T20 Cup Day 2 Preview

Rod Lyall 07/06/2023

With the national squad now ensconced in southern Africa, prospects for the T20 Cup will become clearer this weekend, with a further eight matches scheduled.

The effect of the efflux will be most apparent at Westvliet on Saturday, where Voorburg will be without at least six first-choice players when they take on first HCC, who won both their matches last week, and then Sparta 1888 in the day’s one triple-header.

The damage is spread pretty evenly across the batting and bowling, although Voorburg are fortunate in having a decent crop of reserves to step up in this situation: Mees van Vliet will presumably assume a greater role in the pace attack, but he could be supported by the experience of Stef Mulder and Ali Ahmad Qasim, as well as by Floris de Lange and Bas de Leede’s younger brother Tom, all of whom have been taking wickets in the Hoofdklasse for the club’s second team.

It may be harder to replace Michael Levitt and Noah Croes, both of whom have been called up for the national side, but Laurens Boissevain did not look out of place last week, and he may be joined in the middle order by Nirav Kulkarni.

Then again, neither Sybrand Engelbrecht nor Karl Nieuwoudt played in the defeat of VOC last week, and they would make a huge difference to the balance of the side were they to return.

HCC, by comparison, will be missing only Clayton Floyd, and while his wicket-taking capacity will be absent, Daniel Doram will still be there, and Jan-Wieger Overdijk slotted in effectively in last week’s games.

Even without Jonathan Vandiar HCC displayed plenty of hitting power, Ratha Alphonse proving much more uninhibited in the shorter format, and with Tonny Staal coming back into form and young Teun Kloppenburg finding his feet at this level, the Lions will give the reconstructed Voorburg a severe test.

The same probably applies to Sparta, who will be especially keen to expunge any memories of their 50-over nightmare at Westvliet a couple of weeks ago.

Their match against ACC last Saturday could have gone either way, and with their three overseas players, Ferguson, Tarr and Clark at the top of the order and the explosive Ali Raza to follow, they remain a force to be reckoned with.

Mudassar Bukhari may be out of the attack at the moment, but they still have Ahsan Malik and Khalid Ahmadi, and they are perfectly capable of upsetting either their hosts or HCC, whom they will take on the middle game of the three.

Having squeezed home against Sparta, ACC will host a double-header at Het Loopveld on Saturday, their opponents first VOC Rotterdam and then HBS Craeyenhout.

The Amsterdammers may not have anyone in the Dutch side, but they will be without captain-coach Heino Kuhn, who has been responsible for much of the side’s improvement this season and who will be in Zimbabwe as part of the coaching staff.

He leaves a sizeable gap, but it’s perhaps not as great as that left by Scott Edwards and Max O’Dowd, who have contributed such a large share of the Rotterdammers’ runs in recent seasons.

VOC are fortunate to have the experienced Corey Rutgers waiting in the wings to join the prolific Lane Berry, Tim de Kok and the rest in the first team, but quite apart from the loss of two dominant figures from the batting line-up, the bowling remains a matter of some concern.

That is even more true of HBS, who fielded a remarkably young attack against VRA and Punjab last week; on the whole, Elmar Boendermaker, Azzam Khan and Joris van Oosterom stood up pretty well to the pounding they took, and they can only have learned from the experience.

The Crows will be without skipper Wesley Barresi for the rest of their campaign, but with Tayo Walbrugh back to his best form and allrounder Nic Adendorff assuming a steadily-increasing role with both bat and ball, they will be keen to bounce back quickly against ACC, and then against VOC, whom they will meet at the Hazelaarweg on Sunday.

With two wins under their belts, Punjab Rotterdam will welcome Excelsior ‘20 back to Het Zomercomplex on Saturday, albeit without Saqib Zulfiqar.

That still leaves them plenty of firepower with both bat and ball, and although they were too strong for Salland last week, this Excelsior side looks to be less well adapted to the T20 format than to the 50-over game, where their season so far has already been disappointing enough.

That said, it would be dangerous to write off any team with Lorenzo Ingram in it, and Punjab will need to get him early.

Punjab, of course, have match-winners of their own, with Shoaib Minhas and Mohsin Riaz both capable of piling on quick runs, not to mention the all-round capabilities of Sikander Zulfiqar.

Roel Verhagen, though, has been in good form with the bat since his return from injury, and with Stan van Troost now well established behind the stumps, Verhagen chose last Saturday to reveal previously-unsuspected talents with the ball.

The other one-off game on Saturday sees VRA Amsterdam take on Salland in the Amsterdamse Bos, but they will do so without Vikram Singh, whose unbeaten 161 was an outstanding feature of the opening day, Teja Nidamanuru and Aryan Dutt.

It remains to be seen whether VRA have the resources in reserve to cover these losses, as well as that of the injured Shirase Rasool, but they could scarcely have chosen a better way to find out than against a Salland side which looked thoroughly unconvincing in both their games at De Diepput last Saturday.

Aaditt Jain and Zamaan Khan both slotted into the side encouragingly at Craeyenhout, but the top of the batting may prove to be somewhat threadbare in the absence of the three internationals and Rasool, even if Johan Smal returns to a place in the top three.

For Salland, it’s always a question of how many of their German contingent are available, and although Talha Ahmed Khan performed solidly against Excelsior and HCC, there can be no doubt that they look a much weaker outfit without Venkat Ganesan and Sahir Naqash.

My (still very tentative) picks: HCC, Punjab; HCC, VRA, ACC; Voorburg, ACC; HBS.

Scintillating Singh shines in the sun

Rod Lyall 04/06/2023

The undoubted highlight of an absorbing day’s cricket as the Topklasse T20 Cup got under way on Saturday was an astonishing innings from VRA’s Vikram Singh, whose unbeaten 64-ball 161 enabled his side to chase down an imposing HBS total of 223 for four.

Singh brought up his century from just 37 deliveries, almost certainly the fastest in the 17-year history of the Dutch T20 competition, and his complete innings was without question the highest individual score, eclipsing Tobias Visée’s 139 not out for HBS against HCC in 2020.

He struck 19 fours and eleven sixes, completely dominating the innings from the start, hitting six fours off Kyle Klein’s first over.

His partners were essentially spectators from 20 metres away, although he received valuable support from Teja Nidamanuru (24) in a third-wicket stand of 85.

The HBS innings had been more of a team effort, openers Reece Mason (52) and Tim Drummond (72) getting their side off to a good start, and Wesley Barresi (53 not out) and Nic Adendorff (32 not out) adding 72 in an unbroken fifth-wicket partnership.

The extraordinary uncertainties of cricket were then illustrated when VRA took on Punjab in the second game of the Craeyenhout triple-header, when Singh, whose three wickets for 26 had helped his side dismiss their opponents for 154, fell to Mohammad Shafiq off the second ball of the VRA reply.

Zamaan Khan made 49 as the Amsterdammers pursued what in the context seemed a fairly modest target, but Punjab’s bowlers maintained the pressure, Shafiq finishing with three for 31, and VRA went into the final over still needing seven for victory.

