups, and losing to Dosti would certainly be an emphatic way to end their play-off hopes. Given the state of Dosti at the moment it’s likely that any side VRA cobble together will start as favourites of course, but no Topklasse team has ever been due a win more than Vinoo Tewarie’s side, and given the season-ending consequences of defeat for VRA this match would be my pick for the round’s pre-eminent banana skin.

RL’s picks: HBS, HCC, Punjab, Voorburg, VRA.
BdJ’s picks: HBS, HCC, Punjab, Voorburg, VRA.

Preview Round 15

Bertus de Jong and Rod Lyall 22/07/2021

With four rounds to go in the League phase of the Topklasse, seven teams remain in at least arithmetic contention for a spot in the playoff phase, with five of those within four points of each other. Even long-standing frontrunner Punjab Rotterdam, despite a nine-point cushion, find themselves theoretically in jeopardy of slipping out of the top two and losing the associated lifeline in the finals phase. Behind them are four clubs all within a single point of one another, all gunning for at least second but none safe from missing out altogether.

BdJ: Two of those four sides will be facing off directly come Sunday when Excelsior ’20 welcome HBS Craeyenhout to Schiedam. HBS sank to defeat against HCC last week, clearly missing the South African duo of Tayo Walbrugh and Ryan Klein whose absence was enforced by circumstances typical of the times. Whether the pair will be cleared to play by Sunday is doubtful, and without them the Crows face a still more daunting challenge at Thurlede. While Julian de Mey has more than justified his promotion up the order this season and Benno Boddendijk has stepped up with the ball of late, it’s hard to see either filling the shoes of HBS’s shrewdly chosen overseas players. Should Toby Visée find some form or the Crows succeed in luring Wes Barresi out of his on-off retirement again the calculation may shift somewhat, but Excelsior are generally favourites at home even against full-strength opposition. A comprehensive win over Dosti admittedly indicates little these days, but the hosts boast an impressive home record and two of the three bats with the highest averages in the league. If they fail to take advantage of HBS’s woes on Sunday they will rightly look at it as a missed opportunity.

RL: The visit to De Diepput was always going to be difficult for HBS without their two overseas stars, but they will have been disappointed at such a comprehensive collapse, albeit against what is probably the sharpest attack in the competition. A trip to Thurlede is an equally forbidding prospect, and the timing of the Covid outbreak could scarcely have been worse for a side facing the toughest back end of the league phase of any of the contenders. Even without Tom Heggelman Excelsior look strong in all departments, the continued progress by Niels Etman giving extra edge to a well-balanced bowling unit. Ingram and Stubbs are, of course, bound to loom large in any opponents’ planning, but if the side around them is short on stars it has plenty of experience by now, three championships in four years between 2016 and 2019 testimony to their combined strength and resilience. If Walbrugh and Klein return it all looks quite different, but without them HBS will have another struggle on their hands.

BdJ: Similarly Voorburg may just sense a chance to close the gap with frontrunners Punjab Rotterdam when they host the current leaders at Westvliet on Sunday. 7th placed VRA handed Punjab only their second defeat of the season last weekend, putting a bit of a dent in their aura of invincibility, and while VCC are still missing their new-ball pair of Logan van Beek and Viv Kingma, Bas de Leede has stepped confidently into the role of pace spearhead in their absence. The batting is perhaps more of a concern, especially as de Leede’s form with the bat of late does not match his showing with the ball, but Karl Nieuwoudt has proved capable of holding the middle order together as well as ensuring skipper De Leede still has options with the ball. Punjab are top of the table for a reason of course, but last week’s defeat suggests they might just be taking their foot off the gas in the final straight.

RL: It’s a test of a winning side’s quality how well they come back from a reverse, and Punjab will doubtless have been engaging in some serious reflection following last Sunday’s defeat. VRA demonstrated the limitations of an attack which has specialised in the slow strangle, while the powerful batting top order looked worrying out of sorts. That said, the tail wagged to some purpose, Suleiman Tariq achieving a career-best score, and it’s hard to believe that a top five of the quality of Punjab’s will average nine runs a head two weeks in a row. Still and all, Voorburg’s reconstructed attack has been pretty effective in recent weeks, Nieuwoudt providing excellent support for De Leede with the new ball, and with Stef Mulder and Aryan Dutt picking up three wickets apiece against Sparta last Sunday they will face the Punjab challenge with a degree of confidence. It is, however, Voorburg’s batting which raises doubts, and unless De Leede, Sybrand Engelbrecht and Aryan Dutt all come off it’s hard to see them making enough runs quickly enough to put the leaders under pressure.

BdJ: Meanwhile VRA realistically need a win in the Amsterdam derby when they take on ACC at the Bos if they are to keep their hopes of a top four finish alive. Last week’s win will bolster their chances, not least as young Vikram Singh seems to have rediscovered his confidence with the bat as well as looking an increasingly serious threat with ball in hand. In the absence of Ben Cooper having Singh back at his buccaneering best will be a major boost for the hosts when they take on their local rivals, who themselves will be riding high after scoring an upset win over VOC at het Loopveld last weekend. It was principally a disciplined bowling effort assisted by a torpid outfield that saw ACC strangle a win out of VOC on Sunday though, tactics which are unlikely to prove as effective at the other end of Kalfjeslaan. The visitors will need someone to stand up with the bat if they are to take points home on Sunday, and weather a somewhat more intimidating seam attack in so doing.

RL: VRA realistically need a win every week from here to the end of the league phase if they are to squeeze into the four, but last Sunday’s ACC performance notwithstanding, this should be one of their easier assignments. Comings and goings in the ACC batting line-up continue to cause them problems, and Sahil Kothari has found it difficult to reproduce the form he showed during a couple of stellar weeks back in May. Their bowlers, too, are likely to find that VRA have more firepower and greater stickability than VOC showed once a couple of wickets had fallen: the more consistent presence of Eric Szwarczynski in the VRA side has made a considerable difference, while Jack Balbirnie has proved to be an extremely valuable acquisition. Youngsters Ashir Abid and Luke Hartsink more than pull their weight in the attack, while it’s hard to remember that Vikram Singh and Shirase Rasool are still only 18. ACC have a youth contingent of their own, but it’s much harder for them to shine without the likes of Borren, Szwarczynski, Gunning and Lees to offer them cover.

