Round 9 Preview

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 28/05/23

Most of the outstanding issues were settled on Saturday, but there’s still one top six spot up for grabs as we head into the final Phase 1 round. And with all points being carried through to Phase 2, three sides level at the foot of the table and a crowded pack in the middle, any win now could turn out to make all the difference when the four semi- finalists and the side heading for next year’s Hoofdklasse are being sorted out in August.

RJL: ACC head to Thurlede knowing that victory here will see them squeeze into the championship group and slam the door behind them. Their win over a depleted Salland on Saturday was decisive enough, but Excelsior were competitive all the way against Punjab, and they will not be easy opponents on their own turf. There may not be as much at stake for the Schiedammers as for their visitors, but they are a textbook example of how vital any points picked up now could be at the business end of the season, and while they may still be struggling to work out the most effective disposal of their talents, you can’t write off any team with the likes of Lorenzo Ingram and Tom Heggelman in it. Heino Kuhn, on the other hand, has made a bigger difference to ACC than just the runs he has scored, and the journeymen from ’t Loopveld thoroughly deserve their mid-table position. This has all the hallmarks of a very hard-fought encounter.

BdJ: Excelsior owe their place in the bottom four to an ongoing reliance on Ingram both for wickets and runs, though at least the veteran alrounder has been delivering on both fronts in recent weeks. What’s more the contributions of Heggelman and Stan van Troost against Punjab underscored the point that an underperfroming team is by definition one that you’d expect to improve – if only by reversion to the mean. Conversely ACC have arguably outperformed expectations thus far, with Raza and young Potdar especially impressing with the bat. This will be only their second outing on grass this season, and while they did take two points home from VRA in their first, they just barely managed to chase a two-figure target to get them. Despite trailing ACC by four points on the table, Excelsior still arguably look favourites on paper here. But the momentum, it must be said, is with the Amsterdammers.

RJL: Meanwhile, VRA Amsterdam will be keeping more than a weather-eye on events in Schiedam as they take on HCC at De Diepput. They not only have to beat a Lions side which has been cohering more and more after a disastrous start to their title defence, but they also have to hope that ACC slip up as they round the turn. Boris Gorlee’s emphatic return to form is an ominous sign, especially when added to the always-lurking threat posed by Jonathan Vandiar. Replacing Leon Turmaine with Vikram Singh in the captaincy certainly did not yield immediate effects for the Amsterdammers, although perhaps a match against the runaway leaders was not the fairest test of its supposed merits. Three defeats on the trot have landed VRA, who at one point looked like possible title contenders, in this difficult position; they have potential match-winners aplenty, but they will need to put in a consistent team effort if they are to overcome a resurgent HCC.

BdJ: Fair to say that the mid-stream horse exchange did not result in an instant turnaround for the stuggling Amsterdam side, problems of inconsistent batting and giving away an over-generous amount of extras with the ball persisting. Ashit Abid remains a threat with the new ball, and when Eduard Visser gets his lines right the right armer is also a wicket-taker, but the VRA attack has lacked rather for penetration and containment of late. Whether the captaincy change proves an effective remedy or merely another symptom of their troubles remains to be seen, but they’re running out of road for a turnaround, and will be taking on an HCC side with a top order that’s coming into form and a lower order that’s proved one of the more dangerous in the competition, thanks in no small part to Hidde Overdijk’s impressive all-round form. At the start of the season VRA might have headed to the Hague with a degree of confidence, but as it stands de Diepput looks like their last chance saloon.

RJL: Back in second spot after their dismissal of HBS, VOC Rotterdam are the last team in Phase 1 to have a crack at overturning a dominant Voorburg. Eighties from Lane Berry and Scott Edwards on Saturday again demonstrated how vital they and Max O’Dowd are to VOC’s prospects of regaining the title they last won in 2018, although Arnav Jain’s success with both bat and ball showed that they are more than three-trick ponies. Voorburg, though, have virtually no weaknesses in a side now strengthened by the addition of Logan van Beek, and a win here would not only enable them to finish Phase 1 in style, but would, even at this stage, almost assure them of a place in the top four come August. We could debate endlessly whether such dominance is really in the interests of Dutch cricket, but with six members of the side heading to Zimbabwe in their squad, Voorburg are, at least in the 50-over competition, way out in front, and VOC will have a massive task if they are to inflict a second defeat on the leaders.

BdJ: Logan van Beek’s brief stopover in the Netherlands was well-timed for VCC as it turned out, given that Vivian Kingma managed to roll his ankle in the warm-up on Saturday. Kingma’s injury is particularly galling given that he wasn’t going to be bowling in the match with the World Cup Qualifier rapidly-approaching and the Netherlands’ seam options drastically curtailed by the T20 Blast. Van Beek notably also bowled just three overs in that match, and with Kingma’s fitness potentially in doubt for Zimbabwe it’s likely he and Ryan Klein will both be encouraged to take it easy in their final match before departure. VCC’s slow-bowling unit remains the envy of the competition however, with Musa Nadeem also impressing with the ball on a VRA track that would not have looked out of place at Hazelaarweg. In these circumstances VOC might not mind playing what’s effectively a four-point Phase 2 match away from home, and while the Kennel-dwellers remain the Bloodhounds’ most consistent threat, it’s notable that most all of the side have most all put in a couple of (occasionally match-winning) performances this season. Whether they have what it takes to steal a march on the frontrunners is another question of course, but for once Voorburg may have reason to worry.

RJL: Having been pipped at the post by HCC on Saturday, Sparta 1888 make the journey to Deventer in the hunt for two points which would keep them neck-and-neck with their rivals for the top four. At least one of the four teams currently on ten points will miss out on the play-offs, and Sparta’s patchy form means that any win now could turn out to be vital later. They will take on a Salland outfit currently at the foot of the table, with a net run rate which means that they probably need to get at least one more win than their relegation rivals if they are to have any hope of staying up. Deprived of their German internationals they never looked likely to overcome ACC on Saturday, and even at full strength their good days have been few and far between. Sparta will have been buoyed by Garnett Tarr’s century against HCC but their batting remains inconsistent, and despite a fighting performance from Ahsan Malik in that game their bowling resources have been stretched by injury. They might, however, have enough shots in their locker to enable them to bring the points back to Capelle.

BdJ: Salland skipper Victor Lubbers set his side the rather modest target of “survival” at the start of the season, and as things stands it looks like that may have been overambitious. The absence of the German delegation was certainly felt last week, most notably in the person of Venkat Ganesan, but that in itself speaks to the Deventer side’s lack of depth. Consequently they’ve been particularly vulnerable to the risk of an underperforming overseas player, and Finn Raxworthy’s trouble adapting to Dutch conditions has left them without a reliable source of runs. Certainly Sparta have been more fortunate in that regard, and indeed in the astute acquisition of Joost Kroesen, though with their seam section arguably showing its age after a brutal Phase 1 shedule they will doubtless be glad of the mid-season switch to T20.

RJL: There was a moment there where HBS Craeyenhout might have believed that they had a chance of squeezing out of the relegation zone, but if so it was very firmly destroyed by VOC on Saturday. So now they’re another side for whom a win at this point would be gold dust, and they will be hoping that they can come back from that performance to take the points from Punjab Rotterdam on Monday. The Rotterdammers had to work hard for their victory over Excelsior, Mohsin Riaz’s century proving to be the difference, and they are another side which will not want to slip up going into what promises to be a very tough battle for the top four. Walbrugh and Barresi apart, Punjab are a stronger and much more seasoned outfit than their hosts, their attack well-balanced and their top six as powerful as any, and even if they are not the force they were a couple of seasons ago they will want to be in a position to mount a title challenge in the final straight. Walbrugh and Barresi will need plenty of support if HBS are to pull off an upset.