Sikander Zulfiqar was able to restrict the scoring to four singles, and with Leon Turmaine run out trying to get Johan Smal back on strike, Punjab held on to win by two runs, Smal finishing unbeaten on 37.

Punjab then made it two out of two with a 12-run victory over HBS, a result which was made to seem closer than it really was by a spirited attack in the closing overs from Kyle Klein and Julian de Mey, who added 51 from the last three.

53 from Shoaib Minhas, backed up by 44 from Mohsin Riaz and 41 not out from Sikander Zulfiqar, had enabled Punjab to reach 207 for six against the young HBS attack, and although Mason again gave his side a good start with 42 and Tayo Walbrugh chipped in with a 30-ball 45, at 143 for six HBS had seemed to be heading for a thumping defeat before Klein and De Mey came together to narrow the margin.

If the batters were generally in the ascendant at Craeyenhout, the balance between bat and ball was more even in the other triple header, at De Diepput, and conditions may actually have favoured the bowlers.

The HCC attack certainly found that to be the case after Boris Gorlee had put Excelsior ‘20 in in the opening game, with the spinners Daniel Doram and Clayton Floyd conceding only 16 and 17 respectively in their four-over spells.

Roel Verhagen’s 23-ball 37 was the best effort in Excelsior’s innings, Stan van Troost contributing 31, but HCC’s chief destroyer was Hidde Overdijk, who picked up three wickets in the final over to finish with five for 25 as Excelsior ended on 155 for eight.

The Schiedammers’ bowlers were unable to create the same problems, Ratha Alphonse and Tonny Staal putting on 133 for the first wicket before Staal fell to Umar Baker for 51, and Alphonse went on to make an unbeaten, 56-ball 82 as HCC won by nine wickets with eight deliveries to spare.

Excelsior’s attack was much more effective against Salland, with Baker claiming four for 15 and fellow-spinners Lorenzo Ingram and Verhagen taking the remaining three as, with two run-outs, Salland were bowled out for 136.

Talha Khan’s 58 was the only substantial performance in the Salland innings, Victor Lubbers the next best with 22.

Again, the chase proved much easier, Verhagen (62 from 45 deliveries) and Tim Etman (50 not out from 43) adding 109 for the second wicket, and Excelsior won by eight wickets.

It was HCC’s turn to struggle with the bat when they faced Salland in the third game, and it took Hidde Overdijk’s 31-ball 47 to get them to 145 before they were all out, Ruan du Plessis taking three for 21 for the visitors.

But that turned out to be enough, Talha Khan’s 20 again Salland’s top score as they were bowled out for just 111; after Doram had taken two for 9 in three overs and Jan-Wieger Overdijk two for 20 in four, Patient Charumbira and Daniel Crowley cleaned up the middle and lower order, taking three for 15 and three for 8 respectively.

Leaders in the 50-over Topklasse, Voorburg made the most of the presence of five of their soon-to-be-Zimbabwe-bound internationals, and skittled VOC Rotterdam for 93 at the Hazelaarweg.

Ryan Klein led the way with three for 13, including both openers, and then wrist and paceman -spinners Philippe Boissevain and Shariz Ahmad and paceman Mees van Vliet picked up two apiece, Pieter Seelaar top-scoring for VOC with 18.

VOC’s bowlers struck back as Voorburg hastened towards their target, claiming five wickets, but Noah Croes stood firm with 33 not out, and Voorburg gained a potentially significant net run rate advantage by winning in just 12.4 overs.

It was much closer at the Bermweg, where ACC pipped Sparta 1888 at the post with only one delivery to spare.

Sparta’s 165 for six was built on Garnet Tarr’s 53 and a typically adventurous 28-ball 47 from Ali Raza, but Heino Kuhn, also about to take the plane to Zimbabwe as part of the coaching staff, batted throughout the ACC reply for 73 not out, sharing a 123-run partnership with Thomas Hobson (69 from 40 balls) to set up the win.

Triple-headers a feature as new-look TK T20 gets under way

Rod Lyall 01/06/2023

The KNCB’s innovative schedule for its new-look T20 competition gets under way on Saturday with two triple-headers, at De Diepput and Craeyenhout, and a couple of one-off matches into the bargain.

With the squad taking part in the World Cup Qualifier due to depart next week, this Saturday’s games will be the only opportunity for clubs to include their national team players before the finals day on 15 July.

The subsequent absence of those players will obviously make a big difference to some clubs, with Voorburg losing five regular players (plus Logan van Beek, who made his first appearances of the season last weekend), VRA Amsterdam three, and VOC Rotterdam the crucial contribution of Scott Edwards and Max O’Dowd.

Part of the restructuring of the KNCB’s competitions is that there will be separate promotion and relegation pathways for the 50-over and T20 leagues, which could mean that next season’s schedules will already be beginning to differ.

There is already some evidence that strength in one format does not guarantee equal strength in the other: the dominant sides in T20 over the past five years have been VOC, cup-winners three times in their last four attempts, and HBS, champions in 2018 and three times runners-up since 2017.

All of which means that the table at the end of the T20 round robin, with the top four teams going direct into the finals day, could look rather different from the current 50-over standings.

Turning to the immediate future, HCC will entertain Salland in the early game at De Diepput on Saturday, before the Overijssel side meet Excelsior ‘20 in their second match; the series will then be completed with the encounter between the hosts and the Schiedammers.

Semi-finalists in 2021, Salland’s prospects will depend a good deal on the commitments of their four German internationals, currently busy with preparations for the European T20 qualifier in late July, and their recent 50-over form does little to suggest that they will pose a significant threat to an HCC side which has been on an upward trajectory following a poor start to the season.

They will miss Clayton Floyd for most of the T20 programme, but Tonny Staal and Jonathan Vandiar are ideally suited to the shorter format, and the Lions have a well-balanced attack even without Floyd’s incisive left-armers.

For Excelsior it has been a disappointing season so far, but they are unaffected by national team call-ups and with Lorenzo Ingram in excellent form with both bat and ball they will be hoping to do much better in this competition.

The guests of HBS at Craeyenhout will be VRA Amsterdam, three times winners of the old-style T20 Cup in 2010-12, and Punjab Rotterdam.

Encouragement for the Crows will have come from the return, at least on a part-time basis, of Tobias Visée, a player for whom the T20 format might have been designed, and the outstanding form of Tayo Walbrugh; they will miss Wesley Barresi after this weekend, but most of the questions about this season’s side relate to its attack, Kyle Klein excepted, which lacks much of the punch of last year’s.

VRA have been highly inconsistent in the longer format so far, culminating in their missing-out on a place in the top six, and their problems will not be eased by the absence after this weekend of Vikram Singh, Aryan Dutt and Teja Nidamanuru.

All the more reason, then, for them to focus on picking up points while they can at Craeyenhout, and apart from the three internationals, seamers Ashir Abid and Eduard Visser have been picking up plenty of wickets, while Shirase Rasool (now, however, injured and likely to be out for some weeks) and Johan Smal have been in good form with the bat.

