Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 08/10/21
Having had some time to reflect on the highs and lows of a fortunately full season 2021 of Topklasse, we at TKcricket are once again seating ourselves in the selector’s chair (or bench?) to fill out the roster for the 2021 Topklasse Team of the Year.
BdJ: Once again the easiest pick this year is also the first, VOC’s Max O’Dowd appears at the top of the run aggregates this year, and so at the top of our batting order. His 820 runs at a shade over 63 included five 50s and three centuries, and the Netherlands’ opener has been unmatched at the top of the order all season. The question of who partners him at the top is a little trickier, however. VCC’s keeper-opener Mohit Hingorani deserves a mention, having had a quietly effective season seeing off the new ball at Westvliet, and this despite the added burden of keeping to the league’s most intimidating pace attack, a task which he has performed admirably. But his numbers just don’t quite justify a claim to an opening slot, nor indeed the gloves, over O’Dowd’s usual partner at the top of VOC’s line-up, Scott Edwards. Edwards’ tally of 533 runs at 53 certainly makes a strong case for including him alongside O’Dowd, but for the fact that this season Edwards could not always be relied upon to take the field at the top of the order as scheduled. Assuming we’re not willing to risk our Team of the Year opener being caught short at the start of the innings, Edwards’ natural spot, it seems to me, is that of “floater.” This would also make room for Punjab’s Stephan Myburgh, who didn’t quite replicate his phenomenal showing last season but nonetheless racked up 570 runs at a brisk strike rate of 109.6, along with a Topklasse winner’s medal of course.
RL: In a season in which several well-established openers couldn’t quite come up to expectations – one thinks of VRA’s Vikram Singh (338 at 21.12), HCC’s Tonny Staal (261 at 21.75), Myburgh’s partner at Punjab, Rehmat Zulfiqar (334 at 19.65), and Tobias Visée (231 at 17.77) – the choice of O’Dowd and Myburgh seems immensely reasonable. It may be that the wettest summer in living memory had something to do with the batters’ modest returns, but it also confirms a pattern whereby Dutch-produced players have been less successful with the bat than with the ball.
RL: The same applies to the rest of the top six, which makes it all the more sensible to adopt m’colleague’s suggestion and bat Edwards at four or five. My number three would be Punjab’s Asad Zulfiqar, whose 529 runs at 37.79 lent solidity to a top order which blazed brightly much of the time but which could be extinguished on occasion. Asad hit three fifties, and the same argument of consistency in a line-up which often faltered leads me to find a place for VRA’s Eric Szwarczynski in his valedictory season; he only played 14 matches, but made 345 runs at 28.75, including four half-centuries. Another strong contender, if we pick him as a batsman-who-can-bowl rather than as an out-and-out all-rounder, is Navjit Singh of HBS, who contributed 519 runs at 39.92, earning himself a place in the Dutch A squad. This assumes we aren’t going to avail ourselves of the services of one of the handful of overseas players who graced the competition this year; if we are, then there’s a quartet of contenders for a spot in the top order.
BdJ: We’ve not specified our rules regarding overseas players with any more clarity than the League itself, but whatever the allowance you’d think Tayo Walbrugh’s 780 runs at 65 for HBS would give him a stronger claim to the number three slot than any potential challenger, likewise even if we count the Netherlands-eligible Tristan Stubbs as an overseas for as long as Cricket South Africa continue to be difficult about his potential call-up, his three figure average for Excelsior makes a strong case for finding space for him in the top order despite his early departure. Sybrand Engelbrecht’s overseas status must likewise be fading somewhat now that he’s settled in the Netherlands, though the desire to include him may stem somewhat from recency bias, having had a fairly quiet season until his magnificent innings against VRA propelled VCC into the final. Among the overseas contingent Garnett Tarr also deserves at least an honourable mention, his 637 runs at a shade under 40 one of the few positives for Sparta in an otherwise miserable season. All told Walbrugh and Stubbs remain head and shoulders above the rest of the Topklasse pros this season however, and would be my picks if we restrict ourselves to the rather retro two-overseas maximum. If the gloves go to Edwards I’d say Navjit Singh shades it over Asad Zulfiqar or Szwarczynski, by a distance the most improved bat in the competition over the past couple of seasons, and his busier, hard-running style makes him a fine foil to his HBS team-mate Walbrugh and the big-hitting Stubbs.