BdJ: HBS were another side with modest ambitions at the start of the season, and last Saturday again showed that the cautious pessimism at Craeyenhout was not unwarranted. Certainly their have been positives to be drawn from the early season, notably Kyle Klein stepping up to take a premature role as a senior player, and Lucas del Bianco’s solid showing for his new club thus far. Nonetheless if the Crows are to avoid another rebuilding phase in the Hoofdklasse they could certainly use the two points on offer. Punjab will likewise need every point they can get for the second phase of course, and it would be a surprise if they didn’t pocket them. Four bats averaging over forty up against a callow bowling attack at Craeyenhout is a recipe for big runs, and though Punjab haven’t quite got the value out of their eye-catching signing Aaliyan Mahmood that they might have hoped, the bowling has generally been solid enough. Saqib Zulfiqar in particular has been in fine form with ball as well as bat, and Sulaiman Tariq remains a steday performer. It’s possible of course that with a top six spot secured Punjab may take their eye off the ball, but the smart money says they’ll be starting phase 2 on 12 points.

RJL’s picks: Excelsior, HCC, Voorburg, Sparta, Punjab.

BdJ’s picks: ACC, HCC, Voorburg, Sparta, Punjab

Round 7 Preview

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 19/05/23

After a topsy-turvy Ascension Day programme which saw the three bottom sides all win, this Saturday’s fixtures look as if someone might have had advance notice of the current table when drafting the programme: 2 vs. 1, 4 vs. 3, 8 vs. 10, 6 vs. 7, all games which promise to have a major influence on the way the sides finish the first phase in (unbelievably) ten days’ time.

RL: The undoubted Match of the Day is the clash of the two top sides at Westvliet. Sparta 1888 had a near-miraculous escape against VRA on Thursday, and if Voorburg’s victory over ACC was not quite so dramatic, it needed Michael Levitt’s unbeaten century to see them home. Their bowling, though, remains a powerful weapon, Shariz Ahmad continuing to bamboozle opposing batters once the pacemen have done their work up front, and the shakiness of the Sparta top order might suggest that Voorburg will be back on top of the table by Saturday evening. That said, Ahsan Malik and Mudassar Bukhari are also a force to be reckoned with, and Khalid Ahmadi’s wicket-taking talents and explosiveness with the bat has been a significant factor in his side’s success so far. Not to mention the batting of Joost Kroesen, who has been a man transformed since moving to the Bermweg.

BdJ: Both Voorburg and Sparta will be looking ahead to Phase 2 now, both now being all-but assured of a spot in the top six. Neither have looked quite as dominant as the table suggests however. Voorburg’s seam attack hasn’t been quite the force we expected, and were it nor for Shariz’ 18 wickets at 10 they might have been struggling to bowl sides out. The batting too has been reliant on Levitt, Croes and Engelbrecht, together with Shariz again down the order, though four bats in form is more than most sides can boast. Conversely Sparta’s success has been driven by seamers Malik and Ahmadi, along with Kroesen’s all-round renaissance. It was the latter two that got them home against VRA last week, after the overseas trio in the top order failed to come off. Sparta will likely need at least one of Ferguson, Clark or Tarr to step up against Voorburg, rather than expect the lower order to bail them out in the face of twenty overs from Shariz and fellow wrist spinner Philippe Boissevain.

RL: Two of the five sides jousting for the four remaining places in the top six, VRA Amsterdam and VOC Rotterdam will meet in another key clash in the Amsterdamse Bos. Both were unable to defend totals in excess of 200 on Thursday, confirming the sense that their bowling doesn’t quite match up to their effectiveness with the bat, although even that is not as solid as either side would like. Max O’Dowd and Lane Berry contributed almost half VOC’s 217 between them against Excelsior, the middle order crumbling badly, and if the VRA score was distributed more evenly, it will be a matter of concern that until the advent of Aryan Dutt no-one was able to go on and play a really significant knock. In Ashir Abid, of course, the Amsterdammers have one of the most menacing new-ball bowlers in the competition, and Eduard Visser also bowled well against Sparta. The VOC pace attack is not quite as incisive, as Excelsior proved, and it may struggle if the home side’s batters bring their A game.

BdJ: VRA’s ongoing fitness and availability issues have certinly hampered their campaign somewhat, with Luke Scully absent again on Thursday and Singh not bowling a full quota, but even accounting for the niggles and no-shows the side has underperformed rather. The batting has seen plenty of players contribute without anyone really dominating opposing attacks consistently, and the absence of Peter Borren in the lower middle order has been keenly felt. Conversely VOC’s big three have looked predictably dominant, and once again the question will likely come down to whether VRA can pervent them from taking the game away.

RL: At the other end of the table, HBS Craeyenhout will travel to Thurlede full of relief at having finally claimed their first points, but they will take on an Excelsior ‘20 unit which gave themselves a chance of squeezing into the championship pool with their victory over VOC. HBS owed their win almost entirely to the record-breaking stand between Tayo Walbrugh and Wesley Barresi, the former posting his third century in four innings, and they are likely again to be crucial to the Crows’ chances. The probability remains that these two sides will spend August battling the threat of relegation, and the two points on offer here could well prove vital at the end of the day. Michael Hart’s limited success with the ball continues to be an issue for the Schiedammers, but he provided a match-winning innings on Thursday, while Luuk Kroesen’s return to an opening spot created the platform for their eventual victory. If neither the return of Tobias Visée nor the inclusion of former Quicker Lucas del Bianco contibuted hugely to the change in the Crows’ fortunes, both could be significant once they settle into the new-look side. But it’s the wickets of Walbrugh and Barresi that Excelsior will need to grab if they are to give themselves a chance of victory here.

BdJ: Word is Visée’s appearance on Thursday was more of a cameo than a return from retirement (though we hear the crows have another cameo lined up for Saturday, with Tim Drummond trading hockey stick for bat for the day) Yet despite Visée’s game-changing potential, the Crows are arguably missing Navjit Singh more, if only as pars pro toto for the almost entirely absent mid-twenties generation in the side. There’s been some signs of promise in HBS’ youngsters, but the reliance on Barresi and Walbrugh is undeniable, and it’s doubtful the pair will be putting on 200+ at Thurlede. Conversely Excelsior haven’t quite got as much out of their professionals as they’d like, though finding ways to win when Hart’s not taking wickets and Ingram’s not making runs is arguably a good sign for the Schiedammers. Niels Etman’s form with the ball has covered somewhat for his new ball partner’s struggles to adjust, while Hart’s own efforts with the bat have gone some way to make up for Ingram’s slow start. That he and Roel Verhagen are the only bats averaging over 30 is a real concern however, and Excelsior fans may well be directing evnvious glances toward Bermweg where the prodigal Joost Kroesen’s averaging twice that.

RL: Although they will have been delighted to come away from ‘t Zomercomplex with the points on Thursday, HCC’s travails with the bat continue, and they will know that they need much more from their top order when they take on ACC at De Diepput on Saturday. Currently ranged either side of the top six cut-off, there a good chance that one of these two sides will end up in the relegation pool, and the fact that the Amsterdammers managed to give Voorburg a bit of a scare on Thursday should give the Lions pause for thought. Again, much depends on whether ACC can contain the threat of Jonathan Vandiar, although to say that Tonny Staal and Boris Gorlee are due to hit some form would be an understatement. The HCC attack, on the other hand, did extremely well to dismiss Punjab for 142 on Thursday, and they pose more of a challenge to ACC’s batting than the Amsterdammers’ bowlers do to theirs.

BdJ: From HCC’s point of view, likely the most concerning development at ‘t Loopveld last week was the fact that Heino Kuhn’s started making runs. If Kuhn has rediscovered how to bat on a mat HCC’s attack could be in for a tough day, especially as the rest of the ACC line up has looked occasionally capable of posting scores without him. Conversely HCC’s two senior bats are currently averaging in single figures, meaning that when Vandiar doesn’t score big it’s left to a dangerous but brittle lower middle order to salvage the innings. If Gorlee and Staal were to rediscover some form the HCC batting card would actually look fairly menacing, with hitters down the order in Overdijk, Floyd and Doram, but all too often they’ve been asked to do damage control rather than damage.

RL: Having seen his side struggle against HCC, Sulaiman Tariq will embark on the journey to Overijssel well aware that Punjab, too, could slip out of the top six if things go against them. They have the advantage that their final three games are against the current bottom three, but Salland away is not a straightforward proposition, and if Victor Lubbers has a full-strength side at his disposal he will have the resources to cause Punjab plenty of problems. Venkat Ganesan has been in good form with both bat and ball, and Fraser Bartholomew has been effective with the new ball. Overall, however, Punjab’s experience could be enough to see them through, even if they have not been the force this season that they were a couple of years ago. In Shoaib Minhas, though, they have a potential match-winner, not to mention the combined skills of that well-known group, the Four Zulfiqars.