Three times cup winners with ACC between 2015 and 2017, the brothers Zulfiqar now form a vital partnership in the Punjab set-up, and if leg-spinning allrounder Saqib will be absent for most of the campaign, Sikander and Asad, along with elder brother Rehmat, will still be there to combine with overseas Mohsin Riaz and Shoaib Minhas to push for the club’s first-ever T20 title.

Both tri-series offer some pretty spicy encounters, but the two stand-alone fixtures are perhaps even more enticing.

While Excelsior and Salland do battle at De Diepput and Punjab take on VRA at Craeyenhout, Sparta 1888 will be at home to ACC at Sportpark Bermweg.

Both these sides have been, if not quite a revelation, certainly among the more successful Topklasse teams this season.

Despite a drubbing by Voorburg a fortnight ago Sparta finished Phase 1 of the 50-over competition in second place, and they have a side which looks equally well-suited to the shorter format: Ali Raza’s explosive batting at the top of the order, balanced by the more controlled skills of Sam Ferguson, Garnett Tarr and Will Clark, along with the new-ball effectiveness of Ahsan Malik, makes them strong contenders to reach the finals day for the first time.

Fitness worries around Mudassar Bukhari, another potential match-winner, will be a source of concern, but all in all, free of international call-ups, Sparta will start as one of the more fancied teams.

ACC may lack that explosive power, but after a dreadful start to the season Heino Kuhn is in the process of moulding an effective unit, and this competition will give them an opportunity to grow further. It is unfortunate for ACC that Kuhn will also miss most of the competition, since he will part of the coaching team with the Dutch in Zimbabwe.

Most tantalising of all, perhaps, is the clash between defending T20 champions VOC Rotterdam and runaway 50-over leaders Voorburg, whose game at Hazelaarweg will begin at 16:00.

If all the internationals are involved this will be an intriguing rematch of last Saturday’s 50-over encounter, with O’Dowd, Lane Berry and Edwards on VOC’s side and Michael Levitt, Noah Croes, Ryan Klein, Shariz Ahmad, Viv Kingma and Van Beek on the other.

There may, of course, be precautions demanded by the national coaching staff regarding the faster bowlers, but even so this promises to be an absorbing contest, although it may not tell us very much about the two clubs’ prospects in the rest of the competition.

My (very tentative!) picks: HCC, HBS; Punjab, Excelsior, Sparta; Voorburg; HCC, Punjab.

Kuhn sees ACC into the top six

Rod Lyall 30/05/2023

In the end it was comfortable enough: thanks to skipper Heino Kuhn’s unbeaten, 114-ball 120, ACC made sure of their seven-wicket victory over Excelsior ‘20 at Thurlede, and with it their place in the championship pool when the 50-over competition resumes in July.

Almost equally important, defeats elsewhere for VOC, HCC and Punjab brought the Amsterdammers onto level terms with their three rivals, giving them a greatly-improved chance of reaching the top four and a place in the play-offs.

Kuhn had made two centuries during his three seasons at ACC a decade ago, since when he has played four Tests for South Africa and taken his first-class run tally past 11,000, but no innings for his Dutch club had been as important as this one, as he came to the crease with his side on 44 for two in pursuit of Excelsior’s 252 for seven.

He was in command from the outset, sharing a third-wicket stand of 138 with Aryan Kumar, promoted to open in the absence of Shreyas Potdar, whose patient 47 also contributed substantially to ACC’s successful chase, and then allowing Thomas Hobson, with 43 not out from 28 deliveries, to go on the rampage and finish the job.

As they had against Punjab on Saturday, Excelsior’s bowlers fought all the way, Michael Hart and Tom Heggelman doing everything they could to contain the batters, but on an excellent pitch they did not have the penetration to cause ACC any serious problems.

The home side’s had already demonstrated how good a wicket it was, despite a fine opening spell from Waqas Ahmad, who in his first Topklasse match for ACC grabbed two quick wickets and then returned to remove Roel Verhagen, who had made 79 in a third-wicket stand of 152 with Lorenzo Ingram.

Ingram went on to post his second century of the season and the 11th of his Topklasse career, his 114 not out taking Excelsior to 250 and setting ACC their relatively imposing target.

It was, however, for the most part a day of big totals and successful run chases, all five games being won by the side batting second.

It was another South African-born captain who was instrumental in leaders Voorburg’s victory over VOC Rotterdam at Westvliet: coming in at a perilous 135 for five with his side chasing 267 to win, Sybrand Engelbrecht combined with Musa Ahmad (44) and Ryan Klein (34 not out) to see them home with four wickets in hand and eleven balls to spare, ending on 61 not out.

Michael Levitt had earlier contributed 46 and Noah Croes 39, but with VOC spinners Arnav Jain and Asief Hoseinbaks picking up three for 48 and three for 51 respectively it took a concentrated effort from the middle order to secure yet another victory for Voorburg.

Klein had also played a major part in his side’s dismissal of VOC for 266, taking five wickets for the second time in three days, this time at a cost of 31 runs, while Shariz Ahmad’s three for 55 brought his season’s tally to 27.

Scott Edwards again top-scored for VOC with 76 and Lane Berry made 52, but a feature of the game was the contribution of Edwards’ predecessor as national captain, Pieter Seelaar, who not only made a 34-ball 38 in the closing stages of his side’s innings, but bowled a full stint of ten overs, conceding just 28 runs.

ACC’s victory at Thurlede made it irrelevant in the end, but VRA Amsterdam finished Phase 1 on a high by beating HCC by three wickets in a tense finish at De Diepput.

Boris Gorlee confirmed his return to form with 61 after HCC had been put in to bat, Ratha Alphonse making a solid 42, and with useful contributions from Jonathan Vandiar (32), Teun Kloppenburg (33) and Hidde Overdijk (27), the home side reached 269 before they were all out; Eduard Visser was again the main wicket-taker with three for 85.

Shirase Rasool and Vikram Singh (35) gave VRA a good start with an opening stand of 92, Rasool going on to make 94 before he fell to Daniel Doram, and Teja Nidamanuru made 51, but then three wickets fell for just 28 runs, and it was left to Visser and keeper Sachin Peiris to steer their side home with just two balls to spare.

The highlights of the match between HBS and Punjab Rotterdam at Craeyenhout were centuries by Mohsin Riaz and Wesley Barresi, the latter the decisive factor which took HBS to a seven-wicket win and earned them two points which could be invaluable in the relegation battle to come.

Riaz’s 104, his second hundred in successive innings, was the basis of Punjab’s 232 for nine, Muhammad Shafiq chipping in with an unbeaten 44 towards the end, but with Tobias Visée providing a characteristic 16-ball 38 at the top of the HBS reply and Tayo Walbrugh (59) sharing a 116-run stand with Barresi for the third wicket, the Crows cruised to their win with more than ten overs to spare, significantly improving their net run rate in the process.