BdJ: Second-placed HCC will look to shore up their position when they head to Bermweg to take on Sparta 1888, hoping their hosts’ shock win over VOC three weeks ago was a mere flash in the pan. HCC have looked more like their 2020 selves after a tough start to the season marred mostly by the weather, with five consecutive wins in the bag heading into Sunday’s encounter. A well-rounded pace attack combined with a slow-bowling section featuring this season’s lead wicket-taker Clayton Floyd has helped HCC claw their way back up toward the top of the table, and though most of the top order have had off-days the line-up is deep enough to ensure a degree of resilience, and the return of all-rounder Hidde Overdijk arguably makes HCC the most balanced all-round side in the competition. Conversely Sparta have been dependent on overseas bat Garnett Tarr for consistent runs, and Max Hoornweg for wickets. While Mudassar Bukhari is capable of chipping in on either side of the ledger, few of the rest of the line-up have contributed consistently all season. While their defeat of VOC shows what Sparta are capable of at their best, it would be an eyebrow-raiser if they were to repeat that trick on Sunday.

RL: HCC’s opponents in their last five games have managed 104, 68, 63, 101 and 80, with Floyd, Ollie Klaus, Overdijk and Reiner Bijloos taking 45 wickets between them at an average of under nine. Sparta’s batters, on the other hand, have repeatedly collapsed, and it will take more than Tarr’s technique and temperament if they are to cause such a bowling unit any severe problems. The toss may be crucial here: HCC’s top order has looked much less imposing, falling apart the last time they had to bat first, and Sparta’s best chance of causing another upset may come if they can get into the field and seize the initiative with the ball. But there’s no doubting the quality of batters like Musa Nadeem, Tonny Staal, Boris Gorlee, Damian Crowley and Overdijk, and Hoornweg, Bukhari and Co. will need to be at their very best if they are to keep the Lions’ score within reasonable bounds.

BdJ: Finally VOC Rotterdam will host the thus-far winless Dosti-United at Hazelaarweg, hoping to put last week’s upset loss at ACC behind them. While VOC’s lack of depth has been repeatedly exposed in the absence of Pieter Seelaar, Dirk van Baren and Bobby Hanif, it’s hard to see them hand Dosti their first win in years at Hazelaarweg on Sunday. Max O’Dowd remains in imperious form at the top of the order, and opening partner Scott Edwards is unlikely to repeat last week’s mistake of trying to sweep literally every ball he sees for six over his shoulder. Dosti, as we write every week, have the capability of pulling an upset if they all turn up at once. But then they never do.

RL: After losing four matches on the trot VOC now have a real fight on their hands to reach the play-offs, and with HBS, Excelsior and HCC lying in wait for the final three weeks this is a crucial opportunity for them, not only to win but to do so in style. That they have the players to achieve that seems clear, but they have been a side in recent weeks that has contrived to be less than the sum of its parts. That that is also true of Dosti is by now axiomatic, and they may still bear the scars of these sides’ encounter in Amsterdam back in May, which was one of the more distasteful – as well as one-sided – experiences of the season. Whether that will spur them into all turning up at once remains to be seen, but to achieve that they would need to neutralise the threat of O’Dowd and Edwards. And that’s a very big ask indeed.


BdJ’s picks: Excelsior, VCC, VRA, HCC, VOC
RL’s picks: Excelsior, Punjab, VRA, HCC, VOC.

Preview Round 14

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 14/07/21

With five rounds of the league phase remaining and a single point separating the teams placed from third to sixth, the battle for top four spots is really heating up. It seems more than probable that every point will matter all the way to the final round, in which context it’s striking that all five matches were completed last weekend despite the weather – the difference between one point and four certainly concentrates minds, and a couple of games which in other circumstances might have been abandoned were (most creditably) played to a finish. This is also the moment at which the Topklasse programme moves from Saturday to Sunday, making room for the group phase of the T20 Cup to get under way on Saturdays.

RL: Sunday’s Eight-pointer of the Week is the meeting between HCC and HBS, currently third and second respectively, at De Diepput. HCC have now won four on the trot, and although three of them have been against sides in the bottom four they do appear to have recovered from their blip earlier in the season. Boris Gorlee’s taking over the captaincy may have been a factor, but the return of allrounder Hidde Overdijk on a regular basis is likely to have been an even greater one. The wicket-taking of Clayton Floyd, who collected his third five-wicket haul in the side’s highly impressive victory over Voorburg last Saturday, is evidently another, although there remain doubts about the solidity of the top order. HBS have also improved as the campaign has gone on, and with Benno Boddendijk emerging as an effective seamer beside Ryan Klein and Ferdi Vink the attack looks better balanced than previously, if the batting remains overly dependent on Tayo Walbrugh and Navjit Singh. This has all the signs of being a very absorbing battle indeed.

BdJ: The Singh and Walbrugh partnership has indeed been indispensible to HBS’ fortunes this season, though Julian de Mey continues to justify his promotion up the order and Tobias Visée remains a menace. Coming up against the HCC attack, which is collectively the most in-form of the league at the moment, will nonetheless prove a stern test for a line up that rather lacks for depth. The HCC batting is likewise something of a vulnerability however, with none of the top order really finding any consistency yet this season. If this is likely to be the most important match of the round it is equally the toughest to call.

RL: Now ten points clear at the top, Punjab Rotterdam will entertain VRA Amsterdam at the Zomercomplex. If not yet mathematically certain of reaching the play-offs Punjab are probably within one win of getting there, and the odds are strongly in favour of their holding on to their table-topping position until the end of the league phase. VRA, on the other hand, are already six points adrift of the chasing pack, and they will know that defeat here would surely extinguish any remaining hope of squeezing into the top four. Beating Punjab on their own patch is, clearly, a daunting assignment, but the Amsterdammers brought their A game to last week’s defeat of Sparta, and if they can repeat that effort they are capable of at least testing a Punjab side which, if it has no obvious weaknesses, is after all mortal. Injuries and other absences have not made VRA’s campaign any easier, but with Quirijn Gunning back and Eric Szwarczynski looking in good nick, this game could be a lot closer than the form book alone suggests.

BdJ: While VRA are now accustomed to slow starts, this season they’ve taken even longer to really settle. Injuries and availability problems certainly haven’t helped, and the loss of Ben Cooper, even if out of form, strips them of a potential match-winner. Punjab meanwhile have match-winners aplenty in their batting line-up and momentum on their side. Their bowling attack too, despite a lack of personnel changes, has looked much stronger than in seasons past, not least due to the increasingly impressive Mubashar Hussain. For VRA time is running out to challenge for a play-off spot however, and they have the talent to capitalise on any complacency.