BdJ: In particular it’s been Saqib Zulfiqar’s all round form that has kept Punjab in contention this season. While Sikander’s also going well with the bat it’s fair to say that Punjab’s Zulfiqar engine hasn’t been firing on all four cylinders thus far. Likewise we’ve probably not seen the best of young Aaliyan Mahmood either, the Pakistan youth international still acclimatising to Dutch conditions. But similarly, Salland’s Finn Raxworthy hasn’t found his feet yet either, too often leaving Victor Lubbers holding the middle order together on his own.

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

Round 5 Preview

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 11/05/23

One thing about the structure of this year’s Topklasse is that Phase 1 is more a sprint than a marathon: we’re still not halfway into May, and we’re already up to the halfway point in the race to decide which six sides will contest the championship when the competition resumes in July, and which four will be fighting relegation. Which means that even at this stage some matches are of absolutely vital significance for the clubs involved.

RL: One such is the encounter between HCC and HBS at De Diepput. Still looking for their first win, the Crows will have been encouraged by their effort against table-topping Voorburg last Saturday, but they need to go one step further and start putting points on the board if they are to escape the drop which is already beginning to loom. HCC, on the other hand, will need to recover quickly from the way in which their batting fell apart against Excelsior; without the injured Jonathan Vandiar they succumbed all too tamely, and although Daniel Doram is a potential match-winner with the ball, he obviously needs to have a half-decent total to bowl at (or be given the chance to bowl first). The HBS recovery from a seemingly desperate position into one in which they had an outside chance of pulling off an upset was due very largely to Tayo Walbrugh’s first substantial innings of the season, and HCC will want to see the back of him as quickly as possible if they are to get their campaign back on course with victory over a Crows side which is even more depleted than theirs.

BdJ: The absence of Vandiar rather exposed an underperforming HCC batting order last week, despite the depth added by bowling all-rounder such as Doram, Floyd and Hidde Overdijk down the order and the addition of Ratha Alphonse at the top, the Lions will be looking to the now-experienced Gorlee and Staal to find some form. HBS’s tactic of dropping Walbrugh down the order with Barresi to act as backstop or finishers for an inexperienced batting card almost paid off against VCC, and it’s unlikely they’ll need 320-odd to take points home on Saturday. Nonetheless the bowling department is more of a concern for the Crows than it is even for a seam-strapped HCC. The latter remain favourites on paper, the former on form. Tough call.

RL: One of the more remarkable performances of last weekend was Salland’s defeat of VOC, and they will want to repeat the dose when they welcome Excelsior ‘20 to Het Schootsveld. With their two overseas players beginning to feel at home, Fraser Bartholomew with the ball and Finn Raxworthy with the bat, and the German contingent led by Venkat Ganesan also performing well, Victor Lubbers’s side could prove a handful for an Excelsior team in which Lorenzo Ingram is once again proving his enormous worth. But having demolished HCC on Saturday the Schiedammers were unable to defend their total of 221 against Sparta on Sunday, which will be a source of some concern as they travel to Deventer. The return of Roel Verhagen, currently as a specialist batter, is a bonus, but Michael Hart’s five wickets in five innings at an average cost of 30-plus does less than justice to his efforts as the spearhead of their attack, and they will be hoping that he can get amongst the Salland top order.

BdJ: It’s been the ever-improving Niels Etman that’s looked the more threatening spearhead for Excelsior thus far this season, though it’s perhaps unfair to judge Hart on his efforts bowling off four steps on a wet mat last week. Yet while the weather’s looking better for Saturday the Australian’s unlikely to feel much more at home bowling in Deventer’s oh-so-very-Dutch conditions. It’s been his batting that’s earned his keep in Schideam so far this season, and indeed what Excelsior have needed with Verhagen and Lorenzo Ingram the only other bats averaging over 15. If Salland can get as much out of their two new overseas as Excelsior traditionally get out of theirs then they could yet prove a handful at home, but there’s a lot riding on Raxworthy in particular to shore up the batting.

RL: Having suffered their first defeat at Het Zomercomplex last Saturday, VRA Amsterdam will be keen to make sure of the points when they take on Amstelveen rivals ACC in the Amsterdam derby in the Bos this week. Their batting struggled against Punjab’s nagging attack, and they will be hoping that Vikram Singh has recovered from injury and is again able, not only to open but also to add his pace to the attack. Their opponents came back well from their double defeat the previous weekend to surprise Sparta last Saturday, and Shreyas Potdar will enjoy his return to the Bos, where he made a hundred, admittedly against a rather raw Under-18 attack, in a midweek game ten days ago. With Heino Kuhn and Thomas Hobson getting starts against Sparta the Amsterdammers’ batting looked a lot less fragile, but VRA remain strong in all departments of the game, and will certainly start as favourites here.

BdJ: Some profoundly questionable shot selection saw the VRA top order dig their side into a hole last week, and the return of Singh as a bat at least ought to relieve some of the pressure. With questions as to whether he and Visser both will be fit to bowl, however, the attack may be missing some of its usual bite. ACC’s humiliation at the hands of VOC seems to have done them some good too, though they’ll want more out of both Hobson and Kuhn if they’re to be remotely competitive this season. Overseas do tend to go well at the Bos though, VRA generally providing the closest thing they’ll see to a familiar sort of wicket. The ingredients are certainly there for an upset, but an upset is what it would be.

RL: Voorburg remain the only unbeaten team in the competition, and having survived a rather sterner test from HBS last week than they might have expected, will be confident of continuing their run when they face Punjab Rotterdam at Westvliet. Michael Levitt’s maiden Topklasse century is unlikely to be his last, and with Noah Croes, Musa Ahmad and Sybrand Engelbrecht also among the runs and Shariz Ahmad to follow, their top order is likely to cause some problems for a Punjab attack which is persistent rather than menacing. Incisiveness is, on the other hand, not lacking in a Voorburg bowling unit which includes Viv Kingma, Ryan Klein and Mees van Vliet, not to mention the spin of Shariz, the early leader among Topklasse wicket-takers. He is closely followed, however, by Punjab’s Sulaiman Tariq, and as well as the ever-vital Zulfiqars Punjab will be able to counter with Shoaib Minhas and Mohsin Riaz with the bat and Aaliyan Mahmood with the ball. This promises to be one of the more absorbing encounters of the weekend.

BdJ: VCC remain the team to beat in both the literal and colloqial sense, and on current form you’d say that this too is Voorburg’s game to lose on paper. Punjab have of course lost both a pair of match-winning bats and their most incisive seamers over the winter, but still have the sort of attack that has a habit of inducing mistakes, as epitomised by the seemingly innoccuous yet invariably effect medium pace of the skipper. And fair to say we’ve not seen the best of young Aaliyan Mahmood as yet, while the Zulfiqars lend the attack versatility and the batting depth. In short, it’s the sort of team one imagines Voorburg could lose to, as indeed they will remember all too well.

RL: The other top-of-the-table clash pits Sparta 1888 against VOC Rotterdam at the Bermweg. Time was when this was the Rotterdam derby, and Sparta’s improved fortunes this season make this once again a fixture to savour. VOC will be hoping to put last weekend’s travails with the bat, which saw them lose to Salland and stage a remarkable recovery against Punjab, firmly behind them, and that the hand injury which forced Scott Edwards to retire for a time in the latter match doesn’t cause him further trouble. But with 374 runs from five innings Lane Berry seems certain to be one of the season’s stars, and if the VOC Big Three all fire even Sparta’s old warhorse combination of Ahsan Malik and Mudassar Bukhari may be hard-pressed to keep things under control. Sparta, though, have a key trio of their own in Sam Ferguson, Garnett Tarr and Will Clark, and if they have not yet been as dominant as VOC’s, they will be crucial to their side’s chances against an attack which does not match the power of the batting. The Bermweg traditionally favours the bowlers, but they will need all the help they can get in this one.

