Topklasse mixture (mostly) as before

Rod Lyall 17/02/20

Although there were suggestions a few weeks ago that the Topklasse might be in for a radical overhaul, in the end wiser counsels appear to have prevailed – for now, at least – and the 2020 season will be for most part closely resemble its immediate predecessors.

The schedule released by the KNCB last week provides for an 18-round round robin among ten teams, with no play-offs or finals.

The only differences from last season (apart from the obvious one that Quick Haag will be playing in the Hoofdklasse and will be replaced by Hoofdklasse champions Punjab Rotterdam) are comparatively minor: for the first time in many years there will not be a full Topklasse round on Pentecost Monday, although Dosti Amsterdam will be at home to Voorburg on that day.

The other innovation is that there will be a game between VOC Rotterdam and HBS Craeyenhout on Liberation Day, Tuesday, 5 May, an arrangement necessitated by the fact that both clubs will be engaged in the European Cricket League at La Manga on 6 June, the day their Topklasse fixture would otherwise have been in the programme.

As usual, top division matches will generally be played on Saturdays for the first seven weeks of the season, allowing youth competitions to run on Sundays until the schools break up for the summer holidays, and will then move to Sundays from 21 June.

No allowance has been made for the Dutch national side’s commitments from mid-June until the second week of July: three rounds of Topklasse matches are scheduled to be played during that period.

The competition will kick off on 2 May, with champions Excelsior ’20 at home to Voorburg, while VRA Amsterdam will entertain HCC, Dosti Amsterdam will play promoted Punjab, HBS Craeyenhout will take on Sparta 1888, and VOC will play ACC.

The transfer market appears to have been unusually busy over the winter, and with new overseas signings and a few retirements it will be as difficult as ever to predict the sides’ strengths and weaknesses.

That, however, is a matter to which we shall return in due course.

Restyled T20 Cup full of local interest

Rod Lyall 15/02/20

The draw for the KNCB’s new-look Twenty20 Cup has thrown up some extremely interesting group-phase encounters for when the competition gets under way in July.

Based on a seeded national ballot rather than the regional groups which have been used throughout the Cup’s 13-year history, the pools will bring new instances of some old rivalries, not the least of which is the Schiedam derby between Excelsior ’20 and Hermes-DVS with which Group A will open on 11 July.

The abandonment of the regional principle has necessitated a move from Friday-evening pool matches to a Saturday-afternoon programme, played between 11 July and 15 August, with the quarter-finals on 22 August and the traditional finals day, involving two semi-finals and the final, on the following Saturday, the day before the final round of Topklasse matches.

The seedings were based on the results of last year’s finals day, when VOC Rotterdam beat holders HBS Craeyenhout in the final, and on the 2019 standings in the Topklasse, Hoofdklasse and Eerste Klasse.

The outcome of the draw was:
Group A: Excelsior ’20, VRA Amsterdam, Quick Haag, Hermes-DVS, Ghausia Feyenoord.
Group B: VOC, Voorburg, Punjab Rotterdam, Rood en Wit Haarlem, Bloemendaal.
Group C: ACC, Dosti Amsterdam, Kampong Utrecht, Salland Deventer, Groen en Wit Amsterdam.
Group D: HBS Craeyenhout, HCC, Sparta 1888, VVV Amsterdam, Qui Vive Amsterdam.

In addition to the Schiedam derby, therefore, local fans can look forward to the Group B meeting between Rood en Wit and Bloemendaal (arguably the oldest surviving local derby in the Netherlands) on 18 July, the visit of holders VOC to promoted Topklassers Punjab in the same group on the same day, and the Amsterdam clash between ACC and Dosti in Group C on 1 August.

Group D not only features a meeting between HBS and HCC on 1 August, but also an encounter on 18 July between former Amsterdam neighbours VVV and Qui Vive, the latter newcomers to the competition by virtue of being the highest-placed first team in the Eerste Klasse last year.

While one aim of the restructuring was to ensure more even groups than have sometimes applied in the past, the mathematics inevitably meant that two pools would feature three Topklasse sides, with only two going through to the quarter-finals.