RL: After losing to HCC at home last week Voorburg will doubtless view their trip to the Bermweg to face Sparta 1888 with some trepidation. Voorburg’s problems of injury and absence have been even more acute than VRA’s, but the questionmarks about their batting don’t only stem from that: from the very start of the season they have had trouble pacing an innings, and the fact that when batting first they have only passed 200 once – and that against ACC’s limited attack – speaks volumes. Sparta, of course, are not without problems of their own, and they will be keen to show that their batting display against VOC was not the swallow which fails to make a summer. Their dependence on Garnett Tarr and Mudassar Bukhari with the bat remains a huge issue, and while their bowling can at its best prove effective, the batting has seldom matched it. For Voorburg, Bas de Leede has been bowling with pace and fire, as his effort defending a low total against HCC again showed, but he will need plenty of support if his side is to maintain its challenge on the run in. That said, three of their remaining fixtures, including this one, are against the bottom three sides, so that at least is a point in their favour.

BdJ: While de Leede has stepped up commendably to lead the attack in lieu of Kingma and van Beek, his form with the bat has been patchy and, especially without van Beek, Voorburg have lacked the batting depth to do without his contributions. Though Mohit Hingorani has done a decent job at the top and Karl Nieuwoudt has grown into his role in the lower middle order, the tail is too long for the VCC top order to play with much freedom. In Bukhari and Max Hoornweg Sparta have the potential to take early wickets and put VCC on the back foot. While the Sparta batting, Tarr and Bukari excepted, has been inconsistently poor, they have shown themselves capable of taking advantage if they get on top of the opposition. A win for the hosts would certainly still be an upset, but it does have the air of plausibility.

RL: VOC Rotterdam, on the other hand, complete their programme with games against HBS, Excelsior and HCC, so they will be keen to extract maximum advantage from their encounters with ACC at Het Loopveld this week and Dosti the following one. Another of the injury-plagued contenders, VOC have lost two of their last three matches, and even a century opening stand between Edwards and O’Dowd wasn’t enough to save them from defeat by Punjab. But they will be enormously encouraged by ACC’s dismal batting performances in the past two weeks, and although the Amsterdammers’ bowlers battled personfully against Excelsior last Saturday their inability to take wickets left them dreadfully exposed to the Ingram/Stubbs onslaught in the final overs. Sahil Kothari has been their one genuine success of the summer, and unless he plays and plays well it’s hard to see VOC heading back south without the points.

BdJ: VOC have indeed struggled in the absence of Pieter Seelaar, it’s difficult to see this ACC side taking advantage of their vulnerability. The Amsterdammers have, perhaps understandably, rather the look of a side treating the 2021 Topklasse as match practice for next season, especially after losing a couple of wickets in pursuit of a sizeable total. Though VOC are still well placed to challenge for a top-four spot, defeat to an ACC side that appears to be playing for pretty much the sake of it would be a humiliating blow to their confidence, if not necesarily their season. Nonetheless it’s not out of the question given the fragility of the Rotterdammers’ batting card from number three down, and unlike their hosts they have a lot to lose.

RL: Trepidation is probably an inadequate word to account for Dosti-United’s feelings as they eye the arrival of Excelsior ‘20’s Ingram and Stubbs at Sportpark Drieburg. The Amsterdam club’s belated withdrawal from the T20 Cup underlines the crisis which the club is facing, having lost 21 Topklasse matches on the trot, and one can only feel the deepest sympathy for Vinoo Tewarie and his men as they struggle week in, week out to keep their heads above water. The cover they have had in the past from a group of outstanding overseas players has been missing for the past couple of seasons as a result of the pandemic, and that has left them dreadfully exposed. Outside the top four and needing every point they can get, Excelsior have no reason to take their foot off the accelerator, and they are likely to be another side taking four crucial points back down the A4 on Saturday afternoon.

BdJ: One might make a case that Dosti have suffered somewhat from the decision to dispense with relegation for the past two seasons, and that a stint in the Hoofdklasse might have suited them better, but if nothing else they are to be commended for taking their poor run of results in good humour. Rahil Ahmed has at times looked back to his best at the top of the order and most of Dosti’s games have seen at least one or two commendable individual performances from a diverse selection of the side. They’ve never really looked likely to put together a consistently competitive showing over two innings, however, and even should they do so on Sunday it’s unlikely to be enough without the wickets of Stubbs and Ingram. Both coming off unbeaten centuries against ACC, neither look in the mood to go easy on sub-standard bowling. Though on paper Dosti’s attack boasts genuine wicket-takers in Masood, and Asief Hoseinbaks, and Tewarie himself has a knack for breaking partnerships with his legspin, it’s difficult to see a match-winning performance being assembled by an understrength team that has looked less than the modest sum of its parts.

RL’s picks: HBS, Punjab, Voorburg, VOC, Excelsior.
BdJ’s picks: HBS, Punjab, Voorburg, VOC, Excelsior.

Preview Round 13

Bertus de Jong and Rod Lyall 09/07/2021

With six rounds to go in the League Phase of this season’s Topklasse, under former formats there would be little left to decide besides who joins Punjab in the final and who could still challenge Dosti for the wooden spoon. With relegation off the table this season the lower end of the ordering of table is already just a matter of pride, but the top end is still very much a going concern with six or seven sides still in realistic contention for a place in the playoffs.

BdJ: With an eye on the top four and their nearest rivals, the biggest match of the weekend is without question Voorburg versus HCC at Westvliet. VCC have edged into second place with a win over VRA last weekend, but fifth-placed HCC are just one win behind with a far superior net run rate, and could conceivably swap places with their hosts if they take home four points on Saturday. Their task is not an easy one however. Despite stringing together a three- match winning streak against three teams from the bottom half of the table, their batting was barely tested except against VRA, where it was found wanting, if not quite wanting enough to miss a sub-seventy target. VCC’s attack seems to be operating well enough even without Logan van Beek and Viv Kingma, though their batting too has looked fragile at times. Facing an HCC seam attack collectively averaging about 16 with the ball and lead wicket-taker Clayton Floyd who’s averaging half that, getting runs on the board may prove a challenge.

RL: VRA’s top order looked comfortable enough against Voorburg’s second-string opening attack last Saturday before somebody hit the self-destruct button, but De Leede and Nieuwoudt showed against VOC the week before that that they could cause plenty of problems given the right conditions. HCC’s batting line-up does have strength in depth, but with only a couple of half-century partnerships since the end of May – one of them a big, match-winning stand at VOC between Damian Crowley and Hidde Overdijk after the top order had failed – they have less to how for it than they would like. Overdijk’s presence, though, makes a huge difference to the balance of the side, as Van Beek’s absence does to Voorburg’s. In Sybrand Engelbrecht, by the same token, Voorburg have a middle-order batter with plenty of first-class experience, who has demonstrated his value in recent weeks. HCC’s bowling may well be the difference between the sides, especially if they take a liking to the conditions on Westvliet’s turf pitch.