BdJ: Sparta’s acquisitions for this season have arguably proved the most astute in the league, if not for weight of runs and wickets then for how well they slot into the side. While the three overseas have thus far been more solid than sensational, Joost Kroesen also seems to be enjoying his time at Cappelle. Meanwhile Bukhari’s unexpected transformation into a dour unbudgeable top-order anchor has come at an opportune time for the Spatrans, though his lack of penetration with the ball so far this season has left them rather dependent on Ahmadi and Malik for early wickets. And early wickets are a bit of a must against VOC, for the reasons already outlined above.

RL: Two of the Round 1 replays having been deferred for a week because of the absence of Dutch A team players last week, ACC and HBS will face their second vital match of the weekend at Het Loopveld on Sunday. The Amsterdammers’ bowlers caught the Crows on the hop on the opening day, but are perhaps unlikely to perform that trick again now that the season is in full swing. This is even more of a four-pointer now than it was first time round, and it looks like one of the more even encounters of the weekend. ACC, though, have the better-balanced and more experienced attack, and that might be the decisive factor.

BdJ: Yet another one of those supposed rarities in Dutch cricket, a fixture where both sides look better with bat than ball. HBS’s weakness in that department is particularly glaring however, with not a single bowler going at less than fives this season and Swapnil Pote (in large part thanks to VCC’s reckless death hitting last week) the only one with more than three wickets to his name. ACC have similarly only taken 19 wickets between them so far, but despite VOC’s onslaught have been comparatively frugal. That said their relative strength with the bat remains largely notional, while there’s a fair few crows with runs in the bank.

RL: Similar considerations apply to the other replay, with VRA welcoming Salland back to the Amsterdamse Bos. If Salland are unlikely to crumble again as completely as they did on the opening day, their hosts probably still have too many guns in all departments; Salland, though, have shown that they are capable of causing problems for leading sides, and games like this are vital for their chances of squeezing into the top six.

BdJ: Salland were, according the the whispers, rather put out after their opening game at the Bos had to be abandoned. There’s little in the scorebook to explain that sentiment of course, though there’s a ready logistical explanation, and it’s fair to say having come all the way from far out East again Victor Lubbers’ men will not be planning on going home empty handed. Nonetheless it would take quite a performance to turn the tables on a VRA side that looks to have all the bases covered.

RL’s picks: HCC, Salland, VRA, Voorburg, VOC; ACC, VRA.
BdJ’s picks: HCC, Excelsior, VRA, Voorburg, VOC, HBS, VRA.

Round 3 Preview

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 28/04/23

Given that at the time of writing we don’t know the outcome of Saturday’s matches and we only have one complete (if rain-affected) game to go on, anything below is bound to be a bit provisional. An early-season double weekend is an interesting phenomenon, in part the result of the need to compress the Topklasse season because of (a) the once-more aborted Euroslam and (b) the World Cup qualifier in Zimbabwe in June; we don’t have the stats, but memory suggests that clubs often have great difficulty managing two wins on successive days. Still, let’s go with what we know . . .

RJL: ACC’s attack did very well on their own (astro)turf against HBS on the opening day, and will now face a VOC Rotterdam top order which seems likely to be a much more formidable proposition. As Punjab discovered all too clearly, it’s vital to remove VOC’s Big Three of O’Dowd, Berry and Edwards if you’re to have any chance of restricting them to a moderate score. Not that they don’t have plenty of resources in the middle order, with Tim de Kok, Burhan Niaz and Jelte Schoonheim all capable of chiming in if needed. The Amsterdammers’ batting is, by contrast, an unknown quantity, although any line-up with Heino Kuhn in it demands plenty of respect. VOC’s bowling has been strengthened by the arrival of Asief Hoseinbaks from Dosti, although that may mean that there are fewer opportunities for young Siebe van Wingerden. But the fact remains: if ACC can’t achieve early breakthroughs it looks as if the task might be too great for them.

BdJ: Given the amount of changes to this ACC line-up it’s a little early to judge the strength of the side, but on the early evidence their threat with the ball lies in their slow bowlers. Yet even if they are able to get past VOC’s top order, the promotion of Arnav Jain to open alongside O’Dowd frees up Edwards to take a floating role in the middle order, and as a counter to spin there’s few better. VOC remain a batting-heavy side of course, and it’s fair to say the arrival of Hoseinbaks from Dosti doesn’t quite make up for the absence of Pieter Seelaar. Whether ACC have the batting to take advantage is open to question, but certainly Kuhn’s return doesn’t hurt.

RJL: As we keep saying, this Sparta side looks a lot more challenging to its opponents than its immediate predecessors, and their encounter with Punjab at the Bermweg on Sunday has the makings of a titanic battle. Mudassar Bukhari looked on the opening day as if his hunger for runs is very far from diminished, and with his fellow ex-international Ahsan Malik still spearheading the attack the home side may be a little sharper than that of Punjab. The men in green were without Sohail Bhatti on the opening day, and he would add some incisiveness to the Punjab new-ball attack were he to play. There remain questions, though, about the consistency of the Spartans’ top order, and they will need Sam Ferguson, Garnett Tarr and Will Clark all to get among the runs if they are to counter Punjab’s powerful top five.

BdJ: Punjab certainly looked to be at least one bowler light against VOC, and while Sparta’s new-look top order doesn’t look to have quite settled into Dutch conditions yet the quality is there to take advantage. It was Saqib Zulfiqar that was the chief architect of their collapse in the last completed match between the two, however, and while the loss of Myburgh and Vandiar leave some big shoes to fill, there’s little evidence to suggest that Punjab are incapable of running up serious scores. The seam trio of Bukhari, Malik and Khalid Ahmadi provide plenty of wicket-taking potential, but if a pair of Punjab bats can get set then containment may prove difficult.

RJL: Excelsior ‘20 are next up in the Who’s-Got-What-It-Takes-to-Beat-Voorburg? Contest, which last year ran until the end of May, when it turned out that the answer was VOC (this involves the assumption that Salland didn’t spring a surprise on Saturday). We can keep singing the praises of a Voorburg side which seems to have all the bases covered, but Excelsior’s main strength may turn out to be the sheer experience they are able to bring to the game: five key members of the team have played nearly 850 top flight matches between them, winning the title three times out of six attempts, and that can’t be discounted, even against the team of all the talents that Voorburg has assembled. Hart vs. Levitt will be an interesting match-up, but no-one should underestimate the capacity of Lorenzo Ingram to turn a game, either with bat or ball. None of which means that the home side won’t go into this game strong favourites.

BdJ: The enduring influence of the evergreen Ingram, 40 years young as of a fortnight ago, has been indispensable to Excelsior’s success over the years, and there’s been little sign of him slowing down in recent seasons. The continued development of Niels Etman also affords Excelsior an enviable left-right new ball pairing with Hart, and while VCC’s top order remains imposing, the batting isn’t as deep as it was last season. The VCC bowling unit is perhaps the more intimidating aspect of the side, with 20 overs of quality legspin and another 20 over international standard seam available to new skipper Sybrand Engelbrecht. While Excelsior certainly have as good a shot as anyone at taking points off VCC, it indeed remains a long one.

RJL: After two tricky away games HCC will doubtless be glad to get back to De Diepput, where they will face Salland on Sunday. A double weekend with a trip to Den Haag will be a big ask for Salland’s itinerant squad, and they won’t relish the prospect of trying to contain Tonny Staal and Jonathan Vandiar on the champions’ historic but diminutive home ground. It’s a big ask for the champions to regroup after their losses since last season, but there’s enough talent in their squad to more than hold their own in what promises to be an intensely competitive campaign even by Topklasse standards. Their first objective (like everybody else’s, no doubt) will be the secure a place in the top six, and for that a win against Salland might be thought to be a sine qua non. As always, a lot depends on who the Overijssel side are able to bring to the Randstad, but they will certainly be hoping to improve on their rather dismal effort on the opening day.