It seemed for a time as if Barresi might just miss out on the 13th century of his career, but he reached the milestone in style, twice hoisting young Aaliyan Mahmood for six over square leg to go from 90 to 102 and take his side past their target.

The exception to the runfest elsewhere was at Het Schootsveld, where a seriously depleted Salland fielded four debutants and were bowled out for 180 by Sparta 1888.

Fraser Bartholomew (50) and Piyaranga Ottachchige (74) put on 112 for the second wicket, but then Khalid Ahmadi ripped through the rest of the batting, only Hashim Khan reaching double figures; Ahmadi’s six for 37 was his best-ever return, and took his season’s tally to 21.

Bartholomew and Victor Lubbers grabbed an early wicket apiece when Sparta replied, but then Garnett Tarr again proved his value to the Capelle side with 103 from exactly 100 deliveries, putting on 103 for the third wicket with Will Clark, and Sparta completed a six-wicket victory which took them back into second spot on the table, four points behind Voorburg but two points ahead of the following pack.

Batters prosper (mostly) as the sun shines

Rod Lyall 28/05/2023

Defending champions HCC cemented their place in the championship pool on Saturday with a thrilling last-over victory over Sparta 1888 at Sportpark Bermweg, but even more satisfying for the Hagenaars’ support was the fact that it was based upon a maiden Topklasse century for captain Boris Gorlee.

Gorlee’s Topklasse form, like that of his predecessor Tonny Staal, had so far been disappointing this season, but the way in which he went about chasing down Sparta’s challenging total of 275 for eight showed great temperament, and even when his side were looking for ten an over he did not panic, relying on an acceleration in tandem with Hidde Overdijk in the final overs to reach the target with just one delivery to spare.

On a day when the batters were mostly in command, Sparta’s innings had been built around Garnett Tarr’s knock of 137, made from 138 balls with 18 fours and three sixes, helped by smaller but important contributions from Sam Ferguson, Will Clark and Mudassar Bukhari, while Overdijk (four for 47) and Daniel Doram (three for 45) were the most successful of HCC’s bowlers.

Staal again went early when HCC replied, but Ratha Alphonse (53) and Gorlee put on 135 for the second wicket, and although they were well behind the required rate for most of the innings, with wickets in hand and Gorlee standing firm they remained just about in contention until, having reached three figures for the first time, the skipper was able to go onto the attack.

He finished with an unbeaten 134, made from 151 deliveries with 14 fours and a six, while Overdijk’s 24 not out came from just nine deliveries; Malik took three for 65 for Sparta.

At the Hazelaarweg, VOC Rotterdam took advantage of Sparta’s defeat by posting an emphatic victory over HBS Craeyenhout, moving back into second place on the table and ensuring that HBS would be in the relegation pool when the competition resumes in July.

Arnav Jain’s 46 and Lane Berry’s 64-ball 82 meant that at one point VOC were within sight of a total well in excess of 300, but despite 84 from 73 deliveries from Scott Edwards the Rotterdammers were unable to capitalise fully on their great start, and with Nic Adendorff taking four for 52 and Julian de Mey and Lucas del Bianco picking up two wickets apiece, HBS were able to dismiss their hosts for 272, none of the middle and lower order reaching double figures.

Jain, though, struck three times with the ball when HBS replied, finishing with three for 41, Pierce Fletcher removed Wesley Barresi, and when Asief Hoseinbaks trapped Tayo Walbrugh in front for just 25 and did the same to Adendorff three balls later, the Crows had been reduced to 68 for seven.

Kyle Klein and De Mey held things up for a while, but Max Hoornweg cleaned up the tail for figures of three for 13, and HBS were all out for 127, a deficit of 145 runs.

In the tight battle for the final place in the championship pool, ACC gained a crucial advantage over rivals VRA Amsterdam with an equally comprehensive win over Salland at Het Loopveld.

Put in to bat, the Amsterdammers made 226 for nine thanks to 88 from opener Shreyas Potdar and 55 from Heino Kuhn, the pair adding 109 for the third wicket, and then Anis Raza again made a crucial contribution with an unbeaten 42 in the closing stages.

With Salland’s German internationals otherwise engaged skipper Victor Lubbers led the way himself with four for 31, but the Overijssel side never looked likely to challenge ACC’s total, subsiding to 102 all out in 28.5 overs.

Devanshu Arya claimed three for 29 for the home side, with two wickets apiece for Joseph Reddy, Aryan Kumar and Mahesh Hans.

Across Amstelveen in the Amsterdamse Bos, VRA slipped out of the top six by virtue of a 94-run defeat at the hands of leaders Voorburg.

Michael Levitt, this week named in the Dutch squad for the World Cup qualifier in Zimbabwe, celebrated with 115, his third century of the Topklasse campaign, adding 104 for the second wicket with his new international colleague Noah Croes (40).

Then Shariz Ahmad and Logan van Beek, both also Zimbabwe-bound, chipped in with 41 each, and Voorburg set the highest total of the day with 285 for six.

It always looked likely to be beyond the reach of VRA, and when Ryan Klein, yet another member of the national squad, grabbed four early wickets to reduce them to 37 for four, a truly catastrophic defeat seemed possible.

Aryan Dutt partially restored their fortunes with a fighting 46, and deposed captain Leon Turmaine (37) and Eduard Visser (20) put up solid resistance towards the end, but eventually VRA were all out for 191, Klein finishing with five for 42.

The thrilling outcome at the Bermweg apart, the most competitive game of the day was at Het Zomercomplex, where Punjab Rotterdam were taken down to the last two overs by a determined Excelsior ‘20.

After a shaky start Excelsior reached 241 for nine thanks to a stand of 116 for the fourth wicket between Lorenzo Ingram (78) and Tom Heggelman (47) and a quick-fire, 40-ball 48 from wicketkeeper Stan van Troost, while seamers Sikander Zulfiqar and Sohail Bhatti were the most effective members of the Punjab attack with three for 50 and three for 32 respectively.

Pushed up to open the batting, Yasir Usman led the way with 46 when Punjab replied, but it was Mohsin Riaz who piloted them to victory with an unbeaten 115.

Ingram kept his side in the game with three for 50 and there were economical spells from Michael Hart and Heggelman, but the asking rate never climed appreciably above six an over and Punjab had wickets in hand, Riaz finishing it off with a six to reach his first Topklasse century, followed by another and the winning four.

Round 8 Preview

Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 26/05/23

It may seem like the season (and certainly the Summer) has only just begun, but already we’re at the business end of the first phase. Two rounds to go, and in four day’s time we’ll be into World Cup Qualifier/Topklasse T20 mode. Still plenty to play for, with only Voorburg assured of making the top six and nobody yet definitely doomed to the relegation pool.