BdJ: Nine points clear at the top, a win for Punjab Rotterdam across town at VOC could practically guarantee them a place in the playoffs, as well as avenging their only loss thus far. If the Punjab batting looked rather off the boil against Excelsior last week, they may be relishing the chance to have a crack at a depleted VOC attack that was taken apart by the unfancied Sparta last week. With Bobby Hanif out with a knee injury and skipper Pieter Seelaar ever a martyr to his lower back, VOC look as dependent on Pierce Fletcher taking wickets with the new ball as on their opening pair of Max O’Dowd and Scott Edwards making big runs. Both are regular occurrences of course, but have the look of necessary but not sufficient conditions if VOC are to repeat their early upset win over Punjab.

RL: It was, we should remember, Arnav Jain and Siebe van Wingerden who got Punjab in a tangle at the Zomercomplex in May, but one might doubt whether that could repeat itself this time. The Punjab line-up of Myburgh, a quartet of Zulfiqars and Teja Nidamanuru, with Yasir Usman to follow, is enough to test any attack or chase down most totals, but the decisive battle is likely to be the one between O’Dowd and Edwards on the one hand and Punjab’s nagging attack on the other. They did well to neutralise Ingram and Stubbs last week, and will need to be equally effective at least if they are to meet the challenge of VOC’s international openers. The rest of VOC’s batting line-up continues to look vulnerable, but if the Bloodhounds get off to a good start they may be difficult to hold back.

BdJ: Looking to close the gap with the top four, sixth-placed Excelsior ‘20 welcome ACC Amsterdam to Thurlede on Saturday. The Schiedammers put up a decent fight with the ball against Punjab last week, though the batting continues to look reliant on Lorenzo Ingram and Tristan Stubbs. ACC do not look in a position to seriously trouble Excelsior at Thurlede though, having fallen away somewhat after a battling start to the season. The debut of young spinner Zinesh Master gives them some hope for the future, but the Amsterdammers already look to have one eye on next season, seemingly treating their 200-run target against HBS last week as a chance for some time in the middle after the first couple of wickets fell. Bar Sahil Kothari no ACC bat has yet broken 200 runs for the season, and no ACC bowler has reached 10 wickets. It will at the least take the sort of collective performance that ACC have yet to produce to take four points home from Schiedam.

RL: One token of ACC’s problems is their inability to find a settled batting order; Kothari has had five different opening partners in ten matches, and the rest of the top six have been shuffled about as well. Excelsior’s issues are much less complex, effectively amounting to where best to deploy Tim Etman, who has struggled in an opening slot and may be happier batting down the order. For the rest, the Schiedammers’ attack is sharp and the batting reasonably solid, even if they found life difficult against Punjab last week. ACC, though, are a different proposition, and Excelsior may have their eye on their net run rate as well as on the result itself. That, of course, can be a trap, as HCC nearly found out to their cost a couple of weeks ago, but with the mid-table battle as tight as it is, a big win would stand the hosts in great stead for the run in. ACC will be severely tested to deny it to them.

BdJ: After a thoroughly miserable season Sparta 1888 suddenly produced a quite remarkable performance to upset VOC last week, and will hope to repeat the performance against a struggling VRA Amsterdam at the Bos come Saturday. Their had been hints that Sparta were capable of springing something all season, not least the form of Garnett Tarr and Mudassar Bukhari with the bat, and the rest of the line up have put up scores on occasion, notably Iqbal last week and Latif a couple of weeks prior. The latter will miss Saturday’s game due to international obligations with Belgium taking him off to Malta along with Sparta occasional Sherry Butt (and indeed your faithful correspondent), but VRA will no longer be looking at the fixture as easy points, especially given their own struggles. Though Quirijn Gunning’s return means the Amsterdammers can once again field their first-choice new-ball pair, the same isn’t true of their top order. With Ben Cooper injured and Vikram Singh in spotty form VRA’s batting looks dubious at best. Currently languishing on 18 points in 7th place, a loss would effectively put VRA out of contention. Sparta of course are even further from a playoff spot, but may relish the chance of taking their hosts down with them.

RL: Bukhari and Max Hoornweg will no doubt relish the opportunity of bowling at VRA’s top and middle order, although they won’t have forgotten how they were blitzed by Marcus Andrew at the Bermweg after they had reduced the Amsterdam side to 67 for five. Eric Szwarczynski is still a reassuring presence in the middle and Peter Borren a menacing one, but neither Singh nor Shirase Rasool has been having a stellar season (having only played five games, Rasool is barely having a season at all), and VRA’s capacity for sudden collapse has been one of the features of the campaign. Not that Sparta’s foundations have been any sounder, and last week’s cornucopia of runs against VOC, while not exactly coming from nowhere, was at any rate a significant turnaround, triggered by a decent opening partnership for the first time this season. The absence of Mamoon Latif will indeed make some difference, but it’s Bukhari, Tarr and Hoornweg who are crucial to Sparta’s chances, and if they’re at their best it could be Sparta who come out on top.

BdJ: Currently sitting in fourth place, HBS Craeyenhout have a chance to consolidate their position when they take on Dosti-United at Drieburg on Sunday. After a comprehensive victory over ACC in difficult batting conditions, the Crows look as favoured as can be against a Dosti side that has been winless since the times Corona was still a beer served with lime. Dosti skipper Vinoo Tewarie was the only bat to cross five as his side were brushed aside by HCC last week, and though Rahil Ahmed has on occasion been at his flamboyant best at the top of the order there’s been precious little to back him up thus far this summer. Though given their precarious hold on a play-off position HBS can ill afford to take any game lightly, one suspects they may be thinking as much about net run rate as points ahead of this particular fixture.

RL: What the man said. With a couple of exceptions Dosti have fluctuated between dire and abject this season, and you have to think that their run of failures, especially with the bat, can only be having a corrosive effect on Vinoo Tewarie’s side. Even the players who look of genuinely Topklasse quality – Tewarie himself, Ahmed, Mahesh Hans, Waheed Masood and Asief Hoseinbaks – are clearly finding it near-impossible to carry on the fight against overwhelming odds, and with Tayo Walbrugh, Ryan Klein, Navjit Singh and Co. coming to call the prospects again seem bleak. Winning the toss here would present Hobson’s choice to either captain: should Ferdi Vink, for example, try to emulate HCC’s brief encounter last week, or let his batters loose? Nothing’s a given in cricket, but for Dosti to be competitive in this case would require a massive effort of will as well as skill.