BdJ: Assembling a first-choice eleven is invariably a tougher task for Salland than most sides, as evidenced by the amount of time the venerable Steven Lubbers spent on the field for them last season. That said the arrival of two young Kiwi overseas in Finn Raxworthy and Fraser Bartholomew may alleviate that issue somewhat, though the Deventer side will be looking for a better showing with the bat this weekend from Raxworthy at least. He should have a somewhat easier time of it at de Diepput if he can adapt to a mat, HCC’s seam attack looking rather innocuous on Saturday. We’ve not had a look at the Salland attack yet given the rain at the Bos and their lack of warm-up games, but if they can get a full strength side to the Hague there likely won’t be much to hit on offer for the hosts. Salland’s stated objectives this season don’t rise much higher than survival, but two points collected at de Diepput would certainly help that cause.

RJL: Having demolished most of Salland’s batting on Day 1 VRA will be keen to repeat the dose against HBS, who were suffering a similar experience against ACC more or less simultaneously on the other side of Amstelveen, and who will now come to the Amsterdamse Bos to face what looks to be a very decent side. Having last year managed to be rather less than the sum of its parts last season, VRA will be hoping that new skipper Leon Turmaine is able to pull together his squad’s mix of youth and experience, the former part of the rich legacy Peter Borren leaves behind him, and they certainly made a promising start last Saturday. For HBS the challenge is to absorb the much greater numerical losses they have suffered, and their new captain Wesley Barresi, returning to the ground where he really built his Dutch reputation, will be he and Tayo Walbrugh meet conditions a little more conducive to batting than last week’s. On the other hand, it’s the Crows’ attack which has been most severely depleted, and with Singh, Rasool, Balbirnie et al. in the VRA top order favourable batting conditions might do the home side even more favours.

BdJ: While there were no particular demons in the VRA deck last Saturday, certainly nothing to justify the scoreline when the rain came, it would be foolish to arrive at the Bos in April expecting a late summer road, and both Barresi and Walbrugh’s most recent big scores at the ground have come toward the back end of the season. While it remains to be seen whether Turmaine can marshal the resources at his disposal as astutely as Borren did, it’s fair to say he has more to work with than Barresi, who leads an HBS side at the very base of what looks a mountainous rebuilding phase. The bowling especially looks rather thin, and one suspects Barresi will have to contribute as much with ball as with bat if the Crows are to score an upset.

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

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

Round 1 preview

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 20/04/23

The winter tombola always means that the first round of matches is enigmatic even by the standards of the Topklasse, and the reversion to ten teams together with the arrival of a score of new or returning players and the usual clutch of transfers ensures that picking winners is pretty much an exercise in sticking a pin in a telephone directory (yes, I know, nobody remembers telephone directories). Add to all that the fact the opening fixtures all have plenty of intrinsic spice, and it’s more fun contemplating the encounters in prospect than it is trying to judge who might come out on top.

RJL: No question what the opening round’s Match of the Day is: the luck of the draw has ordained that last year’s grand finalists will kick off proceedings, and that they will do so at the scene of HCC’s triumph. Some of the cast of that event will be missing, most notably departed Voorburg captain Bas de Leede, but there will equally be some significant arrivals. HCC will welcome back Jonathan Vandiar, while the home side will counter with Michael Levitt and a brace of pacemen in Ryan Klein and Mees van Vliet. With places in the squad for the World Cup qualifier in Zimbabwe up for grabs there will be players on both sides especially keen to strut their stuff and a series of fascinating match-ups in both innings should make for an enthralling game. It would, however, not be unreasonable to expect Voorburg’s more seasoned attack to give their side the advantage this time.

BdJ: The same fixture as last year’s final, but a stretch to call it a rematch given the personnel changes on both sides over the winter. VCC’s acquisitions of van Vliet and Klein go some way toward covering the seam exodus, but more responsibility will rest on the shoulders of Viv Kingma to lead the attack. Newcomer Michael Levitt’s form, hitting back-to-back tons in pre-season, suggests he has acclimatised to Dutch conditions faster than some past VCC signings, while the brothers Ahmad return with a good deal more international experience under their belts. All told a tough game first up for an HCC side in a rebuild phase, though if Vandiar can match his form from last season it may be game on.

RJL: Opening day also features the first Rotterdam derby of the season, with Punjab playing host to VOC at Het Zomercomplex. Minus Vandiar, Nidamanuru and Salarazai, Punjab may find the going tough, and the contribution of the four Zulfiqar brothers seems likely to be even more important for the side’s prospects this season. Early breakthroughs against a VOC batting line-up which includes not only O’Dowd and Edwards but also the new overseas Lane Berry will be crucial to Punjab’s chances, with the evergreen Sohail Bhatti and Sulaiman Tariq backed up by the seam of Sikander Zulfiqar and his leg-spinning triplet brother Saqib. Berry’s arrival should add substance to a line-up which often looked brittle once the two internationals had departed, although non-one should underestimate the contributions of Jelte Schoonheim with both bat and ball.

BdJ: The importance of the Zulfiqar triplets to the Punjab line-up was rather underlined in pre-season, the Rotterdammers sliding to a 38-run loss to an understrength VRA side while the trio were away in Iberia with the A-side before handing out a 129-run drubbing to Excelsior on their return. This without even the services of prodigal pair Shoaib Minhas and Khurram Shahzad, who rejoin Punjab this season. Nonetheless the loss of Salarazai, who’s understood to have followed new-ball partner Ashiqullah Said to Belgium, leaves Punjab without their two most effective quicks from last season. VOC’s top order may already be eyeing up the short boundaries at the Zomercomplex, though even with the advent of Berry, O’Dowd and Edwards may have to be mindful of the long tail behind them. They will also be starting the season comparatively cold, VOC not featuring in any formal pre-season matches, while Punjab’s hitters already have their engines running.

RJL: Neither Capelle a/d Ijssel nor Schiedam would be happy to be seen as part of Rotterdam, but Excelsior ‘20’s visit to the Bermweg to take on Sparta 1888 also has something of the flavour of a local rivalry, spiced up this time by the transfer of Joost Kroesen to the Capelle club. Reinforced by the return of Garnett Tarr and the arrival of New Zealanders Clark and Ferguson as well as Kroesen, Sparta will be looking to improve on the surprising fourth spot they achieved in the 2020 half-season, and two points here are vital if they are to challenge for the top six. Excelsior, on the other hand, will be hoping that Michael Hart slots quickly into their top order, and that Lorenzo Ingram eases past the 38 runs he needs to pass 5000 in the Topklasse and goes on to add plenty more. The Schiedammers have a well-balanced attack, but Sparta are an unknown quantity at this point, and this could be one of the day’s more intriguing encounters.

BdJ: Tarr’s return alongside the two young Kiwi prospects certainly lends the Spartan batting a rather more intimidating look than last season, though settling into Dutch conditions is often a trial for newcomers and it’s rare for antipodean arrivals to replicate home form at once. Clarke and Ferguson both have plenty of the latter however, and judging by how Excelsior’s balanced attack went against Punjab last week this may prove a comparatively gentle introduction. Conversely Excelsior’s Michael Hart has had a rough welcome in preseason, clubbed for 75 off his 8 overs at the Zomercomplex and going little better with the bat. The Schiedammers will be hoping their new pro finds his feet quickly, especially with the ball, after last week’s alarming showing. That said it should be noted new ball pair Niels Etman and Rens van Troost were absent that day, and their return may lend the Excelsior attack a little more penetration.

RJL: The return of South African international Heino Kuhn to Het Loopveld is one of the bigger stories of the pre-season, and if anyone can generate energy at ACC you’d think it would be him. They start their campaign against a somewhat depleted HBS, who will be relying on their new captain Wesley Barresi to lead from the front. There’s been something of an exodus from Craeyenhout, the seam attack particularly depleted, and Kyle Klein and Benno Boddendijk will find themselves called upon to deliver against an ACC top order which has been reinforced not only by the advent of Kuhn but also with the transfer of Rahil Ahmed from Dosti. But the Amsterdammers are also missing their leading wicket-taker from last season, Mees van Vliet having moved to Voorburg, and it may be the spin trio of Mahesh Hans (another acquisition from Dosti), Anis Raza and young Zinesh Master which gives them their best chance of bowling out opposing sides.

