Round 10 Preview

Rod Lyall and Bertus de Jong 21/06/18

As the Topklasse moves beyond the halfway point the first round of matches this Sunday pits each of the current top five against a team from the lower half of the table, with the former jockeying for advantage and the latter keen to stay clear of the relegation zone.

RL Having started the campaign with a home win over HCC and now sitting at the top of the table, Sparta 1888 will travel to De Diepput with a stiff breeze in their sails. With nine wickets in his last two matches Dost Muhammad has emerged as an unheralded key figure in a varied attack, while the side’s remarkable victory over ACC last week underlines what a dangerous, resilient combination the Capelle club has assembled. Michael Pollard confirmed his class with a century in that game, but his opposite number in the HCC line-up, Bryce Street, is showing signs of running into form as well. The Hagenaars certainly need him to succeed consistently, since the batting looks brittle otherwise, and the bowling fires somewhat erratically.

BdJ One imagines that Sparta’s position at the top of the table at the half-way stage likely comes as a surprise even to them, but it’s hard to call it a fluke. The two defeats they have suffered this season (at the hands of HBS and VOC) may betray a capacity for spectacular implosion, but it is remarkable how little either seems to have shaken their self-belief. Street firing either with bat or ball (or ideally both) is likely a necessary but not sufficient condition for HCC to put the brakes on the Sparta train. A return to form for Mark Jonkman might help too.

RL After starting a little shakily VOC Rotterdam have demonstrated that their strength is not just on paper, while conversely Dosti United have slumped rather since beginning the season on a high. That included, of course, an opening-day victory over Sunday’s opponents, driven by the first of Taruwar Kohli’s three hundreds so far, but he has gone cheaply in several recent innings. His side will need him to be at his best this week, even though VOC seem likely to be without international Max O’Dowd, who sustained a thigh injury during the first of the T20s against Scotland. Still, the Rotterdam side are well balanced in both batting and bowling, and with Pieter Seelaar in great form with the bat they will know that they cannot afford another slip-up if they are to maintain their challenge for the club’s first title since 1994.

BdJ O’Dowd’s addition to a sick list that already includes Ahsan Malik and possibly Corey Rutgers (bot suffering from finger trouble) does leave something of a hole in VOC’s line up, and comes as all the more bitter a blow given his recent return to form. Much will depend on skipper Pieter Seelaar, though the Dutch captain does not look a bad man to rely on just now. Averaging 93 with the bat and a shade under 11 with the ball, Seelaar looks the most valuable player in the league by a distance at the moment, certainly on a VOC pitch that has played to his strengths. Yet if Dosti are at their best Seelaar will struggle to win it on his own. Vinoo Tewarie and Rahil Ahmed stepped up admirably following Kohli’s failure last week, and despite the loss to HCC there were plenty of positives to take from the game. Mahesh Hans will doubtless also be looking forward to a trip to Hazelaarweg, and though VOC certainly start as favourites, this match looks a candidate for an upset.

RL Mention of slip-ups leads us naturally to Excelsior ‘20, whose two defeats in their last two matches have seen them knocked off the top of the table for the first time for over a year. They will have an excellent chance of getting things back on track on Sunday, when they are at home to bottom-placed Punjab Rotterdam, who may have escaped with a fine – at least for the time being – in their dispute with the KNCB over player eligibility, but who are finding life just as difficult on the field as in the committee room. With just one win in eight matches they will need to achieve a substantial turnaround in form if they are to avoid a repeat of Excelsior’s comfortable win on the opening day of the season. The champions may be overly dependent on the success of Lorenzo Ingram with the bat, but their attack remains strong, and they are likely to have too many guns for Punjab.

BdJ One suspects if Excelsior were allowed to pick their opponents next week the beleaguered Rotterdammers would likely have been near the top of the list, but arguably the reverse might just apply too. Excelsior’s vaunted discipline with the ball seemed to desert them last week when they gifted HBS some 27 extras in the innings, which can be only partly explained by apprentice wicketkeeper Woutersen’s struggles behind the sticks. Though Stephan Myburgh may only be semi-fit he will doubtless be looking forward to a return to Thurlede, and he puts on a show at the top of the order it will be interesting to seem how well Exclesior’s rattled attack hold together. Nonetheless there’s little to suggest that Punjab have the depth to really challenge the defending champions, nor, on recent showing, do they seem to have the appetite.

RL Two successive century opening stands indicate that ACC’s promotion of Richardt Frenz was an inspired move but the revival of the side’s fortunes with the bat has not been matched by the attack, and their dramatic defeat by Sparta last week will be in the backs of their minds as they take on HBS Den Haag at Het Loopveld. Nor will their cause be helped if skipper Saqib Zulfiqar’s injury, sustained during the second T20I on Wednesday, keeps him out of the side or significantly restricts his contribution. Even away from Craeyenhout the HBS top order has the firepower to cause the ACC bowlers plenty of problems, and the Amsterdammers’ win in the corresponding match at the start of the season – one of only two they have achieved so far – must now seem a very long time ago. The HBS attack, too, demonstrated against Excelsior last week that they can be an extremely effective unit.

BdJ Little argument here. ACC have looked a decent side at times, even dangerous when the Zulfiqars were all firing, and Frenz’ coming into form makes them a better team than their position on the points table suggests, but a lack of bench strength has long been an issue and they can little afford to lose even one first choice player. A key effect of Frenz taking responsibility from the top of the order has been to free the consistently underrated Rehmat Zulfiqar to pursue the sort of belligerent game which makes him arguably the most dangerous of the brothers at Topklasse level (the elder Zulfiqar has hit as many boundaries this season as his three brother combined) but even so it’s hard to see the hosts out-hitting the HBS top order.

RL Quick Haag’s defeat of VRA Amsterdam at the start of May has also proved to be a false dawn, as the Hanen have won only twice more since. They will, however, return to the scene of that success on Sunday, since the construction work at Nieuw Hanenburg means that VRA will again be playing on their own ground. VRA have problems of their own: the batting, despite some flashes of excellence, has been underwhelming overall, and with Viv Kingma on the casualty list the attack has also lacked a degree of incisiveness. Leon Turmaine has done well with both bat and ball since his return, but with Eric Szwarczynski having a miserable season the top order continues to look vulnerable. Whether Quick have the resources to make it two out of two is another question, but the game is likely to be closer than the sides’ relative positions on the table suggest.

BdJ Whilst the visiting Ross ter Braak may provide something of a temporary solution to the gap Kingma leaves in VRA’s attack, no easy solution to the misfiring middle-order presents itself. It will be interesting to see if skipper Emile van den Burg is tempted to play with the batting order or will prefer to back his batters to come good. Quick’s attack have been on the receiving end of a battering in recent weeks, and ought not to present too much of a threat to the quality in VRA’s batting card, but then the same was true last time round. Another loss to Quick would likely see VRA slip still further behind a crowded upper table and likely be the end of their title challenge, and it’s not entirely out of the question either. The man to make it happen would be Jay Bista one suspects, he missed out on his first trip to VRA after an attractive-looking 17, and Sunday may just look like a free do-over for the mumbaikar.

Rod Lyall’s tips: Sparta, VOC, Excelsior, HBS, Quick
Bertus de Jong’s tips: Sparta, VOC, Excelsior, HBS, VRA

Round 9 Preview

Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 15/06/18

Already we’re closing in on the half-way stage of the season, and the table has to a fair extent sorted itself into title contenders and relegation candidates. Excelsior’s implosion against Sparta last week keeps a few more teams in the hunt than at a similar stage last season, but at the other end of the table Punjab look to be running away with the relegation race even without the aid of the points penalty that may or may not be coming their way.

BdJ: Two sides now barely in contention for either the title or the wooden spoon are the mid-tablers Dosti-United and HCC, who are set to meet at Drieburg tomorrow. Neither carry much momentum into the game having both gone winless in their last three matches after promising early season starts. Dosti’s fortunes have ridden largely on the performances of Taru Kohli with the bat and Mohammad Hafeez with the ball, the former looking rather out of sorts against VRA, yet despite struggling for his usual fluency he still managed to top-score with 58. It’s a safe bet that a return to familiar surroundings will be accompanied by a familiar looking score for the league’s leading run-scorer. HCC are still missing the runs of Jonathan Vandiar, but Mark Jonkman has yet to replicate his flying form from last year either. New overseas Bryce Street has stepped admirably into the breach with the bat, whilst Hidde Overdijk and Tonny Staal have also upped their games, but this remains a weaker HCC side than in years past. A test of bounce-backability for both sides at Drieburg then, though if the home crowd get behind them I’d make Dosti marginal favourites.