BdJ’s picks: Voorburg, Punjab, Excelsior, VRA, HBS.
RL’s picks: HCC, Punjab, Excelsior, Sparta, HBS.

Round 11 Preview

Bertus de Jong and Rod Lyall 25/06/2021

With the half way stage of the league phase behind us and the play-off phase on the horizon, jockeying for position on the Topklasse table is beginning to take a rather more urgent tone, especially for the teams hovering around the mid-table.

BdJ: Saturday’s match between VRA and HCC at the Bos would be an unexceptional mid-table fixture were it not for the introduction of play-offs this season. As it is both sides will be hard put to recover from a defeat if they’re to keep their top-four hopes alive. The hosts’ injury troubles continue to accumulate, with Quirijn Gunning still sidelined with a side strain and now Ben Cooper out with a thumb fracture. The VRA number three sat out Thursday’s Pro-Series fixture watching HCC’s Musa Nadeem construct a most impressive unbeaten match-winning century for the Hurricanes, and if the HCC opener can carry his form into the weekend VRA will have cause to worry.

RL: Matches such as this are indeed poster children for a play-off system, with both sides having plenty at stake in the knowledge that a place in the top four keeps their championship hopes alive. Whether HCC are really title contenders – their grievances over rained-off matches apart — depends on their winning matches like this, and doing so convincingly. Even without Damian Crowley they were much too strong for ACC last week, and VRA’s young attack and Borren-dependent batting line-up may struggle against the visitors’ strengths in both departments. That said, the Lions’ top order has shown signs of brittleness when put under pressure, and if Borren’s boys can step up to the mark this could be a lot closer than one might initially suppose.

BdJ: Meanwhile Voorburg will be looking to break back into the top four when they take on second-placed VOC at home at Westvliet, but will still be missing the new ball pairing of Logan van Beek and Vivian Kingma that had done so much to get them toward the top of the table early in the season. While the hosts still have plenty of bowling talent, it’s not unreasonable to ask where the wickets of VOC’s internationals are likely to come from, especially given the form of O’Dowd and skipper Pieter Seelaar, who hit 94 in the regional 50-over match on Thursday. Conversely the VCC batting has looked comparatively fragile in recent weeks, and over-reliant on Sybrandt Engelbrecht all season. VOC’s ranks will likely be thinned somewhat by injury however, with Seelaar himself in doubt owing to recurring back trouble, while Tim de Kok missed the pro-series games this week owing to concussion worries and Bobby Hanif is reportedly also ruled out due to knee trouble. Currently in fifth place, a loss need not end VCC’s ambitions, but the blow of three consecutive defeats to their confidence may be tough to bounce back from. Catching VOC understrength may just be the luck they need to get their season back on track.

RL: They certainly had luck going their way when the sides met back in early May, rain after a good Voorburg start leaving VOC a near-impossible DLS target. Over the piece though, and despite a couple of wobbles with the bat, VOC have looked a much more complete unit, and Edwards and O’Dowd remain a menacing presence at the top of the order. Should they go early the game would have a quite different complexion, especially if De Kok and Seelaar are missing, although Arnav Jain has been emerging as a key allrounder, valuable in the middle order as well as fulfilling an important role in VOC’s varied attack. The same applies to Voorburg’s Aryan Dutt, but even he and Engelbrecht cannot entirely cover their side’s stop-start batting form. With 126 runs at 18.00 and just three wickets so far Bas de Leede has perhaps been finding the burden of captaincy weighing too heavily upon his shoulders, and this would be the ideal moment for him to step up with the kind of performance of which he is undoubtedly capable.

BdJ: Title-holders Excelsior ‘20 have an opportunity to consolidate their claim on a berth in the play-offs when they welcome Sparta 1888 to Thurlede. Back on home turf and coming off a convincing win at VCC last week, the Schiedammers will be confident of adding four points to their tally against Sparta, who have struggled both with bat and ball all season. While overseas Garnett Tarr has been in fine form since his arrival he has received precious little support, the poor form of Sparta’s Belgian contingent a particular worry both for Sparta and for Belgium, who travel to Malta next week without the benefit of their planned Dutch warm-up tour. The cancellation also denied Latif, Raza and Butt the chance to play themselves into a bit of form ahead of Saturdays game, leaving the Sparta batting card looking thin indeed. Excelsior meanwhile have a solid line-up built around the middle order core of Ingram and Stubbs, and with Niels Etman in fine rhythm with the ball too they look to be hitting their stride.

RL: Excelsior will have not have forgotten the frustration of these sides’ encounter at the Bermweg back in My, when they reduced Sparta to 86 for six and were chasing a DLS target of 73, only to have the umpires declare the ground unfit and take the players off. Now fourth and just six points ahead of HCC in seventh spot, they will be doubly keen to pouch the points ahead of next week’s tough match against Punjab. Dropping Tim Etman, who has been struggling against the new ball, down the order and bringing in Luuk Kroesen to open worked like a charm last week, though admittedly the Schiedammers chasing a low total. As for Sparta, there’s a limit to how much Garnett Tarr and Mudassar Bukhari can be expected to do to dig them out of trouble, valiant as Tarr’s lone-hand century was against HBS last Saturday. Max Hoornweg remains a threat with the new ball, however, and he and Bukhari at their best could cause the Excelsior batting line-up some problems.

BdJ: Table-toppers Punjab Rotterdam will be heading to Craeyenhout to take on third-placed HBS hoping to put some distance between themselves and the pack. The Crows have accumulated an impressive record of wins thus far without ever looking entirely convincing, their place in the top four owing much to the imperious form of lead scorer Tayo Walbrugh. But with Julian de Mey and Navjit Singh in decent touch with the bat, Toby Visée at the top and perhaps even Wesley Barresi tempted out of retirement if last week is any indication, they’ll be happy enough with their batting. The bowling is perhaps more of a concern, especially given the strength and depth of the Punjab batting line-up, which racked up 375 against Dosti last weekend even without a substantial score for Stephan Myburgh. The match has the look of a potential high-scoring hitting contest, though as I recall I said something similar last season and look how that turned out …

RL: The absence of Saqib Zulfiqar has made surprisingly little difference to Punjab, who thoroughly deserve their place at the head of the table. Their nagging attack, perhaps somewhat underestimated as a factor in their success – they did, after all, bowl a full-strength VOC out for 136 – will face another of their tougher assignments in HBS on Craeyenhout’s artificial outfield, and neither should the potential contribution of Ryan Klein in cutting through the visitors’ top order be left out of account. This first-vs-third clash is, indeed, a mouth-watering prospect, and if the Crows may be slightly surprised to find themselves so well placed their performances so far, with Walbrugh the batting phenomenon of the season, thoroughly justify that position. High scoring or not, this game is undoubtedly an eight-pointer.