BdJ:It was indeed ACC’s slow section that caused the most trouble for VRA in their warm-up last week, and though their batting looked extremely fragile as they were rolled for 100 exactly, that was without Kuhn and the returning Thomas Hobson in the line-up. All told ACC look a somewhat stronger side this season despite the departure of van Vliet, while HBS will be fielding a comparatively more callow outfit. Nonetheless they still boast last season’s top-scorer Tayo Walbrugh at the top of the order, who struck two centuries against ACC last season. Whether ACC have the bowling to get past him and Barresi (who also averaged almost 100 against them last season) will likely prove the key question on Saturday.

RJL: One of the questions we all have is how VRA Amsterdam will cope with the departure of Peter Borren, while a more immediate one on Saturday will be which Salland they will be facing in the Amsterdamse Bos. The Deventer side’s inconsistency last season had much to do with whether or not they were able to call on their German contingent, but they may have greater stability this time round with the addition of New Zealanders Fraser Bartholomew and Finn Raxworthy. Given how competitive they could be without this infusion of new blood, they could prove a handful for a Borrenless VRA, although the home side will be looking to Teja Nidamanuru and Australian import Tyler van Luin to anchor a batting line-up which also blew hot and cold last year. Vikram Singh’s evolution into an allrounder means he may bowl a good deal more this season, and VRA’s young but fairly incisive attack will doubtless be the better for Van Luin’s presence as well.

BdJ:It’s always difficult to judge how the arrival of a single new overseas will affect the fortunes of a previously struggling club, much less two. Indeed that’s arguably the principle reason that Topklasse sides fortunes’ careen wildly {] from one season to the next. Salland arguably rode their luck to Topklasse survival last season, but with the two newcomers and a full delegation from across the Eastern border they ought to have an easier time of it in 2023. The departure of Borren along with sometime keeper Mitch Lees leaves new skipper Leon Turmaine looking a little lonely in the leadership group, and how well he manages his young side will likely prove crucial to their fortunes over the season, and indeed on Saturday.

RL’s picks: Voorburg, Punjab, Sparta, ACC, VRA.

BdJ’s picks: Voorburg, Punjab, Sparta, ACC, VRA.

Preview 2023: HBS, Punjab see turnover and transition

Bertus de Jong 16/04/23

After comfortable finishes in the top half of the table last season big name departures over the winter at HBC Craeyenhout and Punjab Rotterdam have left both clubs with significant gaps to fill. While Punjab retain the services of the four Zulfiqar brothers, skipper Sulaiman Tariq nonetheless faces a rebuilding task with big name bats departing for pastures new and two Afghan quicks heading south. HBS meanwhile have seen a series of retirements leaving new skipper Wesley Barresi to take charge of a comparatively untested squad of youngsters.

Punjab’s strong early showing last season owed a lot to their lead scorer Jonathan Vandiar, who will be turning out for HCC this summer, and to all-rounder and new Netherlands international Teja Nidamanuru, who has left for VRA. Word is the prolific Stephan Myburgh may also spend more time on the sidelines than on the middle this season, having been brought into the national set-up in a coaching role. Add to that Afghan pace occasionals Samiullah Salarazai and Ashiqullah Said both playing their cricket South of the border in Belgium these days, and the Rotterdammers have lost close to half a side’s worth of first-choice players.

The core of the side remains intact however, the dependable Sulaiman Tariq will lead the attack and the side for another season, and be able to call on a full complement of Zulfiqars. Of the four, Rehmat and Asad have been a fairly reliable source of top-order runs, while Sikander and Saqib’s all-round talents lend the side a degree of balance and batting depth. The veteran Sohail Bhatti will likely have to shoulder more responsibility with both the new ball and with the bat down the order, but the Rotterdammers will be glad of the return of Shoaib Minhas and Khurram Shahzad after a four-season sojourn at Hermes.

Minhas and Shahzad played a key role with bat and ball in Punjab’s first season in the Topklasse prior to the arrival of the Zulfiqars, and their presence goes some way toward offsetting the effect of the departures over the off-season. Nonetheless it may take some time for the new-look side to bed in, and if there’s a return to the inconsistent selection and player rotation of the past it could well hamper Punjab’s season.

The steady presence of the four Zulfiqars at the Zomercomplex along with Tariq and reliable stalwarts such as Yasir Usman, Mubashar and Mudassar Hussain nonetheless ensures a degree of stability that ought to allow the Rotterdam side to weather the departures, and indeed their pre-season form gives considerable casue for optimism.

Meanwhile over at Craeyenhout HBS have seen a similar exodus, the Crows seeing with a string of senior retirements. Former skipper Ferdi Vink and his brother Stephan are both understood to be hanging up their spikes, along with all-rounder Navjit Singh and the explosive keeper-bat Tobias Visée. Player coach Gavin Kaplan will also be absent this season, while Ryan Klein has moved to VCC, though his younger brother Kyle remains at HBS.

The experienced Wesley Barresi will take over the captaincy for the 2023, and will be able to call on the experience of now well-integrated overseas bat Tayo Walbrugh to provide some continuity at the top of the order at least. Should Walbrugh replicate his form from last season, when he finished top of the run tables with 844 runs at an average over 60, it should go some way to smoothing what otherwise looks a potentially rough transitional year for the Crows.

The loss of Singh, Visée, Vink and Klein leaves the top order looking rather thin otherwise, and the HBS faithful will hope Reese Mason can grow into a senior role at the top and that slow southpaw Julian de Mey recovers some of his past form with the bat. Leading the attack will be new acquisition Nic Adendorff, a right arm seam-bowling all-rounder brought over by Barresi from the Titans academy.

For the rest the season will be something of a baptism of fire for the youth and second-team graduates that make up the remainder of the squad. Bowlers Benno Boddendijk and Yoran Visée boast a modicum of top-flight experience, though all told the seam attack looks rather green. Keeper-bat Martijn Scholte has also had a run in the firsts without quite finding his feet, and HBS will hope he and graduates Adil Ahmed, Elmar Boendermaker and Leon Stadhouder will be able to grow into their roles.

In the circumstances survival will presumably be the first goal for the venerable Hague side, who will not want to repeat their brief stint in the Hoofdklasse a decade ago. Much will depend on captain Barresi, not only to contribute with bat and ball but also to get the best out of a comparatively inexperienced side.

2023 Preview: Salland, VOC look to hit the ground running

Bertus de Jong 12/04/23

Though both wound up in the wrong half of the table last year, neither VOC nor Salland looked in serious danger of relegation through the second phase of the 2022 season. For Salland that was in part down to a bit of luck in that they took all their phase one points through to the relegation fight, and Victor Lubbers’side will be happy enough if they can survive another season in the top flight. In VOC’s case, the T20 Champions will feel they rather underperformed in the longer format last year.

The Rotterdammers were rather reliant for runs on international opening pair Max O’Dowd and Scott Edwards last season, the only VOC bats to cross 500 runs for the season in 2022. Former West Australia under 19’s bat Lane Berry arrives at Hazelaarweg to bolster the top order, which will be particularly welcome when the national side comes calling for Edwards and O’Dowd during the mid-season T20 competition.

Nonetheless they will hope from more regular contributions from skipper Tim de Kok, whose form was rtaher all-or-nothing last year, and Bloodhounds fans will hope his predecessor Pieter Seelaar has another season in him, along with the evergreen Jelte Schoonheim. The arrival of the veteran Atse Buurman from Sparta means their will be no lack of experience at Hazelaarweg, but with the exception of all-rounder Arnav Jain the middle order does look rather long in the tooth.

Arguably more of a concern is the bowling however, especially if Seelaar is unable to lead the spin attack and Pierce Fletcher’s coaching duties keep him off the roster too often. Max Hoornweg and Belgium’s Burhan Niaz have been an adequate new ball combo, but the pair managed only 30 wickets between them last season. Arnav Jain’s offspin bagged him 20 scalps last summer, but a shoulder injury has kept him from bowling for much of the off-season. The arrival of Asief Hoseinbaks from Dosti adds another slow-bowling option, and Sieb van Wingerden continues to show promise, but all told the VOC roster looks rather batting heavy again for 2023.