RL: Dosti United and HCC have both won three games, but HCC have lost twice more than their hosts over the first eight rounds. Both have been less than impressive in recent weeks, although the Hagenaars made a surprisingly good fist of chasing ACC’s 300 total last Saturday, Bryce Street having demonstrated something of his true quality in the process. Kohli’s half-century against VRA turned out to be insufficient to get his side to a more modest target, and Dosti’s dependence on his batting is starkly apparent, especially with Mohammad Hafeez not fully fit. After an outstanding start for HCC Staal’s last three innings have produced 8, 0 and 0, and he is undoubtedly due a score. But the HCC batting generally has been fragile, and unless the bowlers are able to account for Kohli (and the dangerous Davids), a Dosti win is on the cards.

BdJ: A little further up the table fourth-placed VRA head to Hazelaarweg to take one VOC Rotterdam, currently in third. A defeat for either could mean the end of their title hopes, especially if Excelsior replicate their run from last season or Sparta’s dream return season continues. For two sides with enviable batting line-ups the two have a strange habit of producing ugly, low-scoring scraps whenever they meet, and it may just come down to who wants it more on the day. VOC’s four Dutch internationals may have their minds elsewhere with two T20s against Scotland looming, but three of the four have been in fine form both for VOC and in Orange. Max O’Dowd is coming off the back of a match-winning knock against the Irish, and last week was in the runs both in the T20s and against Punjab. Fred Klaassen looks set to defend his title of leading wicket taker, whilst skipper Pieter Seelaar has plenty of recent runs and two international wins under his belt as he prepares to meet his mentor.

Peter Borren won’t be in charge for VRA of course, having passed the reigns to Emile van den Burg, but one suspects his influence will be key in galvanising and underperforming batting line-up and a bowling unit weakened by injury. On paper VOC head into the match as clear favourites on form, but the visitors have plenty to prove.

RL: The rivalry between VOC and VRA is one of the oldest in Dutch cricket, and the two clubs have had many memorable encounters over the years. This time they have both worked their way into the top half of the table, and as m’colleague observes, a win is vital for both if they are to maintain the challenge to the sides above them. VOC could even go top if Excelsior and Sparta both lost, while VRA would jump ahead of the Bloodhounds if they were to take the points. More of VOC’s key players are performing consistently at the moment than are their guests’, and that should give the home side the edge. If Borren is fit, however, he is capable of turning a game around very quickly, and it’s hard to believe that Eric Szwarczynski’s run of poor form will continue much longer.

BdJ: Equally crucial to the shape of the top of the table will be defending champions and frontrunners Excelsior ‘20’s clash with HBS Craeyenhout at Thurlede. With a remarkable battery of big guns at the top of the order, HBS have every chance of knocking over the title-holders, who will still be reeling from the ambush Sparta sprang on them at Bermweg last week. Toby Visée and Jaron Morgan especially look in dangerous form, with a partnership of 123 in 38(!) balls against Quick in the T20 last week underscoring their hitting abilities. Wesley Barresi’s knee niggle may keep him out of the side tomorrow, but HBS remain the most intimidating batting side in the competition, and Excelsior may need more than their usual discipline with the ball to contain them, especially if the pitch cooperates. Excelsior are of course top of the table for good reason, and the double failure of James Hilditch and Lorenzo Ingram last week remains something of an aberration, yet their ability to bounce back from defeat is rather untested, having rarely been called upon, and HBS are a tough side to regain your feet against.

RL: Whatever the defeat of Excelsior last week may have told us about (a) the brittleness of their batting, (b) the incisiveness of Sparta’s attack, or (c) conditions at Sportpark Bermweg, it is difficult to imagine that they will collapse so thoroughly for a second time in succession. The HBS threat comes more from the batting than the bowling, and no doubt Excelsior’s attack is better equipped to deal with that than Quick’s (or, for that matter, Dosti’s). Nor are HBS as formidable away from Craeyenhout. Still and all, this match should be a cracker, and it’s only Excelsior’s record of managing to win even when not playing at their best that leads me to plump for the home side.

BdJ: Meanwhile Excelsior’s conquerors last week, Sparta 1888, march on to Het Loopveld where they will take on an ACC side looking to turn around a poor start to the season. The Amsterdammers’ batting finally came together against HCC last week, with overseas Richardt Frenz knotching his first Topklasse century with support from Zulfiqars Rehmat and Sikander to take them to their first 300 total, but they face a Sparta attack at the top of their game, Dost Mohammad proving a fine partner for Mudassar Bukhari, and Warren Bell right back in the swing of things after his belated entrance to the season. ACC remain reliant on their top order for runs, with resistance rare after the Zulfiqars are done. Sparta are likewise rather top-heavy in their batting, but of the two attacks it is theirs that looks more likely to find early breakthroughs.

RL: Sparta 1888, having demolished the leaders, travel to Amstelveen to take on an ACC side which finally ran into decent batting form against HCC last week. If the seam quartet of Bell, Bukhari, Muhammed and Saleem bowl as well this week as they did against Excelsior ACC will find the going tough, and Het Loopveld is traditionally a ground which favours the bowlers. That said, ACC’s own attack has scarcely been a dominant force this season, and with Michael Pollard, Bell, Bukhari and Tim de Kok the visitors have a cluster of useful batsmen. ACC need to create some momentum if they are to move away from the danger zone, but Sparta are capable of making that extremely difficult for them.

BdJ: Finally at the bottom of the table Punjab Rotterdam take on their nearest wooden spoon rivals Quick Haag in what also looks a genuine four-pointer. With Quick’s home ground under renovation, the match has been relocated to Sportpark Harga. Quick will have neither home advantage nor much confidence heading into the game, having been bested twice by Hague rivals HBS last week (the latter match being the utter demolition at the hands of Visée and Morgan in the T20). Punjab’s recent record is little better, having followed their collapse in the face of VOC by losing to VCC in the T20. They will likely be bolstered by the return of Stef Myburgh however, the Netherlands opener allowed a run out to test his recovering ankle, and will be keen to prove his fitness. It’s questionable how much Myburgh will enjoy his return to Harga however, as things have changed rather since he last played for Hermes. The new turf wicket is still very much a work in progress we hear, and with the grass still bedding in (and thus uncut) in the outfield too, batting conditions will be less than ideal. That may of course serve to neutralise the threat of Quick’s Jay Bista as much as that of Myburgh, and with the conditions liable to play a major role in an already evenly-matched encounter, this looks a toss-up to me.

RL: Four-pointers at the bottom of the table can be a lot more decisive than those at the top, and for Quick Haag and Punjab this game will determine who finishes the first round of matches in relegation position – and possibly a good deal more than that. It’s only four years since Quick were champions, but retirements and transfers have taken their toll, while Punjab, too, are missing the key players who took them to fifth place last season. Quick’s efforts to rebuild from within their own resources have had only limited success so far, although Daan Vierling’s maiden Topklasse half-century against HBS is a sign of progress. Both teams, however, need their overseas players to have a more consistent impact than they have been able to achieve until now. If Myburgh is back in the side that will indeed provide a much-needed fillip for Punjab, but it’s another hard one to call. The toss may be crucial, but I’m going with Quick by a whisker for now.

BdJ’s tips: Punjab, Sparta, HBS, VRA, Dosti.

RL’s tips: Quick, Sparta, Excelsior, VOC, Dosti.

Round 8 Preview

Rod Lyall and Bertus de Jong 08/06/18

After the disruption caused by rescheduling and bad weather last weekend, the Topklasse programme returns to relative normality this week with five matches set to take place on Saturday, three of them in the form of local derbies.