BdJ: At the other end of the table Dosti-United are still looking for their first win since a more innocent age, though they’ll be waiting at least until Sunday when they take on ACC at Drieburg on their now traditional 24-hour delay. Fair to say that their 204-run loss to Punjab does not augur well, nor indeed do any of their other results thus far. While ACC are unlikely to subject the Dosti bowling to the same sort of sustained assault that Punjab did, and again much of the Dosti top order got starts last week, one suspects the demoralising effects of such a drubbing will be felt even by a side as irrepressibly optimistic as Dosti’s. If they are able to bounce back though this may be their best hope of finally getting points on the board against an ACC side that suffered an almost equally comprehensive defeat away at HCC last week. Knocked over for 104 and managing just a single wicket in the HCC reply, ACC continue to look fragile when Sahil Kothari fails at the top of the order. Though other bats have got a score or two Kothari remains the only one to have passed 200 for the season, while no ACC bowler has yet got to double figures in terms of wickets. Neither side look likely to challenge for a top-four place this season, but there will be plenty of pride on the line at least at the “other, other” Amsterdam derby.

RL: Sooner or later, one feels, the bits-and-pieces efforts of Vinoo Tewarie’s side will come together in an ice-breaking performance, and there are not going to be many opportunities this season which are better than this one. A rain-affected victory over HBS apart, ACC have not been able to replicate last year’s better-than-expected achievements, and while Kothari has been impressive on occasion and Ammar Zaidi has provided solidity in the middle order, overall the batting has struggled for runs, leaving the bowlers with too much to do. For Dosti, the return of Rahil Ahmed has undoubtedly strengthened the batting, and in Waheed Masood, Asief Hoseinbaks, Mahesh Hans and Sami Naseri they have an attack which, that 375 notwithstanding, is capable of causing problems for opposing batters. If they can overcome the trauma of the Zomercomplex (which does sound a bit like a psychiatric condition), Dosti could spring a surprise here.


BdJ’s picks: HCC, VOC, Excelsior, Punjab, ACC
RL’s picks: HCC, VOC, Excelsior, Punjab, Dosti.

Preview Round 10

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 17/06/21

So we begin the long run-in to the finishing line this weekend with just three points separating third-placed Voorburg and VRA in sixth spot, and the battle for top four berths about to heat up. Nor should we forget that a top-two position gives teams a double chance of reaching the final, and the chasing pack will be looking out for any sign of a stumble from the current occupants, Punjab and VOC.

RL: Match of the Day looks like being at Westvliet, where Voorburg, currently third, will entertain Excelsior ’20 Schiedam. Both sides lost last Saturday, and really need to make up for that in this classic eight-pointer. Excelsior won their opening-day encounter at Thurlede, and with Tristan Stubbs now thoroughly established in the side and Lorenzo Ingram back in great form with the bat in last week’s defeat at VRA, they will be hoping to repeat that success against a Voorburg side which got itself into a winning position against HBS and then saw the game torn from their grasp. But the Schiedammers’ attack, so potent against HCC and VOC in recent weeks, was much less effective on the VRA turf, and will need to exploit the evident limitations in Voorburg’s batting if they are to take the points. The home side’s great strength, of course, has been their bowling, but in the continued absence of Logan van Beek their supporters will have their fingers crossed that Viv Kingma is fit to resume.
BdJ: VCC certainly missed their new-ball pair last week, and they’re likely to miss them again come Saturday. Van Beek of course remains in England for now, while if Kingma does play he’s unlikely to be bowling his full quota. Van Beek’s absence was also felt with the bat against HBS, when Engelbrecht was left looking in vain for support from the lower order. While Excelsior’s attack is generally less threatening away from home, it is no less capable than the HBS bowling line-up that ran through VCC last week, while the Schiedammer’s batting, especially with Ingram and Stubbs in such form, is arguably more intimidating, and certainly more resilient than that of HBS. The current champions sank to a narrow defeat against VRA in large part due to their own sloppiness in the field however, and while VCC may not be at full strength Excelsior will have to up their game if they are to stand a real chance of defending their title.

RL: As the second half gets under way VRA Amsterdam are showing signs that their traditional slow start is now altogether behind them, the resilience they revealed in squeezing the win against Excelsior last week perhaps a turning point. They will need those qualities again on Saturday, when they take on second-placed VOC Rotterdam in the Amsterdamse Bos. They owed much of their victory over Excelsior to the Amsterdamse Boss himself, former national captain Peter Borren, who missed out on back-to-back centuries by the narrowest of margins and then took the new ball in the absence of Quirijn Gunning, but Eric Szwarczynski’s half-century was also an encouraging feature of the batting. VOC, of course, have shown themselves to be serious championship contenders, with plenty of support for their international Big Three, but they were taken all the way by HCC last week, and it took another major innings from Max O’Dowd to seem them home. This clash between two sides with a long-standing rivalry should be one for the connoisseur.
BdJ: Though VRA do indeed look to have gotten past their traditional early season malaise, the injury and availability problems that have hampered their campaign thus far persist. Szwarczynski’s impressive return looks likely to be more of a mid-season cameo given the niggle he picked up during the same game, while Gunning remains sidelined and Shirase Rasool also looks likely to miss Saturday’s encounter, as is young offie Luke Hartsink. Gunning’s absence especially is likely to be telling given that failure to remove VOC’s top order early usually spells disaster, while the loss of Szwarczynski further weakens a top order bereft of form. VRA do have an enviable bench strength to call on however, with a handful of youth players already having a fair bit of senior experience, while the arrival of Jack Balbirnie has done a fair bit to shore up the batting while also providing ten overs of at generally adequate leg spin. While VOC’s top order, and O’Dowd in particular, are in imposing form, the middle order has been less reliable and the tail longer than the Rotterdammers would like. The question is likely to be whether the hosts have the bowling to expose these vulnerabilities.