Conversely Salland’s chief strength last season was their reserves of quality slow bowling, with German spin pair Elam Barathi and Venkatraman Ganesan the stand-outs. The German contingent will be back this season, with Talha Khan and Sahir Naqash also turning out for the Deventer side again. Indeed the core of the side is largely unchanged, Piyaranga Ottachchige again takes the glove and Victor Lubbers again captaining, as well as providing another seam option alongside his brother Reinder or Gijs van der Molen. Newcomer Fraser Bartholemewwill likely take over the as Reinder’s new ball partner however, and Salland will hope the Kiwi right arm quick will lend the seam attack a cutting edge it was previously lacking.

It was the batting side of things that was Salland’s main weakness last year with no bat passing 350 for the season, though a second signing from New Zealand may go some way to redemying that deficiency. A product of the Central Districts youth system, Finn Raxworthy’s occasional legspin may add an extra dimension to the spin attack but his primary role will be to bolster the batting. Alongside the two signings Salland have also added some locally-based foreign talent to the rolls in Australian James Ridley and South African Ruan du Plessis (though not the former Easterns bat of the same name) lending the roster some much needed depth for when the German contingent are unavailable.

A shallow player pool was a significant issue for the Deventer side last season, availability issues occasionally even seeing the venrable Steven Lubbers called out of retirement. That looks likely to be less of an issue this season, though the squad remains rather geographically disparate, which has hampered preparations. “We are a team completely scattered across two countries, with almost no one of our squad actually living in Deventer, meaning that our pre-season shape up is messy to say the least” Lubbers told Tkcricket. “We finished 7th out of 12 last year which we of course were incredibly happy about, our goal for 2023 is nothing different than 2022: surviving demotion. It is important that our batting clicks, as we often struggled to set a decent score on the board. There will be a big role for the Germans, Raxworthy, Piyaranga and myself to play this year. Making the top half after the first phase would relieve all the pressure, but we’re realistic and may well see ourselves in the bottom half, meaning we will have to come up with the same season finale as we showed last season by winning 5 of our last 6 games. Our goal is not to do well in the Topklasse for a single season, but to become a mid-table team for multiple years.”

Playoff Phase – Final Preview

Bertus de Jong and Rod Lyall 08/09/22

Whatever your opinion of the format adopted for this bumper Topklasse season, be it right or otherwise, it’s difficult to argue the two finalists have earned their place. Voorburg and HCC have racked up more wins than any other teams over the course of the season, and won through a fiercly competitive play-off stage that both kept the back end of the group phase interesting and produced a set of thrilling fixtures, with all three play-off matches going down to the wire. Likewise two of VCC and HCC’s three encounters this season have been run pretty close, and one suspects the biggest threat to another nail-biter at Westvliet on Saturday is the weather, which may yet prevent or at least postpone the resolution of the season’s two remaining questions. There is a reserve day on Sunday of course, as there is for the relegation play-off between Sparta and Hermes which takes place the same day. It’s that end of the table which provides us with a last bit of controversy this week, on which more below…

BdJ: Although champions-presumptive Voorburg have not looked quite as dominant as some expected, HCC remain the only side to have beaten them in a match that mattered. The replacement of Janneman Malan by his less-fêted brother Andre has seemingly only strengthened the side in Dutch conditions, though the departure of Logan van Beek and Delano Potgieter leaves them looking at least beatable. Malan and Musa Ahmad have proved a productive opening partnership once set, and Bas de Leede a capable marshal of the middle-order when under pressure, especially in company of Sybrand Engelbrecht since the latter’s return from injury. HCC’s success has been built on a combination of Tonny Staal and Zac Worden’s form at the top of the order, together with the left arm spin trio of Tim Pringle, Clayton Floyd and Damien Crowley whose discipline through the middle leaves opposing bats looking for runs against an enviable seam attack, with wickets the usual result. Conversely, VCC’s wicket-taking wrist-spin combo af Shariz Ahmad and Flip Boissevain will be eying up a vulnerable HCC middle-order, while a seam attack spearheaded by Vivian Kingma and Bas de Leede is nothing to sniff at either.

RL: HCC have reached the final the hard way, losing their semi-final at Westvliet last Saturday and then having to withstand a very determined challenge from HBS the following day. To the extent that cricket is a game of character the Lions demonstrated on Sunday that they have it in spades, twice coming back from perilous situations when batting and then holding on in a tense final act to win by the narrowest of margins. Their cause was helped by the addition of Jan-Wieger Overdijk to the attack, his inclusion as a fourth seamer enabling them to maintain the pressure in the middle overs, and in the absence of Van Beek there’s a case for stating that HCC have the better-balanced bowling unit. Still and all, Voorburg can draw on Ali Ahmed Qasim and/or Stef Mulder alongside Kingma and De Leede, and their top order has on the whole been more consistent that their opponents’. The beauty of the play-off system, though, is that the prize goes to the side which performs better on the big occasion, and both sides have plenty of players with the temperament and the experience to step up when it matters. Form says Voorburg, as it has all season, but don’t be surprised if HCC spring a surprise.

BdJ: At the other end of the table Kampong may still complain that they won as many matches and finished with a better net run rate, but it was Sparta 1888 that had to come through the crunch game against Dosti at the back end of the group phase to earn their showdown with Hoofdklasse champions Hermes DVS in the relegation/promotion playoff. Hermes’ long-running battle with Quick Haag for a shot at promotion saw the teams clash no less than five times over the summer, but it was the Schiedammers that won through in the end, bouncing back from defeat in the preliminary final to claim the Hoofdklasse title in emphatic fashion last weekend.

That’s not enough to earn them home advantage however, as owing to a faintly farcical fudge the playoff is to be played on neutral ground, specifically at Excelsior’s home ground of Thurlede. Having long-grassed the question of who was to host the match at the pre-season ALV, the eventual outcome of weeks of needless negotiation was to split the proverbial baby, with first Rood & Wit and then Excelsior being awarded hosting rights for the game. The question then belatedly arose as to who was to be officially the home side in the encounter, which might seem academic but for the fact that the nominal hosts have choice of wicket, and despite (or perhaps because of) Excelsior having turned out some remarkably good turf wickets all season, Sparta were keen to play on their thankfully seldom-used artificial wicket, widely regarded as among the worst in Holland. Inevitably the silliest solution again won out, and the two sides quite literally tossed a coin for it. Sparta won the toss and duly said “we’ll have a mat, thanks”. No doubt my esteemed colleague has plenty to say on this too, and at time of writing I – as the kids say – literally cannot even. So on to the actual teams and such.

Hermes’ chief stength through the season has been their seam attack, ably led by skipper Sebastiaan Braat, with youngsters Travis Ackermann and Roy Numair both bagging 30 wickets across formats over the season. All-rounder Sahil Kothari, formerly of ACC, has also proved a shrewd acquisition. The comparative frailty of the batting will be their chief concern as they head to Cappelle Thurlede, though with Sparta’s Mudassar Bukhari understood to have been planning to retire following the Dosti match they may have one less all-round threat to worry about. Bukhari has taken something of a back seat to Ahsan Malik and Belgium international Khalid Ahmadi with the ball this season, though given Samit Gohil’s departure Sparta are left with serious batting concerns of their own. All told could go either way, but safe to say that the credibility of the game as a serious pursuit in the Netherlands is the real loser.

RL: There are, in fact, clear historical precedents for a one-off promotion/relegation play-off being played on a neutral ground. Otherwise, should the home advantage be accorded to the side trying to retain their top-flight status, or to their challengers? It’s a question which has a particular bite when there are such marked differences between the venues concerned; it’s not just a matter of who tosses the coin and who calls.

As for the playing surface, it is surely understandable that a club who play all their home games on an artificial surface should prefer to play on such a surface for such a deciding match, while a club who play on turf at home should wish to play on turf. How, then, to resolve the issue? For the Bond to make such a decision on its own account would pretty certainly give rise to an objection from whichever side felt itself to be disadvantaged, and therefore a preliminary coin-toss seems, to this observer at least, to be the least-worst solution.

Underlying all this, however, there are much more fundamental issues: the near-pathological fear of relegation and an equal determination to gain promotion by whatever means available got us into this mess in the first place, the one-year twelve-team Topklasse an honest attempt to square the circle and give everybody what they wanted in the unique circumstances of the pandemic. The last question most clubs ask is what is in the best interests of Dutch cricket as a whole, and to be frank, the way in which the KNCB has attempted to find its way out of a genuine dilemma comes nowhere near the top of my list of factors compromising ‘the credibility of the game as a serious pursuit in the Netherlands’. But that’s an argument for another day.