RL: Top of the bill must be Sparta 1888’s clash with Excelsior ‘20 at Sportpark Bermweg. The advent of Warren Bell had an immediate impact in the Capelle side’s match against Quick Haag last Sunday, and he adds greater all-round depth to a team which has at times been a real threat to the established Topklasse order. Whether they can extend that challenge by inflicting Excelsior’s first defeat of the season is another question, and their key players will all need to fire if they are to have a realistic chance against the defending champions, who spent last Saturday gazing at a soggy Thurlede. Excelsior’s attack is steady at worst, and at times a good deal more menacing than that, and with proven matchwinners in Lorenzo Ingram and James Hilditch they will certainly start as favourites to extend their advantage at the top.

BdJ: Bell’s fashionably late entrance does indeed lend this Sparta side a more balanced look, and the menace of Bukhari on home turf shouldn’t be underestimated. The hosts will need a big innings from someone to put the defending champions under any sort of pressure, but in Bell, Pollard and indeed Bukhari they have players who can deliver just that. They remain clear underdogs against a disciplined and determined Exclesior however, and though Berweg itself has proven something of a leveller thus far, a home win would certainly surprise.

RL: After another slow start, VRA Amsterdam looked comfortable against HCC last Saturday, and will take on a Dosti United side which has, by contrast, begun to falter after winning three on the trot. The postponement of their game against Punjab has given Mohammad Hafeez another week to recover from his thigh strain, and Taruwar Kohli and Anees Davids may, for different reasons, relish the conditions in the Amsterdamse Bos. But it is doubtful whether Dosti have the depth in batting and bowling to counter VRA’s undoubted firepower with both bat and ball, and unless the two overseas players have another red-letter day it seems likely that the home side’s recovery will continue.

BdJ: Overseas pros have habitually chosen the Bos as the setting to go big in the past, perhaps revelling in the chance to play on one of the country’s better turf wickets, which in no small part accounts for VRA’s surprisingly poor home record in recent years. With Viv Kingma still on the sidelines VRA’s attack will have a job dealing with Dosti’s overseas Kohli and Davids, but even another big innings from the league’s leading runscorer may not be enough given the depth of VRA’s batting line up.

RL: This Rotterdam derby may not have the antiquity of some of the others in Dutch cricket, but having been twice dismissed for under 100 by their newly-promoted rivals VOC will be very keen to turn the table on their return to Het Zomercomplex. This season’s Punjab is certainly not as formidable as last year’s, while the Hazelaarweg squad has been very considerably strengthened, and with Scott Edwards and Corey Rutgers reinforcing Max O’Dowd, Dirk van Baren and Pieter Seelaar in the batting and Fred Klaassen and Pierce Fletcher adding a cutting edge to the seam attack, VOC should be closer to Excelsior than they in fact are. So this match offers them a double opportunity to emphasize their credentials, and it will be a major achievement if Punjab succeed in taking the points.

BdJ: For a side featuring four current internationals and Corey Rutgers VOC have rather underperformed so far this season, but it would indeed be a major surprise to see Punjab take points off them tomorrow. Though Ahsan Malik is unlikely to play owing to a finger injury, it’s fair to say that VOC will miss him less than Punjab miss Stef Myburgh, whose persisting ankle trouble will keep him out of the Dutch squad for the coming Tri-Series and tomorrow’s match. Though Punjab’s less-celebrated players have at times shown themselves capable of remarkable performances (young Assad Saleemin proving one of our better “players to watch” picks), it will take a more cohesive and indeed aggressive showing than we’ve seen in recent weeks to upset their Rotterdam rivals.

RL: A history is one thing encounters between neighbours HBS Den Haag and Quick Haag do not lack, and this game at Craeyenhout should be absorbing, Quick’s disappointing form so far this season notwithstanding. The home side missed an opportunity to follow up on their comprehensive win over Dosti at Hazelaarweg last Saturday, when the ground was judged too wet for their match to start, while Quick, playing on Sunday, were on the wrong end of a six-wicket victory by Sparta. There is little that suggests that Quick’s attack will be able to tame HBS’s imposing top order, which of course includes former Quick opener Wesley Barresi, and it may be up to the batsmen to buckle down and produce a more convincing effort than they have generally managed so far this season.

BdJ: HBS’ intimidating top order has not proved immune to collapse thus far, most notably against HCC, but it’s difficult to see them having as much trouble against a Quick attack that is in large part still finding its feet in the Topklasse. Though Stokkers and van Gigch produced a vintage performance against ACC, it should be noted it was far from chanceless, and HBS have not been as forgiving in the field as ACC were. Even Quick’s two overseas, Bista and Davey, have struggled for consistency since arriving in the Netherlands, and one suspects the visitors will need both to fire, and then some, if they are to take points back from Craeyenhout.

RL: Two wins ahead of ACC in the table, HCC have nevertheless lost their last two games, against Excelsior and then against VRA last week. Totals of 120 and 86 in those matches underline the fragility of their batting, and Tonny Staal will need more support if the Hagenaars are to rise above their current lower-mid-table position. But their opponents at De Diepput on Saturday had an even more wretched May, and opening-day win against HBS their only success so far. We grow tired of saying that the side is too dependent on its Zulfiqars, but – despite signs of progress by young Shirase Rasool and the undoubted promise of Aryan Kumar – that remains the case. In a normal season ACC would be starting to worry about the prospect of relegation, but this is far from being a normal season. Nevertheless, it would take a considerable reversal of fortune, and a larger contribution from the top oder, for ACC to take the points back to Amstelveen.

BdJ: Winless since their opening match against HBS, ACC will be desperate to turn things around at de Diepput come Saturday, and though their dependency on the Zulfiqars has indeed been mentioned, it also bears repeating that there are probably worse families to be counting on. With the tri-series looming both Saqib and Sikander will be keen to make their case for another senior cap or two, and one might hope a little sibling rivalry might inspire something from Asad or the oft-underestimated Rehmat. On form they nonetheless remain underdogs, and on the other side Hidde Overdijk and Tonny Staal will doubtless be keen to remind the selectors that there are young dutch prospects to be found outside of Amstelveen. Probably the toughest of the round’s games to call, so this is where I’ll part ways with the good professor and back ACC to double their points tally at de Diepput.

RL’s tips are: Excelsior, VRA, VOC, HBS, HCC.
BdJ’s tips are: Sparta, VRA, VOC, HBS, ACC.

Round 7 preview

Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 01/06/18

After a hectic start to the season the Topklasse is settling back to a more languid one-round-a-week schedule, but after the opening exchanges the table is already starting to take shape.

BdJ: Solidly in the middle of the pack are VRA Amsterdam who have bounced back from another poor start to win three of their last four games and move into fifth place. The Amstelveen side take on HCC at the Bos on Saturday, who are also on six points from six games. The Amsterdammers’ intimidating top order have yet to really fire on all cylinders, but they showed against Punjab last week they have enough depth to recover from early setbacks to post big scores. The sidelining of Viv Kingma has drawn some of the sting from their new ball attack though, and with his new-ball partner Quirijn Gunning struggling for rhythm a pre-season strength is beginning to look like a weakness.

Their opponents have looked no more consistent with the bat however, though Bryce Street has settled in well he is still no replacement for Jonathan Vandiar, and while Tonny Staal has grown into his role at number three the rest of the line-up remains brittle. The bowling attack similarly has relied on stand-out individual performances, most notably Ali Ahmed’s 8-36 against HBS, but none of them have performed consistently or as a unit. With neither team having really settled into the season yet one feels this one could go either way.

RL: In Peter Borren VRA have a seasoned matchwinner, whose six centuries in the top flight are five more than the entire HCC squad. Add to him Eric Szwarczynski, another former international, who has yet to produce his form of recent seasons, the explosive left-hander Ben Cooper, openers Daan ter Braak and 15-year-old Vikram Singh, and skipper Emile van den Burg, and you have a top six which ought to be the terror of every attack in the competition. Yet their performances hitherto have been inconsistent at best, while HCC’s bowling has been reasonably effective. It’s the Hagenaars’ batting, Staal apart, which gives rise to greater doubt, and with VRA’s bowlers performing more consistently than the batsmen, the home side start as clear favourites in my opinion.