BdJ: With points carried forward into Phase 2 not even frontrunners Voorburg can afford to coast as they head to the Bos to take on VRA. VRA need to win both of their remaining matches to be confident of a top six finish, a single win leaving them reliant on luck and net run rate to avoid the bottom four. Voorburg are well out of danger on that front, but will want to get a headstart for the second phase. In addition to form, the availability of Logan van Beek, stopping over en route to Zimbabwe, will further bolster their confidence. VCC will effectively be fielding the national team’s seam attack come Saturday, while van Beek also adds still greater depth to an intimidating batting card, with everyone down down to Vivian Kingma having made runs in one competition or another of late. In short a tough ask for a VRA side that has underperformed thus far, coming up just short against VOC last week thanks in large part to a rather sloppy effort with the ball and in the field. The form of Johan Smal and Tejan Nidamanuru with the bat is some consolation, but the hosts will want more from a line-up that in principle ought to bat down to at least eight, but in practice this season has looked a bat or two short.

RJL: VRA’s problems extend beyond the inconsistency of their batting: they had all but won their Ascension Day match at Sparta, only to see the then leaders expose the limitations of their bowling once Eduard Visser had completed his spell, and even his five-wicket haul against VOC could not prevent the Rotterdammers from posting the highest total of the day in the Bos last Saturday. Visser and Ashir Abid do have the ability to cause batting sides problems early, and they probably represent the home side’s best chance of getting on top of Voorburg. But Tyler van Luin’s six wickets in eight games is a disappointing return, and even Aryan Dutt has been less of a threat since his return from injury. Voorburg, on the other hand, are spoiled for choice in both batting and bowling, and they will go into this game strong favourites.

BdJ: Second-placed Sparta 1888 had looked to be cruising into the top six before being utterly clotheslined by VCC last week, the insult of a 9-wicket loss compounded by injuries to several key players, including the stalwart Mudassar Bukhari, lead wicket-taker Ahsan Malik, and skipper Martijn Snoep. Whether any or all will be fit when they welcome HCC to Bermweg on Saturday remains to be seen. If they’re looking for instruction on bouncing back from defeat they could do worse than looking to their opponents, who have had had something of an up and down season thus far. Their fortunes have fluctuated rather with the form of Jonatahan Vandiar, who together with Ratha Alphonse has been the principal source of runs in the HCC top order. The efforts of quicks Hidde Overdijk and Henrico Venter with the ball, backed up by the left arm spin of Floyd and Doram, have covered somewhat for HCC’s homegrown batters’ slump in form so far, but even a weakened Sparta will be a tough test for the defending champions.

RJL: After a nightmare start to the season HCC have steadily climbed up the table, and a strong finish against Sparta here and then against VRA on Monday would likely see them ensconced, not only in the top six, but in its upper reaches when the competition resumes. To Overdijk and Venter we should add Daniel Crowley, who while short of wickets has been a steady force in the attack. Sparta need all hands on deck for the exacting final weekend of Phase 1, not only physically but also mentally, and an experience like last Saturday’s is bound to leave its scars. But they had thoroughly earned their spell at the top of the table, and if they can recover the spirit which saw them come back from the dead against VRA on Ascension Day rather than the batting form which got them into that mess in the first place (and which then caused their demolition by Voorbuirg two days later), they could still halt HCC’s progress.

BdJ: Third-placed VOC Rotterdam could seal their place in the top six and end HBS Craeyenhout’s slim hopes with a win on Saturday, having closed out a narrow win over VRA last weekend. The most encouraging aspect of that win for VOC was the rally staged by the lower middle order after a rare failure from the top-order trio of O’Dowd, Berry and Edwards. If skipper Tim de Kok can regularly marshall such resistance down the card then VOC could stage a genuine challenge for the title this year, despite the questions that remain around the bowling. HBS have similar worries of course, with a green bowling attack and a continued reliance on Barresi and Walbrugh for runs. Both are in fine form however, and the young attack (with some help from Barresi’s offspin) managed to hold Excelsior to 200 last week despite Lorenzo Ingram’s first century of the season. With Kyle Klein in excellent rhythm one could imagine the requisite early wickets falling, though as VOC showed last week that may not always be enough.

RJL: Evergreen allrounder Jelte Schoonheim played a crucial role in squeezing out VOC’s two-run victory over VRA last Saturday, and with ten wickets apiece he and closed-season recruit Asief Hoseinbaks are the Rotterdammers’ leading wicket-takers. But they and the rest of the attack will need to be at their best if they are to contain Walbrugh and Barresi at the Hazelaarweg, while equally Barresi will need to figure out at way to get on top of the VOC batting line-up. As m’ colleague observes, Kyle Klein could well be the key, but he will need plenty of support from the likes of Swapnil Pote, Julian de Mey and Lucas del Bianco, now slotted into the side. Nic Adendorff has chipped in with both bat and ball in recent games, and no doubt VOC will be looking for something similar from Burhan Niaz, who shone brightly last season but who has contributed rather less this time round.

BdJ: Ingram’s sudden return to form will be a worry for Punjab Rotterdam as they host Excelsior ‘20 Schiedam at the Zomercomplex, but it’s telling that his century immediately made him the Schiedammers’ top scorer for the season. Michael Hart and Roel Verhagen are the only other Excelsior bats to have managed more than 100 runs across the season, while Ingram’s also the only bowler averaging less than 20 with the ball. Conversely Punjab have five bats in three figures, with Shoaib Minhas averaging close to 100 and Saqib Zulfiqar in superb form with bat and ball. That Excelsior remain in contention despite the majority of their side underperforming is remarkable in itself, and of course the flip side is that they’re capable of dramatic imrovement if only a couple of the passengers start pulling their weight.

RJL: To be fair, Roel Verhagen has been pretty consistent with the bat since his return from injury, and Niels Etman has done well in support of Ingram with the ball. But Excelsior are clearly yet to settle on their best top order, and Punjab’s attack is very effective at exploiting their opponents’ weaknesses. Sulaiman Tariq’s side do, on the other hand, have problems of their own at the top of the batting, their opening partnership averaging only 16 across seven innings, and although in Mohsin Riaz, Minhas, and Saqib and Sikander Zulfiqar they have plenty of fire-power to turn things round, Tim Etman will be looking to his bowlers to keep them under pressure. The unheralded appearance of Daan van Bunge last week had little direct effect on Excelsior’s fortunes, and while ‘passengers’ might be a little harsh, there’s no doubt that the Thurlede outfit will be hoping that new skipper Etman and his predecessor Tom Heggelman are able to make a bigger contribution in these last two crucial games.

BdJ: Finally ACC and Salland face a do-or-die clash at ’t Loopveld. Salland’s situation is particularly desperate, bottom of the table of four points with a negative net run rate of over an run an over. Though ACC are currently two points clear of the bottom, their equally woeful NRR means they can ill afford another defeat. Having been held afloat by opener Venkat Ganesan and skipper Victor Lubbers with the bat through the season, Salland will take some encouragement from overseas Finn Raxworthy finally finding some form last week, together with Sahir Naqash. Kiwi quick Fraser Bartholomew has taken to Dutch conditions rather quicker, and backed up by a reliable spin section Salland may fancy their chances at ACC’s traditionally bat-hostile ground. Nonethless the hosts have also shown signs of a late rally, thanks in part to Heino Kuhn’s reacclimatising to the Topklasse’s unique challenges. With the exception of a remarkable demolition of local rivals VRA’s batting, however, the ACC attack has struggled to penetrate or contain. Though both sides could in theory still sneak into the top six, realistically this is a Phase 2 four-pointer, with distance from the wooden spoon the chief prize on offer.