RL: Three successive defeats, following a run of misfortune with the weather, have left HCC in mid-table, just ahead of this week’s opponents ACC, but the Lions are only five points adrift of VRA in sixth place, and a really strong series of performances could see them back in contention for a top four spot. To achieve this they will need their top order to return to the sort of form they showed at the start of the season: Damian Crowley and Hidde Overdijk did a great job in digging them out of trouble against VOC last week, but the disturbing bit is that they had to do so from a position of 11 for four. But ACC’s attack, Mees van Vliet apart, lacks that sort of cutting edge, and the Hagenaars will be odds-on favourites to repeat their opening-day victory at De Diepput on Saturday. Their bowling is varied, and looks all the better for the return of Overdijk, and unless Sahil Kothari can produce another of his specials, the ACC batting seems unlikely to make enough runs quickly enough to upset the home side.
BdJ: ACC’s young side has performed creditable thus far without ever threatening the top of the table. Their lack of reliable match-winners, Kothari apart, has generally seen them repeatedly sliding to honorable defeat. The loss of Charles McInerney has only compounded the issue, though the Amsterdammers may feel they’ve a solid base of a team to build on they look set to remain also-rans for 2021. They’ve every chance of picking up a win over an HCC side that’s looked much less assured as the season has worn on, though the strength of the HCC middle order does mean that the lately patchy form of Staal, Ahmed and Gorlee is something of a second-order concern. More of a worry is a seam attack that has looked serviceable for the most part but vulnerable on batting-friendly wickets, and generally looked a bowler light in the absence of the only occasionally-available Overdijk.

RL: Dosti United Amsterdam’s batting continues to improve, but the bottom side will need to improve markedly in all departments if they are to have a serious chance against leaders Punjab Rotterdam at the Zomercomplex. It will be a big plus if Rahil Ahmed and Mahesh Hans are able to establish themselves as a reliable opening partnership, and Arief Hoseinbaks will have gained great confidence from his maiden Topklasse half-century last week. But Punjab are currently top of the heap for good reason, and the way they dismissed the challenge of ACC last Saturday does not bode well for Vinoo Tewarie’s men. Featuring four quality seamers with the emergence of Mubashar Hussain, and with Irfan ul Haq filling in for Saqib Zulfiqar, the Rotterdammers have a very solid attack, and although Dosti caused some panic among the Punjab top order when the sides met back at the start of the season, a lot of water has flowed through the sluis since then, and with Stephan Myburgh a merciless destroyer of average bowling, the Upset of All Upsets does not appear to be on the cards.
BdJ: Punjab’s stumbling chase in their opening match against Dosti has, in retrospect, increasingly looked like nothing more than a first-game wobble. It’s also worth remembering that despite the inroads Dosti made into the Rotterdammers’ top order their was plenty of batting still to come when the winning runs were struck. While several Dosti players have produced decent spells or scores this season none have done so reliably, and going up against the table toppers they will need the sort of team performance they’ve not produced in years now if they’re to find their first win since 2019.

RL: The first sign of Sparta 1888’s troubles this season came at Craeyenhout on the opening day, when they crumbled to 102 all out and lost by nine wickets to HBS. Having managed – just – to post their first win against Dosti last Saturday, they will be hoping to reverse that result when HBS come to Sportpark Bermweg this week, but the truth is that between two sides who largely rely on a handful of key players, the visitors appear to hold the stronger hand. Overseas players Ryan Klein and Tayo Walbrugh are both potential match-winners for HBS, with Navjit Singh in a support role with both bat and ball, and while Tobias Visée has been quiet lately, he is like the volcano which becomes more likely to erupt the longer it goes without doing so. Against this, Sparta have the evergreen Mudassar Bukhari and the batting talent, yet to be fully realised, of overseas Garnett Tarr. But what applies to Visée goes also, if in smaller measure, for Ali Raza, and Max Hoornweg showed against Dosti that he can rip through sides when the mood is upon him. This is likely to be a good bit closer than the sides’ first meeting in May, but I would expect the outcome ultimately to be the same.
BdJ: The lack of runs from Sparta’s Belgian contingent has arguably been the Cappelle side’s most serious issue this season, and indeed may be a source of concern for their coach ahead of their first international fixtures of the summer against Malta next month. With Raza, Latif and Butt all averaging single figures thus far Sparta have been almost entirely reliant on Bukhari and Tarr for top-order runs, while Bukhari’s uncharacteristic lack of penetration with the ball this season has left their attack looking somewhat pedestrian. Though Klein and Walbrugh have been equally crucial to the Crows’ handful of wins this season the rest of the side has generally done a better job of supporting them. Coming off victory over the much-fancied (if under-stregth) VCC last week, it’s fair to say that HBS have the bigger win under their belt and momentum very much on their side.

RL’s picks: Voorburg, VRA, HCC, Punjab, HBS.
BdJ’s picks: Excelsior, VOC, HCC, Punjab, HBS.

Round 9 Preview

Bertus de Jong and Rod Lyall 11/06/2021

With the international Summer such as it was largely behind us (at least in as far as confirmed fixtures are concerned) attention returns to the serious business of the season. The league phase of the Topklasse approaches the half way point, and the table was just beginning to take shape before being thrown into confusion and then immediately settling down again. With the briefly-mooted idea of replaying washed-out games from May now dismissed again, there’s ten rounds left to go before the play-off phase, and six or seven teams still in with a decent shot at making the top four.

BdJ: Seventh-placed HCC’s hopes took a double blow over the past week however, when they were handed their second defeat of the season by new table-toppers Punjab before the decision to bin the idea of replays meant they would be stuck with three points from their three washed-out games.They head to Hazelaarweg looking to get their season back on track when they take on third-placed VOC Rotterdam, who slipped down from pole position last weekend when a weakened side slumped to defeat against Excelsior. Their international contingent will be back of course, and in the batting especially will benefit. The bowling looked decent enough even last week, with stand-in skipper Pierce Fletcher looking especially threatening, and Ramdas Upadhyaya also producing an impressive if brief spell of 2 for 3 in 2 overs. With young spinner and 2021 lead wicket-taker Siebe van Wingerden looking increasingly assured and Dirk van Baren stepping up with the bat, a full strength VOC at home looks a daunting outfit indeed. HCC will welcome back Musa Nadeem from international duty, but otherwise the side will likely look much the same as the one that lost to Punjab. In Clayton Floyd and Damien Crowley they have a serviceable spin attack to take to Hazelaarweg, and both Nadeem and Boris Gorlee have been in decent nick. The seam attack has rather lacked for penetration however and the rest of the batting has been in patchy form. As last year’s winners HCC don’t really warrant the label of underdogs, but you wouldn’t call them favourites either.

RL: HCC do indeed need to turn their season around again, following defeats by Excelsior and Punjab if they are to sustain their challenge for a top four place, and ultimately the championship. They have a good enough side on paper, but titles are won on the field, and a VOC smarting from last week’s defeat at Thurlede are scarcely ideal opponents for a team looking to avoid three losses on the trot. The Lions’ attack looks more threatening with Hidde Overdijk in it, and he, Reinier Bijloos and Ollie Klaus made Punjab work hard for their runs. But the return of O’Dowd, Edwards and Seelaar makes VOC a strong unit in all departments, and if they play to anything like their capacity it’s hard to see HCC returning to De Diepput with the points.