BdJ: Meanwhile VOC Rotterdam host HBS Craeyenhout for what looks to me to be the headline act this round. HBS’ much-hyped top order arsenal finally laid down the barrage we’d been waiting for against the hapless Dosti last week, whilst VOC’s new-ball pair of Fred Klaassen and Pierce Fletcher laid waste to Sparta at Bermweg, setting up what promises to be an enthralling duel at Hazelaarweg. Inevitably the encounter will be something of a grudge match with former HBS-ers Fletcher and Corey Rutgers taking the field against their old club for the first time, though it remains to be seen whether the occasion will inspire the latter to break fifty runs for the first time this season.

Though it has been HBS’ batting and VOC’s bowling that has made headlines thus far in the season, it is VOC’s batting that may prove decisive. With a line-up packed with somewhat underperforming talent, VOC boast three Dutch internationals in addition to Rutgers, who averaged almost 50 last season, but only Scott Edwards is among the top 20 run-scorers this season. On paper this batting quality gives them a clear advantage come Saturday, but then games aren’t decided on paper.

RL: No question that this is the match of the round. It’s true that it was the HBS top six who pulverised Dosti last Saturday while it was the VOC attack – or the new-ball pairing plus two deliveries from Pieter Seelaar – which disposed of Sparta in short order. But the Craeyenhout side’s bowlers also played their part, and they are capable of providing a stern test for VOC’s yet-to-gel batting line-up. Whether the HBS batsmen will be as formidable on the Hazelaarweg turf as they were at home is an open question; but they managed to reach 200 in the Amsterdamse Bos a fortnight ago. Both sides have explosive batsmen, and the side which keeps its discipline under fire may well prove to be the winner. A tight call, but home advantage may be decisive.

BdJ: An equally intriguing match-up, albeit for rather different reasons, will be playing out at Nieuw Hanenburg where Quick Haag will take on Sparta 1888. Quick had been little short of abject thus far, barring an opening win against an undercooked VRA and a couple of productive trips to the crease from new overseas Jay Bista, whilst Sparta had surprised many with an impressive return to the top division.

Last week saw a remarkable reversal in the fortunes of both sides, when an outstanding partnership between Lesley Stokkers and Geert Mol ensured Quick took two points off an admittedly unimpressive ACC side at het Loopveld, while Sparta fell apart entirely against VOC. Which of the two results was an aberration and which a return to type is not immediately clear, though Saturday promises to give some indication.

The return of Quick skipper Jeroen Brand from footballing commitments is something of a boon for the hosts, and with all-rounder Imran Khan also back they will be approaching full strength. They still lack the firepower with the new ball that blew Sparta away last week however, and the Capelle club have already shown what they are capable of at this level.

RL: Sparta’s form has been pretty inconsistent so far, in part because of their dependence on a few key players. Quick’s consistency has largely been of the wrong kind, and they continue to miss the experience of Wesley Barresi and Henk-Jan Mol. But the momentum is with the Nieuw Hanenburg team after that escape against ACC, while Sparta will need to bounce back from that humiliating defeat by VOC. That will be a real test of character, and it is hard to assess how effectively Martijn Snoep will be able to rally his troops. Jay Bista is too good a player to struggle for long, and with Jeroen Brand back in the side Quick may continue to recover from their very poor start to the season.

BdJ: Likewise looking to put last week behind them will be Dosti United and Punjab Rotterdam, who were both on the receiving end of 300+ scores last week against HBS and VRA respectively. Of the two only Dosti showed any real fight in the chase, skipper Vinoo Tewarie building aggressive partnerships with Taruwar Kohli and Anees Davids before the scoreboard pressure brought the inevitable collapse, whilst Punjab were content to block their way out of the game early, batting out their overs to finish 93 short.

Had Kohli managed to replicate his remarkable form this season one feels Dosti might even have had a shot at the 357 target, though the fact that they conceded it in the first place underscores the vulnerability of their bowling, Hafeez aside. Punjab’s problems look to run deeper however, with the gap left by Minhas and Shahzad beginning to tell. Stef Myburgh’s absence does not help matters of course, as the injured Netherlands opener’s quick runs at the top of the order figured large in Punjab’s pre-season plans. Finding someone to fill that role, and someone to remove Kohli for a less than ruinous score, will be two necessary conditions for a Punjab win one feels.

RL: A big worry for Dosti will be the fitness of Mohammad Hafeez, who had to bowl off a couple of paces last week and who was evidently in pain from his thigh strain when batting. His contribution in both roles is crucial to the side, and while the Amsterdammers are much more effective at Sportpark Drieburg than they are away from home – and especially bowling first in the unique conditions at Craeyenhout – they will be much weakened if he is unable to play a full part against Punjab. But the Rotterdam side is going through a very tough time on and off the field, and it will take a huge effort from them if they are to prevail over a Dosti side which has the trump cards of Kohli and Davids.

BdJ: The round’s final match will be a table-spanning encounter between bottom-placed ACC and defending champions Excelsior ‘20, who are again undefeated thus far. The Amsterdammers’ woeful performance against Quick last week gives little cause to expect an upset, underscoring not only their reliance on the Zulfiqar clan but also their ability to go to pieces in the field. Though Dewald Botha’s display with the ball was encouraging, removing the veteran Bob van Gigch and the dangerous Bista in succession, ACC let an understrength Quick off the hook with a series of drops and blunders, of which Mol and Stokkers took clinical advantage.

They will not be able to afford such mishaps against Excelsior. Though the title-holders are not immune to dropping a few themselves, as the luckless James Hilditch knows all-too-well, it has been a combination of discipline and refusal to roll over as much as the runs provided by Hilditch and Lorenzo Ingram that has kept the Schiedammers’ winning record intact so far. With skipper Tom Heggelman bowling as well as ever and young Gijs Kroesen looking to have benefited markedly from a season in Australia, there are few weaknesses in the Excelsior attack. Though the threat posed by the Zulfiqar brothers should not be dismissed and ACC’s supporting cast is not as weak as scorecards may suggest, anything but an Excelsior victory would be the surprise of the round.

RL: Unbeaten in five games, Excelsior continue to overcome all challengers, and they have seen off stronger sides than the current ACC outfit already this season. With only Sikander of the four Zulfiqar brothers producing any consistency with the bat so far, and an attack which is short on experience and less than incisive, ACC will start as clear underdogs against a Thurlede side which has the knack of winning even when playing below its best. If winning is a habit, then Excelsior have it in spades, while ACC have lost five on the trot and last week saw a potential winning position turn into another defeat. Anything can happen in cricket, but it would be a bold tipster who predicted a defeat for Excelsior here.

BdJ’s Tips: VRA, VOC, Sparta, Dosti, Excelsior

RL’s Tips: VRA, VOC, Quick, Dosti, Excelsior

Round 6 Preview

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 25/05/18

RL: Having gone clear at the top of the table thanks to a comfortable victory over Quick on Monday, Excelsior ’20 will travel to De Diepput in good heart. But HCC were equally impressive in their demolition of Punjab, and with Tonny Staal in great form with the bat they will take on the champions with no lack of confidence. The Hagenaars started slowly, but three wins on the trot will have given them plenty of heart, and Ali Ahmed Qasim is, like Staal, a potential matchwinner. Nor should we forget HCC were the last team to beat the Schiedammers, at Thurlede on 13 August last year. That said, there’s more to Excelsior than their two seasoned overseas players, as the bowlers’ demolition of VOC on Saturday demonstrated, and they will start as favourites in what promises to be a tough old battle.

BdJ: It’s fair to say the HCC are hitting their stride this season, with Bryce Street and Hidde Overdijk also impressing in the Pro-Series this week. With a home crowd behind them they look set to provide Excelsior with probably their sternest challenge yet, and if the defending champion’s latest winning run is to be broken one feels tomorrow is the time. Still it’s hard to argue with Excelsior’s momentum, the bowling unit has been a model of discipline and if their batting line up remains somewhat top-heavy the lower middle order has shown they can get the job done if called upon. And then there’s the rumour that Ed Cowan’s in town…

RL: Without Pieter Seelaar and Max O’Dowd, VOC were all at sea against Excelsior, but they came storming back with a decisive win over ACC on Monday. They have yet to fire on all cylinders, and they will need to be at their best against a Sparta 1888 side which moved confidently into second place on Monday by virtue of their hard-fought victory over Dosti United. Michael Pollard confirmed his quality with a superb hundred in that game, and the attack then held its collective nerve as Kohli and Hafeez led the chase. The clash between VOC’s star-studded side and the more workmanlike Sparta outfit should be absorbing, and it would not be altogether surprising if it were the home side which came out on top.