RJL: ACC’s performance against Voorburg on Ascension Day and HCC two days later were both encouraging efforts, and although Kuhn’s side remains to a degree an assembly of bit-part players the same might be said of Lubbers’ squad as well. Shreyas Potdar, Ammar Zaidi and Anis Raza have all stepped up with the bat when needed, and while Rahil Ahmed and Mahesh Hans have yet to really impose themselves since their transfer from Dosti, their experience contributes positively to a side in which Aryan Kumar and Joseph Reddy have stepped effectively into the gap left by the departure of Mees van Vliet. Salland, on the other hand, have the core of a good side, but their performances have been a little hit-or-miss, their victories over VOC and Excelsior balanced by disappointing efforts against HCC and, especially, HBS. If they bring their A-game to ’t Loopveld they could prove too strong for ACC, but on recent evidence that’s a big if.

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

Is the an escape route for the bottom three?

Rod Lyall 23/05/2023

The short answer to that question is: absolutely.

With two rounds of the first phase to go, three teams are level on eight points, with two on six and three on four. While at first glance it might appear that the battle for sixth place, and a spot in the championship pool when the 50-over competition resumes in July, is between VRA and ACC, the sides currently straddling the cut-off, in fact any or all of the three bottom teams have a chance of reaching eight points, and if other results go their way, that could be enough.

The remaining fixtures for the teams on four points are:
HBS: VOC (away), Punjab (home)
Excelsior: Punjab (away), ACC (home)
Salland: ACC (away), Sparta (home).

It follows from this that ACC and Punjab will have a vital role in determining the final Phase 1 standings, and it’s likely that much will remain in doubt until the final games are played on Monday.

Of those just above them, one or other of which they will be looking to displace, ACC obviously have the more favourable draw, since both their remaining games are against teams currently below them; on the other hand, they have a poor net run rate, well below that of both HBS and Excelsior.

VRA face a much more difficult run-in, taking on leaders Voorburg at home on Saturday and HCC, who leap-frogged them last weekend, on Monday; their net run rate, though, is healthier than that of either HCC or ACC, which could be very useful if things get tight on Monday evening.

With their weak NRR situation, HCC will need to beat either Sparta on Saturday or VRA on Monday to put themselves out of reach of the three bottom sides, while ACC would probably need to win both their games to feel safe.

Even Punjab, currently fourth with a marginally positive NRR, will go into the weekend with plenty to play for: were they to lose to both Excelsior and HBS and other results go against them, they too could find themselves in danger of slipping out of the top six.

Of the three sides with which we began, Excelsior may feel that they are in the most favourable position, although a visit to Het Zomercomplex is never an easy proposition and the way in which Punjab saw off Salland on Saturday suggests that they may be finishing the first phase strongly.

Although VOC have been inconsistent the power of their top order is unquestionable, and HBS would need to be at their absolute best to beat them on Saturday and keep themselves in the hunt.

And whether Sparta, after their mauling by Voorburg at the weekend and with a crucial match for HCC at the Bermweg this Saturday, will be at anything like full strength for their visit to Deventer on Monday will be a question of intense interest for Salland.

All in all, we can look forward to a dramatic long weekend, and perhaps a table which looks rather different by Monday night.

Voorburg go back top as Sparta crumble

Rod Lyall 19/05/2023

Voorburg returned to the top of the table on Saturday with a comprehensive win over Sparta 1888 at Westvliet, their nine-wicket victory speaheaded by leg-spinners Shariz Ahmad and Philippe Boissevain and completed by a whirlwind innings from opener Nehaan Gigani.

There was little hint of this outcome as Ali Raza and Sam Ferguson steered the total to 60 without loss after Joost-Martijn Snoep had won the toss, but once Shariz and Boissevain were introduced into the attack the Spartan batting fell comprehensively apart, Shariz taking five for 19 to take his season’s tally to 23 at an average cost of 8.78 and Boissevain claiming four for 35.

Once Raza and Ferguson had departed for 42 and 34 respectively only Mudassar Bukhari was able to reach double figures, and he also had Sparta’s only success with the ball, removing Michael Levitt before he developed a groin strain which forced him out of the attack.

With Sparta increasingly looking like a retreating army, Gigani took full advantage, hitting ten fours and three sixes in his unbeaten, 58-ball 81, and Noah Croes helped him see Voorburg home, the winning six coming at the beginning of the 22nd over.

There could scarcely have been a bigger contrast between this overwhelming victory and the match between VRA Amsterdam and VOC Rotterdam in the Amsterdamse Bos, which went down to the very last ball before VOC ran out winners by just two runs.

Eduard Visser led the way for VRA as VOC were reduced to 76 for five, picking up the crucial wickets of Max O’Dowd and Lane Berry as well as that of Francois Fourie, but the Rotterdammers were rescued by a sixth-wicket stand of 104 between skipper Tim de Kok, who made an aggressive 65, and Burhan Niaz (50), and although Visser returned to clean up the tail and finish with five for 34, VRA were left to chase a total of 244.

They were given a real chance by a partnership of 112 for the third wicket between Johan Smal and Teja Nidamanuru, but after Niaz had bowled Smal for 53 De Kok called on Scott Edwards for one of his rare spells with the ball, and he removed first Aryan Dutt and then Jack Balbirnie.

Nidamanuru was still there, but then, with 17 still needed, Jelte Schoonheim trapped him in front for 93, and when he bowled Visser shortly afterwards, VRA’s last pair of Leon Turmaine and Ashir Abid were left to complete the task.

Six were required off the final over, but Schoonheim bowled with exemplary control and they could only manage three, giving VOC the narrowest of victories.

The win made VOC almost certain of a place in the top six, and the same assurance was earned by Punjab Rotterdam, who had a six-wicket victory over Salland at Het Schootsveld.

Salland’s 201 for seven was built on a steady 60 from Finn Raxworthy and a run-a-ball 61 not out by Sahir Naqash, with Saqib Zulfiqar again the most successful of Punjab’s bowlers with three for 49.

But the Overijssel side’s bowlers could make little impression on a strong Punjab top order, despite a fine spell from Fraser Bartholomew, and with Mohsin Riaz making a steady 66, Saqib contributing 40 and Shoaib Minhas and Sikander Zulfiqar finishing things off, Punjab won with almost five overs to spare.

Minhas ended with a run-a-ball 47 not out, and Sikander with 19 not out.

At De Diepput HCC moved into the top six, level on points with VOC and Punjab but with an inferior net run rate, by beating ACC by four wickets.

Daniel Crowley and Henrico Venter did the early damage, and Daniel Doram then removed the middle order to finish with three for 30 from his ten overs, but Anis Raza held things together with 67, Heino Kuhn made 37, and Ammar Zaidi and Mark Wolfe combined to get the total past 200.