BdJ: On to the all-rounders, and two names immediately stand out here, or one if we’re going by surnames. Sikander and Saqib Zulfiqar have both had excellent seasons with bat and ball, and indeed their stats these season look as similar as do the brothers themselves. Both averaging just over 30 with the bat, and 27 wickets each with the ball, the pair have been instrumental in Punjab’s successful title run throughout the season. Sikander’s game-changing century in the first qualifier was a strong contender for knock of the season, and the pair’s six consecutive wickets were instrumental in the Rotterdammers defending 157 against VCC in the final. HCC’s Hidde Overdijk likely has the next strongest claim, despite only playing 12 matches, 19 wickets at 15.5 and 225 runs at 44.8 is an excellent return. VCC’s Bas de Leede, with 26 wickets at 12.4, would be a tempting option as a bowling all-rounder despite a middling season with the bat.
RL: Of the faster bowlers, De Leede’s season looked up after a slowish start, but Overdijk’s contribution to the HCC attack during that period when they were consistently ripping through opponents’ top order – the run which would have taken them into the play-offs but for that nonsense in the final round – gives him the edge in my view, as a bowler who can bat if not as an allrounder. But pride of place among the pacemen must go to Ryan Klein of HBS, whose 27 wickets at 12.93 gave his side’s attack an invaluable cutting edge. Not far behind comes Voorburg’s Viv Kingma, who claimed 23 at 12.78 despite another bout of injury worries; his partnership with Logan van Beek (who deserves an honourable mention in the allrounders category) was a key factor in the side’s elevated position, and their absence mid-season was a considerable blow. An honourable mention, too, for Suleiman Tariq, both as a tireless seamer who often bowled his ten overs unchanged, and as a canny captain, whose role in Punjab’s first championship should not be underestimated.
BdJ: Klein’s appearances in an orange shirt this summer have put his local status beyond question, and his place near the top of the wickets table would make him a shoe-in for this side even without his occasional but crucial cameos for HBS with the bat. Of the competitors to share the new ball Kingma has the edge over his VCC partner van Beek or Punjab’s Tariq by dint of his superior strike rate, and by the same token I’d say De Leede probably has the strongest claim as first change, and if we are to go with four seamers likely worth his spot as a dedicated bowler this season. That doesn’t leave us a lot of room in the spin section of course, if Stubbs and Saqib Zulfiqar both make the cut we’ve only one slow-bowling slot to play with, and despite some notable performances filling it ought not to be the toughest assignment for the selectors.
RL: If O’Dowd is the first name on the sheet, HCC’s slow left-armer Clayton Floyd is fairly certainly the second: with 37 wickets at an average of 7.32 he was ten wickets ahead of his nearest rivals, and he claimed five in an innings on three occasions. That gives us two or three spinners turning the ball away from the right-handers, but to be fair none of the leading off-spinners has made an overwhelming case for inclusion. With 26 wickets Voorburg’s Philippe Boissevain, another leggie, deserves a shout-out, while another to watch out for in future is VOC youngster Siebe van Wingerden, who only bowled 65.1 overs in his 16 matches but still took 22 wickets at 13.77 and finished seventh in the bowling averages. That gives us then, an almost settled selection, with issues balance leaving us with one spot still up for debate…
BdJ: Saqib Zulfiqar or Bas de Leede is indeed the last question left to us, and though it leaves the side looking a little spin-heavy I feel that team balance must take a back seat to the weight of a champion’s medal in this case. Cruel as the cut may be, one hopes that de Leede will be able to find some solace in his call-up for the Netherland’s World Cup squad.
Our Topklasse Team of the Year fro 2021:
O’Dowd (VOC), Myburgh (Punjab), Walbrugh (HBS), Navjit Singh (HBS), Stubbs (Excelsior), Edwards (VOC), Saqib Zulfiqar (Punjab), Sikander Zulfiqar (Punjab), Floyd (HCC), Klein (HBS), Kingma (Voorburg)
12th man: Van Wingerden (VOC).