BdJ: Sparta have had a solid start in their return season, and if the side lacks the start power of VOC they have certainly proved themselves more than the sum of their parts. It’s tough to call them underdogs at Bermweg, especially with Mudassar Bukhari fit and in form. Nonetheless they will need him or Dost Muhammad to take the top off VOC early. Though the Rotterdammer’s batting, as with HBS, has been something of a disappointment so far, and Bermweg isn’t the easiest track at the best of times, the quality is still there and they’ve more than a few batsmen due a score.

RL: Dosti United will be keen to put that defeat at the hands of Sparta behind them, and to reinforce their title aspirations with a win over HBS at Craeyenhout. But Monday confirmed just how reliant they are on Taruwar Kohli, and his 52 wasn’t enough to get them home, despite a fine 77 from Mohammad Hafeez. Anees Davids’s contributions are a lot less consistent, but he remains a danger to any opponents, while the artificial outfield at Craeyenhout has proved to the liking of Dosti’s batsmen in the past. HBS have been something of an enigma, but they proved against Punjab on Saturday that when the top order gets it right they can be the most powerful combination in the competition. Neither attack, perhaps, is of the same quality as the batting, so high totals may be on the cards.

BdJ: Though firm favourites on paper, especially at home, the big question for HBS remains who, if anyone, is going to take Kohli’s wicket tomorrow. Better attacks have tried and failed, and if he is not removed promptly one can imagine him thaking the game swiftly away from the hosts tomorrow. HBS’ cause will not be helped by the rumoured suspension of two first choice bowlers, who have reportedly fallen afoul of a newly-instituted policy barring 1st team cricketers from playing other sports in season. Nonetheless Dosti probably have more wickets to worry about than HBS, with Toby Visée and Wesley Barresi in the runs this week and the menace of Jaron Morgan and Sharn Gomes to come after them, Dosti’s attack will need to be on top of their game if they’re to contain the Crows.

RL: VRA Amsterdam will travel to Het Zomercomplex to take on a Punjab side which showed signs of complete collapse against HCC on Monday. Whether it was the absence of Stef Myburgh which threw them out of kilter or the continuing dispute over the eligibility of their Belgian-based players, but the batting slump and the bowling performance which followed suggested that the Rotterdammers, regardless of the eligibility regulations, may face an uphill struggle to avoid relegation. VRA have yet to hit a consistent vein of form, with their top order still failing to produce the starts they are capable of, but it will take a huge effort from Punjab if they are to prevent the Amsterdam side taking the points back north with them. And with half-centuries in his last two knocks, Peter Borren is starting to look ominous.

BdJ: Indeed as things stand Punjab’s dispute with the KNCB looks like it might turn out academic at least in so far as the Rotterdam club’s Topklasse survival is concerned, though Raza and Latif have shown in the past why Punjab are so keen to field them. The sidelining of Vivian Kingma due to a recurring ankle issue also takes some sting out of VRA’s new ball attack, and even in Myburgh’s absence Punjab have the firepower to take advantage. Nonetheless VRA’s mercurial middle order has enjoyed the Zomercomplex’s short boundaries before, and if Borren or van den Burg tee off it’s tough to imagine a score that would be out of reach.

RL: Like Punjab, ACC and Quick Haag have just one win from five games, and in normal circumstances both would be beginning to have serious worries about relegation. It’s ACC who will be at home on Saturday, and they will be fully aware that the four Zulfiqar brothers managed just 14 runs between them against VOC on Monday. On top of the failure of all except Sikander on Saturday, a side which is very dependent on that one family has genuine cause for concern. If ACC’s Richardt Frenz is just starting to run into form, Quick’s Jay Bista did so with a vengeance against Excelsior, and the Hanen will hope that he can do the same again this week. Quick are, perhaps, marginally less brittle at the moment than their hosts, and may start as favourites to prevail in what is a real four-pointer.

BdJ: Last weekend was certainly an emphatic demonstration of ACC’s weakness should all four (or five) Zulfiqars fail at once, with even Frenz’ firsts serious score of the season not enough to prevent comprehensive defeat. That said a look at the seasons’ stats does suggest that total Zulfiqar failure is something of an aberration, with Sikander especially looking in good nick, as he showed again during the Pro-Series this week. Jay Bista’s rapid acclimatisation to Topklasse cricket is Quick’s only real comfort in a season where they have first played down expectations and then played down to them, and even 127 rapid runs from the Mumbaiker were not enough to win any points last weekend.

RL’s tips: Excelsior, Sparta, Dosti, VRA, Quick.

BdJ’s tips: HCC, VOC, HBS, VRA, ACC.

Round 5 Preview

Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 20/05/18

BdJ: A quick turnaround after yesterday’s games and we’ve another full five game set of Topklasse matches to look forward to tomorrow. The heavily front-loaded schedule this season has been particularly unforgiving to slow-starters, and if the under-performing VRA hope to claw their way into contention they will need to take two points off HBS when they meet at the Amsterdamse Bos. A match that promised to be a highlight at the start of the season now sees the visitors start as strong favourites, with the Crows’ top order big guns Toby Visee, Wesley Barresi, Jaron Morgan and Sharn Gomes finally firing against Punjab yesterday.

The hosts will need early wickets if they are to contain them, though in Vivian Kingma and Quirijn Gunning they have the bowlers to deliver and it’s worth noting that HBS have yet to pass 160 away from home. But if HBS have been inconsistent, VRA have found altogether the wrong sort of consistency, with each of their top six having been dismissed for single figures at least as often as not thus far.

RL: It’s less obvious than the failures at the top of the batting order, but Gunning and Kingma have only taken nine wickets between them so far, and have not been as devastating as they might be expected to be. The turf of the Bos is not, of course, the artificial surface at Craeyenhout, and a repeat of Saturday’s 300-plus total by HBS would come as a surprise, but if the Crows’ top order has until now flattered to deceive, VRA’s has simply been miserably disappointing. The return to form of the HBS top four, however, proves that things can change very quickly, and Peter Borren’s 60 on Saturday illustrates the dormant power of the home side’s batting. Home advantage may in the end prove decisive here.

BdJ: Likewise hoping to turn around a poor start to the season will be Quick Haag at Nieuw Hanenburg tomorrow but with their opponents Excelsior ‘20 embarking on yet another winning streak it’s fair to say they will be underdogs even in their own back yard. So far in the season Quick have amassed just 460 runs for the loss of 38 wickets, and though Jay Bista’s 90 against HCC yesterday looked like a promise of a lot more runs to come, the rest of the batting card’s form inspires little confidence.

Though the defending champion’s four-wicket win over VOC chasing just 100 was far from emphatic, the fact that the lower middle order got them over the line after Fred Klaassen had removed both Ingram and Hilditch and reduced them to 5-37 will doubtless redouble the self-belief of the as-yet undefeated defending champions.

RL: Winning ugly can be the key to long-term championship success, and if Excelsior have been less than wholly convincing so far, the fact remains that they go on winning. The Schiedammers’ bowling has been the decisive factor, and with the five-man seam attack of Hilditch, Van Troost, Heggelman, Bhatti and Gijs Kroesen backed up by the spin of Ingram, they should be sharp enough to dismiss Quick’s brittle batting regardless of who bats first. Quick put up more of a fight against HCC than they managed against VOC a week ago, but it would be a major shock if Excelsior failed to return to Thurlede with the points.

BdJ: Likewise undefeated thus far are Dosti-United, in no small part thanks to the stellar form of Taruwar Kohli, now on three centuries from four innings, who seems to have rather got the hang of Dutch conditions in his second Topklasse season. With support from a rotating cast of partners including Rahil Ahmed, Vinoo Tewarie or the veteran Hafeez, Dosti have been able to put opponents under scoreboard pressure and have had the discipline to capitalise.

It remains to be seen of course how well the Dosti line-up will cope should Kohli fall early, and with Sparta 1888’s Mudassar Bukhari relishing his top-flight return they have the firepower up front to put their hosts on the back foot, and they showed against HBS and VRA that they have the ability to knock over more highly-rated top orders than that of Dosti.