Those facing the tougher challenge are VOC, Voorburg and Punjab in Group B, and HBS, HCC and Sparta in Group D.

Victories by lower-division sides over their Topklasse rivals have tended to come few and far between in the T20 Cup, and have often been the result of top-flight clubs fielding weakened teams; if the new format succeeds in producing stronger sides, then, we may be in for even fewer upsets, although they are the essence of such a cup competition.

Board floats changes to Topklasse

Rod Lyall 23/01/20

There are disturbing indications that the KNCB Board may be contemplating a curtailment of the 50-over men’s national championship in order to make more room for more Twenty20 matches.

These fears are inspired by an e-mail sent to all clubs last week by competitions co-ordinator Bart Kroesen, proposing significant changes to the programme from as early as the 2020 season.

The mail outlines a radically restructured T20 Cup, intended to address the widely-accepted problems with the existing format: the widespread lack of interest in the Friday-evening group matches, clubs’ difficulties in putting out full-strength sides for these games, and the disparities in strength between the four regionally-based groups.

Under the new proposals there would be four five-team pools, with a ballot largely based on last season’s 50-over rankings to determine their composition.

Since these groups could comprise teams as far apart as Deventer and Schiedam it would obviously be impractical to play the matches on Friday evenings, and Kroesen therefore proposes that the Cup be played on Saturday afternoons in July and August.

Clubs were given eight days, that is until Thursday, 23 January, to respond to this idea.

Although one might think this timescale was unreasonably short, especially in the middle of January, these proposals seem in themselves to offer a clear improvement in the T20 competition.

The sting, however, comes in the tail.

Clubs were in fact asked to choose between three options: the status quo, the proposed new-look T20 Cup, and a much more radical scheme, whereby the Top- and Hoofdklasse (the two top 50-over divisions) would be cut, ‘for example’ to a nine-match home-or-away first phase in place of the present 18-game home-and-away round robin, followed by play-offs among the top four and bottom six and a final.

This is presented as a way of avoiding double weekends with a T20 match on a Saturday and a 50-over league match on the Sunday, but its implications go much further.

We know from the Board’s consultation with the clubs back in September that there is anxiety about how the domestic competitions can be reconciled with an increasingly demanding national team schedule, not to mention the looming prospect of a month-long Euroslam T20 tournament.

So far-reaching are these challenges that the Board has established a Taskforce to consider all aspects of the future structure of the competitions.

Yet rather than waiting for that Taskforce to bring forward its recommendations – a process which is admittedly taking an inordinately long time – it appears that the Board has now decided to press ahead with a partial restructuring of its own.

The new-look T20 Cup may in itself be desirable, but a fundamental shift away from 50-over cricket towards a greater diet of T20 is another matter entirely.

It would do an injustice to the national team’s success in the ODI format, but much more important, it would ignore the importance of longer formats in the development of young cricketers, and it would threaten the longer-term future of the clubs, for whom the 50-over game is vitally important.

Coaches agree that an unrelieved emphasis upon T20 is bad for player development: if you haven’t learned the basic techniques in the longer formats you are, in most cases, unprepared for the much greater demands of T20.

Not everyone can be a David Warner, and young Dutch-produced players already find it difficult enough to make the transition to the international stage: there are many reasons why the national team contains so many players who learned their cricket elsewhere, but one of them is that they had the benefit from a young age of playing two-day club cricket.

So if the trend is to be less longer-format cricket in the Netherlands and more T20 the Board may as well come clean and abandon its declared objective of a national side with a greater proportion of home-produced players.

It’s easy to overestimate the attractions of T20: played at a level below that of the very best it can be a pretty hollow spectacle, and even in Australia there are signs that its appeal is waning.

Figures published this week show that attendances at the Big Bash have been declining for the past three seasons, even as the number of matches has increased, and this season are bumping along at barely 60% of the peak year 2016-17.

It may be that the suggestion of a reduced national championship is just a trial balloon, or an attempt to get the T20 Cup restructuring accepted by making it appear the less radical proposal, but we must hope that the good sense of the clubs will have made clear that it’s a non-starter.