ACC were eventually dismissed in the last of their fifty overs for 224, and although Ratha Alphonse (46) and Tonny Staal (33) shared an opening stand of 70, HCC again made heavy weather of the chase, and when danger-man Jonathan Vandiar was rather bizarrely run out by a direct hit from the fine leg boundary attempting to run a second wide the home side were looking slightly precarious on 155 for five.

But HCC bat deep, and first Clayton Floyd and Hidde Overdijk, and after Floyd’s departure Doram, saw them to victory, Overdijk finishing on 38 not out.

The bottom-of-the-table clash between Excelsior ‘20 and HBS Craeyenhout at Thurlede was marked by the return to batting form of Lorenzo Ingram, who made 103 for the home side, and the continuation of Tayo Walbrugh’s remarkable run, his unbeaten 81 seeing HBS to a six-wicket win.

Lucas del Bianco and Wesley Barresi had picked up three wickets apiece, at a cost of 48 and 37 runs respectively, as Excelsior reached 200 for nine, and Barresi then continued his century-making form of Thursday with 52 in a third-wicket stand of 85 which laid the foundations of his side’s victory.

The win lifted HBS off the bottom of the table and into eighth place, leapfrogging both Excelsior and Salland on net run rate and setting up a fascinating battle for position with two Phase One matches remaining.

Joost Kroesen keeps Sparta top as HBS break their duck

Rod Lyall 19/05/2023

One of the most extraordinary escape acts in the history of the Dutch competition and a record-breaking partnership which enabled bottom-placed HBS to claim their first points of the season enlivened an Ascension Day programme on Thursday which was never less than absorbing.

Chasing VRA’s 228 for eight at the Bermweg, leaders Sparta 1888 appeared to be down and out when Ashir Abid, Tyler van Luin and Eduard Visser had reduced them to 64 for six, but Joost Kroesen had other ideas.

Supported first by Ahsan Malik in a seventh-wicket stand of 76 and then by a hard-hitting cameo from Khalid Ahmadi, who belted four sixes in his 21-ball 36, Kroesen steadily turned the game around, and when Ahmadi fell to Visser only 31 runs were needed from from 39 deliveries.

Now it was captain Joost-Martijn Snoep’s job to help Kroesen see the side home, and so effectively did they tackle their task that Sparta completed their unlikely two-wicket victory with an over to spare.

Kroesen finished on 88 not out, the highest of his career, made from 120 balls with six fours and two sixes, ensuring that Sparta remained on top of the table with three Phase 1 matches remaining.

Earlier, Aryan Dutt’s 40-ball 55 on his return from injury had injected some much-needed urgency to a VRA innings which had never quite taken off against a steady Sparta attack, most of the top order getting a start but not really capitalising; Malik and Mudassar Bukhari had bowled effectively if without success with the new ball, and it was Ahmadi who did much of the damage, taking five for 47.

Level with Sparta on points but just behind them on net run rate, Voorburg largely owed their five-wicket victory over ACC at Het Loopveld to Shariz Ahmad’s googlies and Michael Levitt’s unbeaten, run-a-ball 105, which saw them home after Joseph Reddy and Mahesh Hans had reduced them to 58 for four.

Shariz had been instrumental in bowling ACC out for just 158, taking four for 36 to bring his season’s tally to 18 wickets at an average cost of 10.17, only Heino Kuhn playing a significant innings with 54.

Then Levitt and skipper Sybrand Engelbrecht dug the visitors out of trouble with a fifth-wicket stand of 94, of which Engelbrecht contributed 21, and Levitt finished it off with almost ten overs to spare.

At Craeyenhout, HBS had a nightmare start against Salland, losing two wickets by the time six runs were on the board, but they were rescued by a stand of 222 between Tayo Walbrugh and Wesley Barresi, the highest-ever for any wicket for the Crows.

Barresi was eventually dismissed for 115, made from 114 deliveries with 15 fours and a six, while Walbrugh completed his third century in four innings before departing for 103, from 111 balls with ten fours and one six.

Salland’s bowlers fought back well after they had gone, keeping the total to 293 for nine, but that was always like to be too many, even on Craeyenhout’s artificial outfield.

Swapnil Pote did the early damage, Kyle Klein picked up three for 48 and Julian de Mey cleaned up the middle and lower order as Salland were dismissed for 166, only skipper Victor Lubbers’ 47 offering any prolonged resistance.

Any relief that HBS might have felt at their first victory was somewhat mitigated by the fact that Excelsior ‘20, just above them at the foot of the table, also had a much-needed win, beating VOC Rotterdam by four wickets at the Hazelaarweg.

Max O’Dowd made 46 for the home side and Lane Berry a 56-ball 61, but Niels Etman struck back with four for 41, and VOC were all out for 217.

They might have hoped that that would be enough, but Excelsior went methodically about their chase, Luuk Kroesen, back in an opening role, laying the foundations with a patient 40.

Lorenzo Ingram contributed 37, his best score of the season so far, and then Michael Hart and Stan van Troost brought their side to the brink of victory before Van Troost was run out just 16 short of their target.

Hart, however, was still there, finishing on 62 not out as Excelsior won with 11 balls to spare.

At Het Zomercomplex, HCC did well to bowl Punjab out for 142, Hidde Overdijk taking three for 33 and Clayton Floyd and Patient Charumbira picking up two wickets apiece; a dogged not-out 26 from Sikander Zulfiqar was Punjab’s highest score in a disappointing effort.

But they struck back with the ball, only opener Ratha Alphonse looking at all comfortable with 32 as Saqib Zulfiqar worked his way through the middle order, no-one else making 20, but the defending champions eventually struggled over the line to win by three wickets.

Round 6 Preview

Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 17/05/23

The frenetic first phase of the 2023 season hurtles on apace, with an extra round scheduled to take advantage of the Ascension Day holiday on Thursday, then another on Saturday, by this time next week we’ll be seven rounds deep less than a month after the first ball was bowled. As it stands nothing is quite decided, though both Sparta and Voorburg could potentially seal their top six spots on Thursday, while winless HBS could see their hopes extinguished.

BdJ: Current table-toppers Sparta 1888, who will welcome fourth-placed VRA to Bermweg on Thursday, have an opportunity seal their place in the championship pool if they can turn over a VRA outfit that’s blown rather hot and cold so far. Sparta’s success thus far can be attributed in part to some judicious acquisitions in the returning Garnett Tarr, newcomers Sam Ferguson and Will Clark, along with Joost Kroesen who has thrived in his new role as spin all-rounder since moving from Excelsior. It was the veteran Ahsan Malik that shone for them last week though, his seam partenrship with Khalid Ahmadi currently the most effective in the league. VRA bounced back from a surprise defeat at the hands of ACC to see off Salland on Sunday, but remain plagued by inconsistency and injury. While Vikram Singh and Johan Smal reminded us how dangerous the VRA batting card remains with conditions in their favour, but despite their depth they remain vulnerable to collapse on slower tracks. Aryan Dutt’s fitness also remains in doubt for the game, and though Leon Turmaine’s bowling as well as he ever has VRA looked short a few overs of reliable spin in Dutt’s absence.