RL: It’s the all-round team effort of Dosti United under Vinoo Tewarie’s leadership which has impressed so far, almost as much as the disciplined technique and awesome consistency of Taruwar Kohli. Nor should we forget the menace of Anees Davids, who adds a real cutting edge to the attack and considerable power to the middle order. ACC were profoundly disappointing on Saturday, but Dosti maintained the pressure extremely well, and while Sparta have potential match-winners in Bukhari and Michael Pollard, and a supporting cast of solid performers, they probably lack the quality in depth to mount a really sustained challenge.

BdJ: Meanwhile Dosti’s Amsterdam rivals ACC will head down to Hazelaarweg to take on VOC Rotterdam. Though neither side have had the start to the season they might have hoped for, the Rotterdammers will back themselves to bounce back after their disappointment at Thurlede, especially with Max O’Dowd slated to return from injury and skipper Pieter Seelaar back at the helm. O’Dowd and Seelaar’s return not only adds some depth to a batting order full of talent but low on form, but also adds extra options with the ball, meaning it’s hard to see who ACC might look to target.

With ACC overseas players Richardt Frenz and Devon Botha yet to make much of an impact this season the Amsterdammers have been even more reliant than usual on the Zulfiqar clan, and when some or all of the brothers fail heavy defeats usually follow.

RL: If ACC’s attack failed to impress on Saturday the batting was much worse, and with three of the four Zulfiqar brothers going cheaply it was left to Sikander to try, rather forlornly, to marshal the inexperienced tail. VOC came back hard at Excelsior after their own batting collapse, and with Fred Klaassen and Pierce Fletcher leading a menacing attack it will take a much more concentrated effort from the Amsterdammers’ top order if they are to take anything from the weekend. VOC need a win to stay in touch with the leaders, and it’s hard to see who is likely to deny them.

BdJ: The round’s final match will see HCC travel to the Zomercomplex to take on Punjab Rotterdam, though as with all of Punjab’s games so far this season the validity of the match is contingent on the outcome of the Rotterdam club’s ongoing dispute with the KNCB regarding the status of Ali Raza and Mamoon Latif, who will likely play again come Monday. The pair were not enough to help Punjab bag two provisional points yesterday however, when a rampant HBS top-order ran up the season’s first 300+ score against them, and Navjit Singh ensured they would fall well short. Stephan Myburgh’s fluctuating form is a particular worry, though he and Raza showed the danger the Punjab opening pair can pose last week against ACC should they get going, but given that that onslaught has delivered their only points thus far one feels early wickets could put them out of the game early.

HCC meanwhile celebrated their 140-year jubilee with a 3-wicket win over Quick and head into the game with momentum on their side,  and an enviable new ball attck. Bryce Street has shown his value with both bat and ball, and though Jonathan Vandiar remains irreplaceable, HCC will be very pleased with his stand-in thus far. Much continues to depend on HCC’s own young batsmen stepping up this season, though with Tonny Staal at least rising to the occasion the Haagse may yet be revising their ambitions upwards from the mid-table finish they were targetting at the start of the summer.

RL: Even with their enhanced line-up Punjab have not shown much sign so far of repeating last season’s successes, and it’s clear that they are missing the contribution of Shoaib Minhaas, Khurram Shazad and Yasir Ali. Three defeats out of four on the field may be overshadowed by the eligibility dispute, but it would in itself be sufficient to suggest that the Rotterdammers might be early candidates for relegation. That said, HCC too have struggled to find their best form. They, though, have won two on the trot, and will be very keen to make it three and reinforce their mid-table position.

BdJ’s Round 5 tips: HBS, Excelsior, Dosti, VOC, HCC

RL’s Round 5 tips: VRA, Excelsior, Dosti, VOC, HCC

Round 4 Preview

Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 18/05/18

BdJ: The first round of this coming Topklasse double weekend is set to kick off a tad earlier than usual at de Diepput, where HCC and Quick Haag will be getting underway an hour early to leave ample time for HCC’s 140-year Jubilee celebrations in the evening. Quick will be looking to spoil the party, but with the Hanen in a dreadful rut of form it would certainly be an upset. Quick’s batting has looked fragile all season and only their only points so far have come from a surprise win against an undercooked VRA side in the season opener. Overseas signings Jay Bista and Sean Davey have not really taken to Dutch conditions so far, and a Quick side in the midst of rebuilding will need them to come good quickly if they are to stay afloat.

Their hosts meanwhile will be full of confidence, coming off the back of their Ali Ahmed-inspired demolition of HBS last week. HCC’s own new signing, Australian Bryce Street, seems to have adjusted rather more quickly, hitting his maiden Topklasse fifty last week as well as lending some variety to the pace attack. With Ryan Ninan pairing Ahmed in the spin section HCC have the look of a balanced team, though the batting still looks rather brittle without Jonathan Vandiar to underpin it. Nonetheless Quick this season have not looked the side to take advantage.

RL: After a slow start HCC suddenly found another gear against HBS on Sunday, although they have some way to go before they can be seen as one of the stronger teams in the competition. The batting does, indeed, lack real conviction, but there is little evidence that Quick are in a position to cause them major problems. The Nieuw Hanenburg outfit were never in the game against VOC last week, and the bowling looked, if anything, even more dispirited than the batting.

BdJ: Meanwhile defending Champions Excelsior ‘20 will welcome the widely-tipped VOC Rotterdam to Thurlede looking to extend their latest unbeaten run. VOC have recovered from an upset opening defeat away at Dosti to win their next two games convincingly, but have yet to fully live up to the pre-season hype. Of their batch of eye-catching new signings only keeper-bat Scott Edwards has really delivered thus far, and they will be without skipper first-choice spinner Pieter Seelaar when they head to Schiedam due to bereavement, young Seb van Lent returning to the side in his place.

Nonetheless the Rotterdammers pose a serious threat to Excelsior’s nascent streak, with Ahsan Malik and Fred Klaassen as capable of taking advantage of Thurlede’s occasionally two-speed pitch as the host’s own disciplined young seamers. Early wickets will likely be key one way or the other, with limited batting depth the key weakness of both sides. James Hilditch’s especially will be the scalp VOC will be looking for, together with that of the evergreen Lorenzo Ingram, whilst the hosts will want to see Edwards and Corey Rutgers back in the pavilion as soon as possible.

RL: This should be the game of the round, with Excelsior’s established, twice-champion outfit taking on a VOC side which, as m’ colleague points out, has yet to deliver its full potential. But the VOC attack was in complete command against a disappointing Quick side, and even without Pieter Seelaar they have the variety to test Tom Heggelman’s team.

BdJ: Also unbeaten thus far, to the surprise of many, are the perhaps rather underrated Dosti-United, who will meet Amsterdam rivals ACC at het Loopveld on Saturday. The Dosti middle order of Mohammad Hafeez, new overseas Anees Davids and especially Taruwar Kohli have proved the backbone of their success thus far, whilst sometime national team prospect Rahil Ahmed seems to have recaptured some of his old confidence.

ACC meanwhile remain thankful that the unduly less-celebrated Rehmat Zulfiqar was blessed with three younger brothers at once, the four Zulfiqars and their semi-retired father still providing the backbone of the batting order. New overseas keeper Richardt Frenz has yet to make a significant impact for his side, having missed one of their three matches due to illness, but with his return the visitors arguably have the advantage in batting depth. That aside there’s really little to pick between the two Amsterdam sides, though on current form probably Dosti have momentum on their side.

RL: ACC and Dosti have provided some memorable encounters in recent years, and this one should be no exception. In a crowded table matches like this acquire extra significance, and with Kohli in supreme form with the bat – and capable of chipping in with the ball as well – Dosti have fully deserved their excellent start to the campaign. If they are to maintain their challenge to Excelsior, and others’, title hopes, and having lost the chance to take a two-point advantage at the top last week, they will be especially keen to maintain the momentum at Het Loopveld.

BdJ: Fellow Amsterdammers VRA have been rather underwhelming thus far, an intimidating middle order line up of Ben Cooper, Eric Szwarczynski and Peter Borren having misfired in the early rounds, but they remain odds-on to take two points back from Bermweg when they take on Sparta on Saturday.