As for the match itself, there at least we are in agreement: it’s very hard to predict which way it will go, especially given the likely intervention of the weather gods. Hermes lost only two matches during the regular Hoofdklasse season, their South African overseas Travis Ackerman averaging 32.60 with the bat and 10.44 with the ball, and although they had a bad day at the office in their semi-final against Quick, they have the all-round strength to test Sparta to the full. The acquisitions of Kothari from ACC and Numair from Kampong have been significant, but one should not underestimate the importance to the side of the long-serving former international Nick Statham, of skipper Braat, or of the home-grown brothers Ralph and Olivier Elenbaas. For Sparta, the contributions of Malik, Bukhari and Ahmadi are likely to be vital, but it was a remarkable innings by Ali Raza which got them into this play-off, while a valuable and too-often neglected contribution with the ball has come from skipper Joost Martijn Snoep.

BdJ’s picks: Rain, Absurdity, Voorburg, Sparta
RL’s picks: Voorburg, Hermes.

Finals Play-offs Round 2 Preview

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 03/09/2022

One reasonable conclusion from Saturday’s games is that the round-robin phases saw the four best teams into the finals, and the result was two matches which see-sawed all day and produced two outstanding semi-finals. Let’s hope that Sunday’s preliminary final and next week’s grand final are able to live up to the standard set today.

RL: One obvious difference between Saturday and Sunday is that while both semi-finals were played on turf pitches, the game between HCC and HBS Craeyenhout will take place on the former’s artificial track surrounded by a bijou outfield. On the basis that lightning doesn’t strike in the same place four times it seems unlikely that the visitors’ Tayo Walbrugh will go for a fourth successive duck, but apart from him, Gavin Kaplan and Wesley Barresi, the Crows do not appear to have the depth of batting to take on a HCC attack which had Voorburg in early trouble and held on pretty well at the back end. But by the same token, once Tonny Staal and Zac Worden had gone HCC’s batting failed against the Voorburg bowling, although one might reasonably doubt whether the Crows’ bowling can sustain the same levels of pressure as the championship favourites. Home advantage suggests a HCC win, but it would only take a couple of heroic performances from HBS to turn that calculation on its head.

BdJ: Though HBS came out of today’s quarter final (which is what I shall continue to call this fixture despite it’s baffling official designation as a semi-final) with a win, while HCC fell short against VCC, the same middle order fragility which coast HCC was evident in the Crows batting too, as it has been for much of the season. While both sides have the firepower at the top to put up big scores, HCC have the advantage of an abundance of left arm spin to call on through the middle overs. If the HCC seamers can take early wickets as they did today, the Crows will likely struggle to recover. Should the HBS top order come off, however, HCC have shown themselves vulnerable to collapse under even moderate scoreboard pressure. Though HCC’s line-up looks less top-heavy than that of HBS on paper, a string of single-digit scores on today’s card speaks to a potential vulnerability, and simple momentum should not be entirely discounted either. HCC’s bowling alone still makes them clear favourites ahead of the game, but HBS have every chance of bagging an upset here if they bat with discipline and show the same tenacity in the field that got them the win today. Bit of a punt it may be, but for the sake of keeping things interesting I’m picking the Crows to come out on top.

RL’s pick: HCC

BdJ’s pick: HBS

Finals Play-offs Round 1 Preview

Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 31/08/22

With the idiosyncratic and not uncontroversial split-pool, two-stage, 12-team Topklasse group phase behind us, we are into the comparatively familiar territory of the IPL-style top-four finals play-offs, and at the top end of the table at least it’s probably fair to say we’ve got the right four teams contesting them. With Voorburg wrapping up a near-perfect run with two more wins last weekend and HCC’s back-to-back wins taking them clear of the pack in second, we are fortunately and thankfully spared any questions of hypothetical alternate top fours based on win percentage or points carried forward. The universally-loved (at least among TKcricket staff) play-off system has done a fine job of keeping the Championship pool alive into the final weekend, but frontrunners VCC still have to prove themselves at the business end of the season if they’re to take home the silverware. [Note: there are those among us who think of the final four play-offs as the Australian or Page-McIntyre system, since it was developed in Victoria in 1931, more than 75 years before its adoption by the IPL.]

BdJ: A dominant performance through the first two phases has earned Voorburg a double shot at making the final and home advantage when they take on HCC in the preliminary final at Westvliet on Saturday. Their last two showings at home have been dominant, with openers Andre Malan and Musa Ahmad in fine form and most of the top order having runs in the bank. Twin wrist-spinners Shariz Ahmad and Flip Boissevain have come into their own as the season wears on, and the loss of Logan van Beek may not be too keenly felt given VCC’s plentiful stock of seamers. They will nonetheless remember that their only phase 2 defeat came at home and at the hands of HCC, when Felix Bennett’s right arm seam ran through the Voorburg batting. With Tonny Staal, Zac Worden and Boris Gorlee all in the runs of late, and a trial by left arm spin awaiting them if they see off the HCC seamers, the final phase looks far from a coronation for the favourites.

RL: HCC have become more consistent as the finals draw near, and while the title seems to be Voorburg’s to lose, the biggest threat to the outcome many were predicting back in April now appears to come from the Lions. The loss of Van Beek is indeed a blow for Voorburg, but Stef Mulder and Ali Ahmed Qasim have both shown themselves to the able stand-ins, this season as in the past, and with Viv Kingma and Bas de Leede in the side, as well as the option of opening the bowling with Karl Nieuwoudt, the home side have resources aplenty in the field. But then, so do HCC, with Felix Bennett having slotted into the seam attack alongside Hidde Overdijk and Reinier Bijloos, and the left-arm spin combination of Clayton Floyd and Tim Pringle. So the issue may be which top order deals better with these outstanding bowling units, and that could resolve itself into the respective contributions of Malan for Voorburg and Worden for HCC. That said, the visitors have the explosive power of Staal, and if Voorburg don’t get him early he could prove a trump card. All in all, a first semi-final to get the gastric juices flowing!

BdJ: A home defeat in the their final group match against HCC denied Excelsior ‘20 a place in the preliminary final, but they will be on home turf in the eliminator against HBS Craeyenhout come Saturday’s de-facto quarterfinal. The Schiedammers narrowly defended a sub-par 250 at Craeyenhout the weekend before, which should lend them some confidence ahead of Saturday’s game, but bagging topklasse lead-scorer Tayo Walbrugh for a duck again may be too much to hope for. Early wickets have been crucial for any side in containing the Crows’ glass-cannon line-up that, while top-heavy, remains one of the more dangerous in the competition. The departure of Brett Hampton robs the hosts of a measure of lower-order firepower as well as their lead wicket-taker, but pursuing a containment strategy against the likes of Walbrugh, Barresi and possibly Visée is a dubious policy. Excelsior nonetheless have had the better of the back end of the season for a reason, and will back themselves to set the Thurlede faithful cheering again on Saturday.

RL: Excelsior won the title three times in four years between 2016 and 2019 largely by defending low totals, and half-a-dozen of that 2016 outfit will likely be in the side that takes on HBS on Saturday. Heggelman has passed the captaincy to Roel Verhagen, but he remains a key member of the team, opening both batting and bowling, and with 21 wickets at 19.38 he is, along with the departed Hampton, his side’s leading bowler. One of the surprises of last weekend, though, was the emergence of Luuk Kroesen as a dependable spinner alongside Lorenzo Ingram and Umar Baker, while Ingram is still a potential match-winner with both bat and ball. On the other side of the balance sheet, the HBS seam attack of Ryan Klein, leading wicket-taker Ferdi Vink and Gavin Kaplan probably ought to have been more penetrating than it has, although it’s the top of the batting order which has been largely responsible for the Crows’ presence in the top four. Removing Walbrugh early will be key to Excelsior’s hopes; if he gets going, the Excelsior attack may well have a job on their hands.

BdJ’s picks: Voorburg, Excelsior

RL’s picks: Voorburg, Excelsior.