And the Board should in any case do what it set out to do nearly a year ago: wait for the recommendations of its Taskforce and then come up with a comprehensive plan for the future of the Dutch domestic game.

The very model of a modern competition?

Rod Lyall 23/09/19

What do we want the top divisions of the Dutch domestic competition to do?

Ideally, they should be a testing ground for the best young local cricketers, offering highly-competitive match situations and providing a showcase for the Dutch game.

That is, of course, an extremely idealistic view: for the clubs, the objective is to win the national championship – or at the very least, not to be relegated – and, wherever possible, to make a profit over the bar.

So there is inevitably a tension, between giving their young players a chance to shine and strengthening their squad by bringing in potential match-winners from overseas or from other clubs.

There’s a great deal of pious talk about the need to develop home-produced players, but when it comes down to it there are few clubs who would not give a key role to a star bowler or batter rather than invest in a young player who may or may not immediately be worth his place in the side.

And that was exacerbated this year by the collapse of the KNCB’s attempts to regulate the number of overseas players clubs are able to fly in for part or all of the season.

The main argument deployed in 2016 to justify the re-expansion of the top divisions to ten teams was that if the threat of relegation were reduced, with one team in ten facing the drop rather than one in eight, clubs would be more willing to pursue a proper development policy, giving promising young players their chance.

In my view at the time, the first part of the argument weighed much more heavily in the minds of club administrators than the second, and that has been proved right by subsequent events: there were actually more young Dutch players playing in the eight-team Topklasse in 2015 than in the ten-team competition this year – or, for that matter, in 2018, before the open-door policy on overseas players.

The truth is that some clubs were mostly interested in creating a cushion between themselves and the relegation zone by bringing in a couple of clubs who were weaker than they were, while others, lower down the rankings, could see that in three ten-team divisions they would have a better chance of moving into a higher bracket.

Still leaving the vexed question of the national team’s commitments and their impact upon the competition out of account for the moment, we return to the two objectives with which we began: which structure produces the best cricket, and which best fosters the emergence of talented young Dutch cricketers?

And it turns out that they are, in fact, closely related.

I remain convinced that there are simply not enough Dutch players of any age available to sustain ten competitive sides in the top flight.

Just take the statistics from the season just past: of the 45 batsmen in the Topklasse who achieved an average of 20.00 or better, 20 came from overseas, leaving 25 Dutch players who managed that basic level, and while the bowlers, as usual, did rather better – 32 of the 46 who had an average below 30.00 were Dutch – that still means that, throwing in a wicketkeeper for good measure, there was an average of three or four players per team who were essentially making up the numbers.

It will probably be argued in reply that this year’s Topklasse was the most competitive for years, and with four sides in contention for the title for the first dozen rounds or so and the relegation battle going down to the final round, that is undoubtedly true.

But did that indicate that the quality of Topklasse cricket has risen since the expansion to ten teams, or does it reflect a levelling down effect?

Even with the advent of an expanded cohort of overseas players this year, much of the cricket played was frankly disappointing, with several sides relying to an excessive degree on the performances of a small number of big-name players.

And that is surely linked to the relative paucity of youngsters who are pushing their way into their clubs’ first teams.

There are, of course, some notable exceptions: VRA’s Vikram Singh, who made his international debut last week, is a case in point, as are, to a somewhat lesser extent, ACC’s Shirase Rasool and Aryan Kumar.

But you can count such examples on your fingers, and as long as the present situation prevails that is unlikely to change.

There are numerous reasons for our being where we are: too few clubs have a coherent youth policy or even a youth section at all; the level of youth coaching Is at best uneven; the collapse of the under-19 competition and the current difficulties of the under-17 one mean that the opportunities for young players to develop their game against their peers are becoming ever more scarce.

In a healthy cricket environment, clubs’ second teams would be full of highly-motivated youngsters making runs and taking wickets and forcing themselves onto the selectors’ attention.

That is, however, hardly anywhere the case, and as what should be pathways disappear into the undergrowth the demotivating effects lead to more and more talented young players simply giving up.