Nonetheless Sparta have thus far performed creditably on their return to the Topklasse with two wins from three games, and with Tim de Kok in fine form and new overseas Michael Pollard looking sound pick the absence of last season’s stalwarts Riaan Jeggels and Warren Bell has not proved too costly. Dost Mohammad has grown into his role as new-ball partner to former Netherlands international Mudassar Bukhari, and at full strength the Capelle side will be no pushovers. VRA will need to shake off the early-season cobwebs if they are to avoid the stumbling start that cost them so dearly last season.

RL: Sparta’s assiduously assembled team has made a good start to the campaign, even without Jeggels and Bell, and were decidedly too strong for Punjab last week. Although Pollard has had less impact with the bat than his first-day knock suggested, he is too good a player to struggle for long, and his contribution will be needed if the Bermweg side is to hold its own against a VRA team which is capable, on its day, of beating anyone in the competition. The same applies in reverse to VRA’s international batting line-up, and on current evidence I would be inclined to tip a narrow Sparta victory here.

BdJ: HBS will look to bounce back from their disastrous outing at de Diepput last week when they take on Punjab Rotterdam at Craeyenhout, thought the vulnerability to the moving ball that Ali Ahmed exposed in their top order will doubtless give their opponents hope of taking two points back to Rotterdam. The big question of course remains whether they will awarded any points regardless of what happens on the field, should they indeed persist with the selection of Belgian nationals Ali Raza and Mamoon Latif, whom the KNCB have deemed ineligible as local players.

Punjab have indicated that the two will continue to play until the dispute is resolved, and the board have made clear that every in which match they appear will be awarded to the opposition. Even with Raza and Latif the Rotterdammers head to the Hague as underdogs, but there’s every chance that with them they will be earning only penalty points on Saturday.

RL: HBS and Punjab were both surprise packets last season, but the Kraaien have been less convincing so far this time round, while the eligibility dispute which hangs over Punjab makes any prediction difficult. Punjab do have a well-balanced side, whatever its legitimacy, and the departure of Corey Rutgers to VOC has removed some solidity from the HBS top order. Barresi and Visée have the ability to take any attack apart, but they have yet to maintain the fireworks for very long. If they, and Jaron Morgan, don’t pile on the runs on Saturday Punjab may prevail, but as m’ colleague points out, any victory may prove to be Pyrrhic.

BdJ’s Round 4 tips: HCC, VOC, Dosti, VRA, HBS
RL’s Round 4 tips: HCC, Excelsior, Dosti, Sparta, HBS

Another split weekend, and a clear leader in prospect

Rod Lyall 11/5/18

The mildly sadistic master who was in charge of cross-country running at my secondary school used to claim that his task as a handicapper was to ensure that everyone crossed the line at the same moment.

He never achieved this, of course, but it’s beginning to look as if the self-regulating recruitment and transfer process which has operated in the Topklasse over the winter might just produce such a result, with all ten teams on 18 points at the end of August.

Two sides emerged from the second round of matches on Thursday with a brace of wins, but after an excellent start Excelsior ‘20 had to work hard to overcome the resistance of VRA Amsterdam, and it’s only Dosti United who have twice been really convincing winners. Intriguingly, these two sides will meet at Dosti’s Drieburg ground on Saturday.

Dosti, who could thank a fine double from Mohammad Hafeez – including five for 13, his best-ever figures in the top division – for their convincing victory over Quick Haag, will have every reason to relish this encounter, while Excelsior, after reducing VRA to 79 for eight on Thursday, saw their visitors recover to 176, George Dunlop contributing a career-best 57 and sharing a ninth-wicket stand of 82 with veteran former international Adeel Raja.

It was, moreover, only due to a fighting knock of 62 not out by James Hilditch that the Thurlede side squeezed home with a three-wicket margin and 11 balls to spare, and Tom Heggelman will be conscious that his side has yet to hit top gear in its attempt to win a third successive title.

James Hilditch

Quick, bowled out for 71 by Dosti as they chased 209, only openers Jay Bista and Lesley Stokkers reaching double figures, came down to earth with a bump after their first-day victory over VRA, and they will visit VOC Rotterdam on Saturday determined to regain some momentum.

But it is the opposite story for the Rotterdammers: having suffered a disappointing defeat at the hands of Dosti last weekend, they bounced back with a vengeance against HCC on Thursday, dismissing the Hagenaars for 127 with an excellent all-round bowling performance.

Their own total of 206 for nine owed a huge amount to Dutch international keeper Scott Edwards, who batted throughout the innings for his 153-ball 90, including just three fours and a six, and a good deal to his partnership with Pieter Seelaar, who made a rather brisker 53 in a fourth-wicket stand of 91.

HCC now find themselves at the foot of the table, and will face difficult opponents this Sunday in the form of HBS Den Haag, whose demolition of Sparta 1888 secured them a position in the top half of a very crowded table.

Disappointing as their total of 160 may have been, Wesley Barresi and Tobias Visée again falling in single figures and Jaron Morgan top-scoring with 36, HBS made it seem like a decent score when they shot the Capelle side out for 61, seamer Berend Westdijk claiming four for 30.

This defeat put Sparta’s win over HCC into a different perspective, and they will be very keen to add Riaan Jeggels and Warren Bell to their strength at the earliest opportunity. They are clearly a workmanlike side, but it looks as if they may need every point they can muster as the season unfolds.

They, too, will face a tricky third game on Saturday, when they play Punjab Rotterdam at Het Zomercomplex. Punjab were in rampant form against ACC on Thursday, with Stef Myburgh (101 not out) and Ali Raza (73) ripping the Amsterdammers’ attack apart with an opening stand of 163 in just 22 overs.

The advent of legspinner Bernard Vorster gives the Punjab attack another dimension too, and while it may not be the most dangerous in the competition, the bowlers did well to restrict ACC to 204 for six, a total which the batsmen then passed with more than 17 overs to spare.

For ACC, who were admittedly weakened by the absence through illness of Richardt Frenz, this will have been something of a wake-up call, the innings of Rehmat (30), Saqib (45) and Sikander Zulfiqar (67 not out) again confirming just how vital the fortunes of the brothers are, not forgetting the contribution of father Ahmed (29), standing in for Frenz.

Saturday will see ACC make the short journey across Amstelveen to take on the enigmatic VRA, who share with HCC the indignity of being winless after two matches.

Their blushes rescued to a degree by the resistance of Dunlop and Raja, and by another fighting effort with the ball, the VRA top order again failed to live up to their reputation and their potential, and Emile van den Burg’s men will need to regroup quickly if they are to avoid losing contact with the leaders, one of whom will be on six points by Sunday evening.

One the first week, two on Thursday – can I make it three this weekend with the following picks?
Dosti, VOC, HBS, Punjab, VRA.

Ascension Day programme gives Topklasse an early lift

Rod Lyall 09/05/18

The traditional Ascension Day fixtures on Thursday feature a clash between two of last weekend’s surprise winners, Quick Haag and Dosti United Amsterdam, at the former’s Nieuw Hanenburg ground.

It also brings into direct confrontation two of the overseas players, both Indian, who made the greatest impression in the opening round: Dosti’s Taruwar Kohli (Punjab), whose chanceless 115 not out was the first century of the new Topklasse season, and Quick’s Jay Bista (Mumbai), who took three for 23 on debut in his side’s three-wicket victory over VRA Amsterdam.

Bista’s arrival at Nieuw Hanenburg, along with New Zealander Sean Davey, looks to have compensated Quick to some degree for their loss of international opener Wesley Barresi and the long-serving Henk-Jan Mol, while Dosti, thanks to the batting of Kohli, Rahil Ahmed and Mohammad Hafeez, were never really stretched in their 81-run win against VOC Rotterdam.

Thursday’s contest will give us a clearer perspective on the relative strengths of both these sides, one of whom will be guaranteed at least a share of the early running in the Topklasse’s packed May programme.

Sparta 1888 also made a promising start to their campaign, and what was particularly encouraging about their six-wicket victory over HCC was the way in which, even without Riaan Jeggels and Warren Bell, they fought back after their visitors had established a firm initial platform.

The Capelle side have a well-balanced attack, led by Mudassar Bukhari and Dost Muhammed, backed up by the seam of Usman Saleem and skipper Joost Martijn Snoep as well as Faisal Iqbal’s spin, and in Michael Pollard they have an overseas player who seems well equipped to score plenty of runs in the middle order.