RL: Sparta have emerged as genuine championship contenders this season, not least because of Ahsan Malik’s partnership not only with Ahmadi but also with his old international mate Mudassar Bukhari. The Bermweg has not been a happy hunting-ground for VRA since Sparta moved there: the competition structure enabled them to avoid it last year, but before their 2021 victory (thanks to 99 from Jack Balbirnie and a 45-ball 100 from Marcus Andrew) they had lost on all three occasions they had played there. In Ashir Abid and Tyler van Luin they have a new-ball attack with the potential to exploit the conditions, but they will need to be at their best to unsettle the home side’s top order. As m’colleague points out, though, it’s the Amsterdammers’ batting which raises the big questions.

BdJ: Also on 8 points at the top are Voorburg, who will head to ‘t Loopveld to take on ACC hoping to return with a place in the top six in the bag. The unfancied ACC are on a surprise winning streak, winning three on the bounce since their humiliation at the hands of VOC in Round 3. Most tellingly, they have done so largely on the back of their bowling, with only limited contrbutions from overseas Thomas Hobson and Heino Kuhn. If the latter come off with the bat they could well give VCC a run for their money, especially on home turf mat. Voorburg suffered their first defeat of the season at the hands of Punjab last week, though the simple strength of their roster means they remain strong favourites.

RL: The return of Hobson and Kuhn has created a framework in which ACC’s youngsters – and not-so-youngsters – are able to flourish, and the club will be delighted to see the likes of Shreyas Potdar emerge from a relatively long apprenticeship and begin to play significant innings. It was Ammar Zaidi, though, who dug them out of a hole against VRA, and if the win against HBS on Sunday was a more convincing team performance, they will need all guns firing if they are to sink a Voorburg side which remains powerful in all departments. Even when their top order was less than wholly convincing against Punjab last week Viv Kingma stepped up to get them past 200, and it took a Shoaib Minhas century and valuable knocks from a couple of Zulfiqars to end their winning run. Something of the same order will be needed from ACC on Thursday if they are to claim the points.

BdJ: In a season of occasional surprises, VOC Rotterdam have been one of the few sides to conform to expectations, putting up serious scores when the “big three” come off but struggling when Berry, O’Dowd and Edwards all fail. With a bowling attack that’s proved more relible than match-winning, the Bloodhounds remain vulnerable to early wickets. If Excelsior are to take advantage they will need more from their seamers however, especially overseas quick Michael Hart who has looked more like a batting all-rounder in Dutch conditions. Conversely Lorenzo Ingram’s lean season with the bat so far has left a sizeable hole in the batting line-up, though his left arm spin has remained impeccable. On just two points from five matches, Excelsior are running out of road in the first phase, and while homegrown stalwarts Tom Heggelman, Roel Verhagen and Niels Etman have had solid enough seasons so far, the Schiedammers will need full value from their professionals from here if they’re to avoid spending phase two in the relegation pool.

RL: Against Sparta’s rise and Excelsior’s relative decline the departure of Joost Kroesen from Thurlede is beginning to look like a very significant factor, and although the Schiedammers have a greater degree of continuity in their side than most of their competitors, they seem to have lost their knack of eking out victories even when not playing at their best. With four games left they will need to recover it fast if they are to squeeze into the top six, and whereas VOC have plenty of potential match-winners, Excelsior seem, their demolition of HCC apart, more like a team of journeymen. The injury to Roel Verhagen has not helped their cause, and his form with the bat since slotting back into the side has been a positive, but the onus will clearly be on the bowlers to claim some of their opponents’ scalps in the initial powerplay. Failing that, Excelsior could be in for a tough day.

BdJ: Potentially the most consequential game of the round will be at the Zomercomplex where fifth-placed Punjab Rotterdam take on seventh-placed HCC. Punjab’s victory over VCC has taken them to six points with a modest positive net run rate of 0.24, meaning one more win might well be enough to get them into the top six, but their position remains precarious. Nonethess they look in the ascendant with the bat at least, with returning pro Shoaib Minhas striking a century last week while Saqib Zulfiqar has been in the runs both in the Topklasse and Pro-Series. For HCC, who trail them by two points with a negative NRR of -0.77, another loss or two could see their title defence cut short half-way through the season. They’ll hope Jonathan Vandiar picks up where he left off on return to his old home ground, but above all will want more from the homegrown top order. While formerly peripheral players Henrico Venter and Jan-Wieger Overdijk have grown into their roles with the ball, both have been comparatively expensive and Punjab have the batting and short boundaries to take advantage.

RL: Henrico Venter’s maiden five-for against HBS last Saturday was a real bonus for HCC’s reconstructed attack, but it took a solid knock from Clayton Floyd, batting at six, to get them over the line. Ratha Alphonse and, on occasions, Vandiar aside, the top order has struggled for runs, especially away from De Diepput, and Punjab have the bowling resources to put them under pressure. But Vandiar knows very well where the Zomercomplex boundaries are, and if HCC are to come away with the points his contribution could be vital. Equally, it will be interesting to see how Punjab’s batting copes with the threat of Daniel Doram, another powerful weapon for the defending champions. That said, the form of Minhas and of Saqib and Sikander Zulfiqar has generally been impressive, while Mohsin Riaz has done enough to show that he, too, can make opposing attacks suffer. A difficult one to pick, this, but it may be the home side which edges it.

BdJ: Finally HBS Craeyenhout will be looking for their first win of the season when they welcome Salland to Craeyenhout. Victor Lubbers’ eclectic array of easterlings have given a decent account of themselves when conditions favoured them, Kiwi quick Fraser Bartholomew lending a cutting edge to the traditionally solid spin attack, but Salland’s chief trouble so far has been backing up their bowlers with the bat. Though against HBS’ inexperienced attack they will be hoping to at least pass 200 for the first time this season, at Craeyenhout that’s not always good enough. HBS, for their part, will be looking to Wesley Barresi to transfer some of his pro-series form, with Tayo Walbrugh currently rather starved of support with the bat.

RL: With the departure of Ryan Klein and the retirement of several key players HBS began the season severely depleted, particularly in the bowling, but it has indeed been the batting which has has seen them still winless after five games. There have, though, been signs of improvement recently, much of it coming from the form of Walbrugh, and with a bit more luck they might have broken their duck by now. Facing Salland at home on Thursday and Excelsior away on Saturday they will know that these are two games they have to win if they are to have any chance of redeeming their season, given that their last two first-phase matches are against VOC and Punjab. Salland, on the other hand, have given themselves a real possibility of making the top six, a prospect which would be greatly enhanced by two points here. It was largely the German contingent which saw off Excelsior last week, and as long as they are in the side Salland remain a tricky proposition. They will need to get Walbrugh early, though, if they are to drive back eastwards with the points.

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