BdJ: Having claimed the top spot last week, Punjab Rotterdam have a chance to consolidate their position when they welcome ACC Amsterdam to the Zomercomplex on Saturday. ACC recorded their second win of the season against table-tailenders Sparta, and notably did so without any game-changing contribution from Sahil Kothari. Zaidi with the bat and Van Vliet with the ball were the stand-outs last week, while most every member of the side has a spell or a score to be proud of this season. They’ll need several players to fire at once to upset Punjab however, with Stephan Myburgh coming off a career-best effort in orange and Asad Zulfiqar stepping up with the bat in his absence. Punjab’s batting looks formidable, there’s little in the way of dead weight in the bowling either.

RL: One question is whether Saqib Zulfiqar will be fit to return to the Punjab side, having missed the last ODI against Ireland through injury, but Irfan ul Haq did well enough as his replacement against HCC to calm any worries the Rotterdammers might have on that front. In other respects, Punjab fully justify their current top spot: a nagging four-man seam attack which has the knack of taking wickets at just the right moment, the spin of Teja Nidamanuru, and one of the most powerful batting line-ups in the competition. But ACC just keep on punching above their weight, and if Kothari comes off and the rest of the batting gives him decent support, we could be in for a better contest than the teams’ relative positions on the table might suggest.

BdJ: If rumours are to be believed, VRA Amsterdam have prepared an honest-to-goodness grass wicket to honour the arrival of reigning champions Excelsior ‘20 Schiedam on Saturday. It’s unclear whether this aberration from the hosts is a tactical ploy, but it is worth noting that Excelsior generally don’t deal well with natural pitches other than their own, having won only once on somebody else’s turf in the last four seasons. Whether VRA have the bowling to take advantage of any such weakness is another question of course, having looked a seamer light even before Quirijn Gunning’s injury. The sunshine itself may also eat into the batting with a number of the host’s top order reportedly away to enjoy the weather elsewhere this weekend, though the return even of an out-of-form Ben Cooper will worry the visitors if the wicket is the sort that suits him. The Schiedammers certainly have form on their side, however, with the bowling clinically dismantling (an admittedly understrength) VOC last week, and of course Tristan Stubbs averaging a faintly ridiculous 231 with the bat in his debut season.

RL: Even without any absentees the VRA top order is a serious worry: the first five wickets have produced 100 runs just once this season, and that was against a Dosti side which in all fairness has been less than overwhelming for much of the campaign. As against that, the middle order has produced a couple of remarkable recoveries, not least the effort by Peter Borren and Mitch Lees at Craeyenhout last week. No Borren-led side can be written off, and Tom Heggelman will be well aware of his attack’s need to keep going all the way if they are dismiss VRA for a modest total. The Excelsior top order has exhibited a certain brittleness of its own in recent weeks, but Lorenzo Ingram is certainly due a score, and Borren’s men will not relish the prospect, having suffered at the hands of Tayo Walbrugh last time out, of Stubbs coming in at five.

BdJ: Meanwhile HBS Craeyenhout will get a run-out on grass as well for only the second time this season when they take on Voorburg at Westvliet. HBS will welcome back Tobias Visée from a weekend of sideline surfing and doubtless the destructive keeper-bat will relish the prospect of getting back on the field, especially one likely more suited to his style of play than the one he was sat next to at Kampong. That is just as well for the Crows, whose batting had looked a little reliant on Navjit Singh and Tayo Walbrugh, though given the latter’s form there’s clearly worse bats to rely on. The bowling is more of a concern, as with the exceptions of Ryan Klein and Julian de Mey the HBS attack has looked underwhelming thus far. VCC will be back at full strength with the return of their sizeable delegation to Utrecht; although the internationals weren’t needed last week against Dosti Voorburg will be glad to have an in-form seam attack when they face HBS. With all hands back on deck VCC do look the more balanced of the sides, but will need to find a way to remove or neutralise Walbrugh if they’re to bag four more points.

RL: HBS’s win last week took them into what some people still think of as the left-hand side of the table, just one spot outside the top four. They’re only one win behind Excelsior and two behind the rest of their rivals, but they will know that they can’t afford to lose too many encounters like this one if they are to keep within striking distance of a play-off place, and Voorburg at Westvliet is a tough proposition indeed. The home side will no doubt have spent quite a bit of time thinking about how to deal with Visée, who is a known quantity, and Walbrugh, who isn’t, and Van Beek and Kingma’s performances against Ireland confirm that they are a fearsome proposition, even on a pitch which may offer them less than Maarschalkerweerd. Voorburg’s batting isn’t quite up to the exceptionally high standard of the attack, but with Bas de Leede, Sybrandt Engelbrecht, Aryan Dutt and perhaps the returning Tom de Grooth it remains a force to be reckoned with.

BdJ: Finally in what already looks like a dress rehearsal for the dress rehearsal that is the non-relegation play-off, one or other of Sparta 1888 and Dosti-United will likely find their first win of the season when they meet at Bermweg. While the advent of Garnett Tarr has bolstered the Sparta batting somewhat and the veteran Mudassar Bukhari has been in fine form with the willow, the rest of Sparta’s batting has thus far failed to deliver. In the bowling department only Max Hoornweg has seen consistent success this season, with even Bukhari looking rather off the boil by his standards. Nonetheless the Capellenaars will be solid favourites at home against Dosti, who were categorically beaten at home last week by a VCC side missing half its first choice eleven. Though Dosti have looked competitive in phases and individual players have impressed at times, their next win still looks a long way off from here.

RL: My understanding is that the wooden spoon will be handed out after the round robin phase, with the lower-ranked clubs now spared a play-off phase, and barring a miraculous turnaround one of these two sides will be the recipient. While Dosti’s bowling has at times been up to the demands of the Topklasse, Waheed Masood, Asief Hoseinbaks, Sami Naseri and hard-pressed skipper Vinoo Tewarie turning in serviceable spells on occasion, the batting has looked hopelessly out of its depth, and even the return of Rahil Ahmed hasn’t produced the much-needed stability at the top of the innings. Sparta’s attack, spearheaded by Bukhari and Max Hoornweg, is unlikely to offer them much relief, while Tarr, Ali Raza and the rest of the home side’s batting may relish the opportunity to gather some runs and open up a gap to bottom place into the bargain.


BdJ’s picks: VOC, Punjab, VRA, VCC, Sparta.

RL’s picks: VOC, Punjab, Excelsior, VCC, Sparta.