They will again have home advantage on Thursday, when they take on HBS Den Haag at Sportpark Bermweg.

HBS’s powerful batting lineup failed to fire against ACC on Saturday, only Sharn Gomes coming good as his side chased a target of 234, and they will need two or more of Wesley Barresi, Tobias Visée, Navjit Singh and Jaron Morgan to give him greater support if they are to recover from that setback.

The clash between Barresi and Visée on the one hand and Bukhari and Dost Muhammed on the other could well be one of the highlights of what looks like an intriguing encounter.

HCC’s decline on Saturday from a potentially winning position will have given Mark Jonkman’s side cause for serious reflection, and it is already clear that the Diepput outfit will be missing the resilience of leading run-scorer Jonathan Vandiar.

He dug them out of some difficult situations in recent seasons, stiffening a middle order which looked all too vulnerable against Sparta, and that absence will throw even greater weight upon the top three, Bryce Street, Tonny Staal and Boris Gorlee, while Ryan Ninan and Hidde Overdijk will also have a crucial role if HCC are to set – or chase – decent totals.

They will have their first chance to rectify matters at De Diepput on Thursday, when they entertain VOC Rotterdam, who were also disappointing in going down to Dosti United last Sunday.

One of the strongest sides in the competition on paper, a VOC attack which includes internationals Fred Klaassen, Ahsan Malik Jamil and Pieter Seelaar, as well as seamers Pierce Fletcher and Bobby Hanif and spinner Umar Baker, was able to make little impression on the Dosti top order, while the batsmen struggled against a disciplined opposing attack.

It can only be a matter of time before VOC realise their very considerable potential, but Dosti did enough on Sunday to show they cannot be taken lightly.

Another of the sides which underperformed on the opening day, VRA Amsterdam, travel to Schiedam to take on Excelsior ‘20, who once again took up the battle where they had left off last season.

The defending champions looked as strong as ever as they cruised to an eight-wicket victory over Punjab Rotterdam, with Lorenzo Ingram and James Hilditch again leading from the front, and VRA will need to raise their game considerably if they are to trouble their hosts.

Early-season rustiness can scarcely explain a VRA side which includes Ben Cooper, Eric Szwarczynski and Peter Borren, as well as openers Vikram Singh and Daan ter Braak, being bowled out for 124, and although the bowlers did well to keep their team in the game, a much more disciplined effort will be needed against Excelsior.

The Schiedammers are, of course, a much more experienced outfit than they were in their first championship season two years ago, and they seem virtually certain to be at the heart of the title race. That said, VRA are perfectly capable of bouncing back fast, and their potentially explosive batting and very considerable bowling resources are both strong enough to give Excelsior a serious run for their money.

At Het Loopveld West ACC, the fifth of last weekend’s winners, will be at home to Punjab, and looking to build on that opening victory over HBS.

The Rotterdammers remain something of an unknown quantity, and all the more so because they had to begin their campaign against as formidable opponents as Excelsior. But they did enough, especially with the bat, to indicate that last year’s mid-table position wasn’t a flash in the pan, and they will travel to Amstelveen hopeful of causing problems for an ACC side which remains far too dependent upon the Zulfiqar brothers and their overseas players.

But the Zulfiqars looked to be in great early-season form last weekend, and unless Punjab can find a way of neutralizing that threat a home win looks to be on the cards.

Rod Lyall’s I’m-not-sure-why-I-do-this predictions:
Quick, Sparta, VOC, Excelsior, ACC.

Round 1 Preview

Rod Lyall 04/05/18

A year ago, Rotterdam’s Zomercomplex became the Topklasse’s newest venue when Punjab made their debut in the top flight with a notable win over Quick Haag. This time last season’s newcomers again start at home, but against defending champions Excelsior ‘20, who will be setting out on their quest to become the first side since VRA in 2005-07 to win three national titles in a row, a feat which the Schiedammers themselves achieved a decade earlier.

This match will have added piquancy because Excelsior will feature seamer Haider Khan, who returns to his old club after a spell with Punjab, while the home side will include Dutch international opener Stef Myburgh, who had two seasons at Thurlede before moving to Schiedam neighbours Hermes-DVS, whence he has now landed at the Zomercomplex.

Punjab will be hoping that Belgian international allrounder Ali Raza and 20-year-old South African Bernard Vorster are able to fill the gaps left by Shoaib Minhaas and Khurram Shazad, and that the amateur members of what proved a workmanlike and resilient side last season are able to rise to the occasion against a stable, increasingly experienced Excelsior outfit.

With Lorenzo Ingram and James Hilditch once again at the heart of Tom Heggelman’s side, and Gijs Kroesen back from a successful grade season in Perth, Excelsior will start as clear favourites, but the opening of a Topklasse campaign always throws up a surprise or two, and the Schiedammers would be happy and relieved to head home with their first points tomorrow evening.

This year’s new venue is Het Schollebos in Capelle aan den IJssel (a.k.a. Sportpark Bermweg), where promoted Sparta 1888 will host HCC at the ground they have developed in the years since their last, brief sojourn in the top flight.

Successful as they were in the Hoofdklasse, Sparta’s overseas players Riaan Jeggels, Warren Bell and Craig Ambrose will need to adjust quickly to the tougher demands of the Topklasse, and a HCC lineup which includes new player-coach Bryce Street and the returning Ryan Ninan alongside a healthy mix of experienced and developing home-produced players will constitute a stiff test.

Mudassar Bukhari will doubtless relish his return to the highest division, and he can be expected to use all his experience against the Hagenaars. HCC’s ability to deal with him, and that of the Sparta batting to cope with a varied HCC attack, spearheaded by Mark Jonkman and Reinier Bijloos, may well be the keys to what promises to be an intriguing encounter.

On paper at least, VRA Amsterdam look to be one of the main challengers to Excelsior’s hegemony, and they will have an early test of their mettle when they take on traditional rivals Quick Haag in the Amsterdamse Bos. It will be interesting to see how quickly and effectively international Viv Kingma takes over the new-ball role from the departed Fred Klaassen, and how well Daan ter Braak fits into an already-strong batting lineup.

For Quick, overseas players Jay Bista and Sean Davey will need to settle in as rapidly as possible to get the season away to a solid start, especially with Wesley Barresi and Henk-Jan Mol no longer in the side. But man for man, new VRA skipper Emile van den Burg looks to have a more accomplished side, with deep batting – the top six have 20 centuries in the top division to their credit – and a well-balanced attack, and a home win looks to be on the cards.

HBS Den Haag had a significant impact last year on their return to the Topklasse, and they will be aiming to build on that platform when they entertain ACC at Craeyenhout.

With Australian player-coach Jaron Morgan – one of three batsmen to pass 1000 runs last season – joined by left-arm spinner Sharn Gomes, and the top order reinforced by the arrival of Wesley Barresi, the Kraaien are another side capable of putting in a convincing title challenge, and will hope to exploit the advantage of their artificial outfield against an ACC side which often struggled last year.

In the constant battle to find new ways of saying that the Amsterdammers are worrying dependent on the brothers Zulfiqar, perhaps it is sufficient to remark that much may hinge on the contribution of their new overseas players Richardt Frenz and Devon Botha. But in the longer term it is the emergence of one or more of the crop of ACC youngsters which will determine whether the Loopveld club is able to emulate Excelsior’s achievement in building a young side into a winning combination.

Another of last year’s struggling sides, Dosti United will start at Sportpark Drieburg against another of the potential title challengers, VOC Rotterdam, although because of field availability issues this match will be played on Sunday.

With five current or recent Dutch internationals in their squad and national skipper Pieter Seelaar at the helm, VOC have plenty of firepower with both bat and ball, and they will be very disappointed if they do not give a much better account of themselves than in 2017. Dosti, too, have a lot to prove, but they will need a much greater team effort if they are to avoid putting excessive weight on the shoulders of their overseas players, Taruwar Kohli and Anees Davids.

Overall, though, VOC look like a much stronger outfit, and they will be favourites to take the points back to Rotterdam, avenging in the process their last opening visit to Drieburg, when they were dismissed for 17 in the first round of the 2016 season.

Rod Lyall’s first-round tips: Excelsior, HCC, VRA, HBS, VOC.