That’s what’s so interesting about the Board’ idea of creating a separate development competition for the leading clubs’ second teams: if the clubs were to embrace this as a key part of their youth strategy (and I concede that’s a big if), the combination of a few experienced players as mentors and a bunch of talented youngsters could be the seedbed for stronger, home-produced first teams in three or five years’ time.

Along with that, though, there is a strong argument for reverting to a Topklasse comprising the best eight sides facing strong opponents almost every week, with the next best taking part in an equally hard-fought Hoofdklasse.

That would be a fair, realistic reflection of where Dutch cricket now is, with fewer than 2000 senior male cricketers of all ages playing at all levels, and it would give us the best chance of achieving that other objective of a national side in which Dutch-produced players are able to earn their place on their merits.

Scorecard | HCC vs Sparta | 25.08.19

Sparta I Vs HCC I
1-Innings Match Played At Sportpark Bermweg, Capelle a/d IJssel, 25-Aug-2019, Topklasse
HCC I Win by 36 runs
Round 18
Toss won by HCC I
Umpires HM Butt – E Ruchtie
Scorers AO Smelt – K Pattiselanno
Home Side Sparta I
Points Awarded HCC I 2, Sparta I 0
HCC I 1st Innings 237/8 Closed (Overs 50)
Batsman Fieldsman Bowler Runs Bls 4s 6s
AJ Staal* c AT Fletcher b M Bukhari 0 2 0 0
AO Wiffen lbw b AT Fletcher 64 99 2 0
BE Street c AF Buurman b JM Snoep 7 19 0 0
BHG Gorlee lbw b M Singh 34 65 2 0
BR Itagi c A Raza b JM Snoep 51 57 1 3
HC Overdijk c AF Buurman b AT Fletcher 12 23 0 0
MW Hay c MB Hoornweg b JM Snoep 3 6 0 0
DL Walhain not out 26 16 1 1
AA Qasim lbw b AT Fletcher 0 2 0 0
OO Klaus not out 18 11 2 0
LJF Lagas+ dnb
extras (b1 lb7 w14 nb0) 22
TOTAL 8 wickets for 237
1-1(AJ Staal) 2-19(BE Street) 3-90(BHG Gorlee) 4-174(AO Wiffen) 5-176(BR Itagi) 6-187(MW Hay) 7-197(HC Overdijk) 8-197(AA Qasim) /td>
Bowler Overs Maid Runs Wkts wd nb
M Bukhari 8 1 39 1 1
JM Snoep 10 1 40 3 5
MB Hoornweg 4 0 19 0 1
U Saleem 8 0 33 0 3
M Singh 10 0 39 1
AT Fletcher 10 0 59 3 4
Sparta I 1st Innings 201/10 All Out (Overs 48.1)
Batsman Fieldsman Bowler Runs Bls 4s 6s
AT Fletcher lbw b BE Street 8 16 1 0
RS Tasawar Iqbal lbw b AA Qasim 5 27 0 0
TIM de Kok c BE Street b MW Hay 29 55 3 0
M Bukhari c DL Walhain b BR Itagi 103 120 9 2
AF Buurman+ c DL Walhain b OO Klaus 19 30 3 0
A Raza b BE Street 15 15 2 0
M Singh c OO Klaus b BR Itagi 10 22 0 0
N Ibrahimkhil c BE Street b BR Itagi 0 1 0 0
U Saleem b BE Street 0 1 0 0
MB Hoornweg c LJF Lagas b BE Street 0 1 0 0
JM Snoep* not out 1 1 0 0
extras (b4 lb2 w4 nb1) 11
TOTAL 10 wickets for 201
1-11(AT Fletcher) 2-19(RS Tasawar Iqbal) 3-91(TIM de Kok) 4-125(AF Buurman) 5-148(A Raza) 6-192(M Singh) 7-193(N Ibrahimkhil) 8-194(U Saleem) 9-195(MB Hoornweg) 10-201(M Bukhari)/td>
Bowler Overs Maid Runs Wkts wd nb
AA Qasim 10 1 43 1
BE Street 9 1 30 4 1
OO Klaus 10 1 44 1
MW Hay 10 3 33 1
BR Itagi 9.1 0 45 3 2

Scorecard | ACC vs Dosti | 25.08.19

ACC I Vs Dosti United I
1-Innings Match Played At Het Loopveld West, 25-Aug-2019, Topklasse
ACC I Win by 35 runs
Round 18
Toss won by ACC I
Umpires J Hilhorst – FLA van Lent
Scorers DC Schinkel – R Seetal
Home Side ACC I
Points Awarded ACC I 2, Dosti United I 0
ACC I 1st Innings 196/10 All Out (Overs 49.4)
Batsman Fieldsman Bowler Runs Bls 4s 6s
JM Mulready+ b S Zakhil 13 45 0 0
RU Zulfiqar c VS Tewarie b M Hans 18 46 1 0
SM Zulfiqar* c K Diwan b A Davids 67 71 4 4
SR Rasool b K Diwan 36 48 3 3
SA Zulfiqar b K Diwan 31 40 0 1
BL Barends c VS Tewarie b S Zakhil 10 17 0 0
CM Knoll b S Zakhil 0 1 0 0
BM te Boekhorst c S Zakhil b K Diwan 10 26 0 0
RA Kumar lbw b K Diwan 0 1 0 0
M van Vliet run out VAB Tewarie/RI Ahmed 0 1 0 0
D Arya not out 1 1 0 0
extras (b1 lb0 w9 nb0) 10
TOTAL 10 wickets for 196
1-27(RU Zulfiqar) 2-42(JM Mulready) 3-119(SR Rasool) 4-147(SM Zulfiqar) 5-164(BL Barends) 6-164(CM Knoll) 7-187(BM te Boekhorst) 8-188(RA Kumar) 9-188(M van Vliet) 10-196(SA Zulfiqar)
Bowler Overs Maid Runs Wkts wd nb
K Diwan 9.4 1 15 4
M Hans 10 0 36 1 1
Asief Hoseinbaks 10 0 44 0
S Zakhil 7 0 29 3 1
VS Tewarie 6 0 39 0 1
A Davids 7 0 32 1 1
Dosti United I 1st Innings 161/10 All Out (Overs 39.1)
Batsman Fieldsman Bowler Runs Bls 4s 6s
RI Ahmed+ c RU Zulfiqar b BL Barends 59 64 8 0
VAB Tewarie* lbw b SM Zulfiqar 28 43 5 0
M Hans c M van Vliet b SM Zulfiqar 0 9 0 0
S Zakhil b BL Barends 0 5 0 0
A Davids b BL Barends 0 2 0 0
VS Tewarie lbw b BL Barends 0 2 0 0
K Diwan c SR Rasool b SA Zulfiqar 26 33 0 6
S Ghori c RU Zulfiqar b SM Zulfiqar 5 13 1 0
Asief Hoseinbaks c BM te Boekhorst b SA Zulfiqar 6 35 1 0
Arief Hoseinbaks c&b D Arya 16 23 2 0
AV Atwarie not out 0 6 0 0
extras (b2 lb0 w19 nb0) 21
TOTAL 10 wickets for 161
1-84(VAB Tewarie) 2-90(M Hans) 3-92(S Zakhil) 4-100(A Davids) 5-101(VS Tewarie) 6-102(RI Ahmed) 7-111(S Ghori) 8-142(K Diwan) 9-144(Asief Hoseinbaks) 10-161(Arief Hoseinbaks)/td>
Bowler Overs Maid Runs Wkts wd nb
BL Barends 10 1 34 4 3
RA Kumar 5 0 21 0 6
D Arya 5.1 0 32 1 1
M van Vliet 2 0 19 0 1
SM Zulfiqar 10 1 29 3 1
SA Zulfiqar 7 1 24 2 2

Gallery | Excelsior vs VRA | 25.08.19

Excelsior ’20 Schiedam vs VRA at Thurlede – 25.08.19
scorecard | as it happened