The announcement of a new European “Champions League” competition for clubs from around the continent has precipitated immediate controversy in the Netherlands, with HBS Craeyenhout contesting VOC Rotterdam’s right to represent the Dutch in the tournament.
The new initiative will see clubs from the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Romania, Russia and Spain meet at the Desert Springs facility in Almería in southern Spain at the end of July next year to compete for the title of European Champions. The KNCB announced yesterday that they had nominated 2018 Topklasse champions VOC as the Dutch representatives, but HBS maintain that as winners of the T20 Cup last year by rights they should be the ones making the trip. “We will be contesting VOC’s nomination. It makes no sense to send the TK champion to a T20 tournament” incoming HBS cricket Chair Ewout Boendermaker told TKcricket.
As it turns out the first edition of the European Cricket League will in fact be contested in the newly-fashionable T10 format, organisers confirmed today, but the eight clubs participating have qualified through various formats. “Each federation has chosen their top competition champion – some 50 over, some 40 over, some T20.” a spokesman for the ECL clarified. It is hard to argue that the Topklasse is certainly the more prestigious title in the Netherlands, with the T20 competition even suffering from occasional no-shows, yet it’s difficult to deny that the choice of 50-over Champions for a 10-over competition is on the face of it rather surprising.
Dutch cricket, of course, loves nothing better than a spot of controversy and Dutch fans are quick to pounce on the merest hint of competitievervalsing, indeed the ECL would hardly be a proper competition if there wasn’t someone at the ALV decrying it as a stitch-up. Yet while rumours of a berth at a new European club championship for the Topklasse champions have been circulating since at least mid-July, it’s nonetheless concerning that some clubs appear to have been better-informed than others.
Not for the first time Dutch cricket finds itself plunged into a needless controversy that could have been headed off by better communication or consultation, though at least the organisers of the new competition can take comfort from the evident fact that a place at the European Championships is seen as a prize worth fighting over.
The European Cricket League will take place from July 30th to August 1st 2019 at Desert Springs Club, Almería. The following sides have qualified:
SG Findorff Cricket Bremen (Germany)
Svanholm CC (Denmark)
VOC Rotterdam (the Netherlands)
Brescia CC (Italy)
Cluj CC (Romania)
St Petersburg (Russia)
Dreux CC (France)
Catalunya CC (Spain)
The KNCB’s Commissie van Beroep (appeals committee) ruled in favour of Punjab Rotterdam CC this week in their long-running dispute with the KNCB over questions of player eligibility. The ruling would appear to critically undermine the board’s current rules governing the participation of overseas players in the Dutch domestic competition.
The dispute originially arose early last season, precipitated by Punjab’s selection of Belgian nationals Mamoon Latif and Ali Raza, who were deemed overseas players under Article 12 of the Competitiereglement, to represent the club’s first XI in the Topklasse.
The KNCB initially imposed a number of sanctions on the club, including awarding their match against ACC to the Amsterdam club by default, imposing a 6-point penalty as well as threatening fines. Punjab contended that as EU nationals Latif and Raza were entitled to equal treatment under EU law, and that they could not be counted toward the quota of 2 overseas players in the side, and continued to field the pair throughout the season.
The matter was first referred to the Tuchtcommissie, who in June nominally ruled in the KNCB’s favour, but scrapped the board’s competitive penalties and imposed a fine of a mere € 126 on Punjab -the lightest possible penalty – hinting that the rules themselves might not accord with Dutch or European law.
The KNCB duly appealed the decision, but last week the Commissie van Beroep sided decisively with Punjab. The CvB ruled that Article 12 of the Competitiereglemen amounted to discrimination on the basis of nationality and was consequently unlawful. Crucially, they based their ruling not on EU law but on the Dutch Algemene wet gelijke behandeling (general equal treatmenet act) thus seeming to preclude not only discrimination against EU passport-holders but any direct restriction on the basis of nationality whatsoever.
Kortom: je mag er zoveel laten invliegen als je als club zou willen
The current two-player limit for overseas players in the Topklasse applies to any non-Netherlands passport-holder with the exception of those players who have participated in a domestic league in the Netherlands in three of the preceding four years and played a minimum of 8 matches in the immediately preceding season. Lifting that restriction for EU citizens might not have caused undue disruption given that the Dutch season naturally coincides with the domestic seasons of its European neighbours, and there are moreover comparatively few cricketers in the rest of continental Europe likely to have a significant impact at Topklasse level.
This week’s ruling, however, would seem to open the door to an unlimited number of players from further afield turning out in the Dutch competition, threatening to crowd out local talent, a prospect provoking dismay on social media.
Volgend jaar spelen er dus nog maar 5 Nederlandse in de @KNCBcricket topklasse👋
The KNCB do not appear to have been caught entirely unawares by the ruling however, and were already planning to amend the rules for the coming season; “we’ll be looking at moving to a system more in line with the approach they take in Scotland and Ireland for 2019” KNCB secretary Robert Vermeulen told TKcricket earlier this year. The board is understood to have consulted with clubs regarding potential changes to the overseas player rules even before the ruling was published last week, and is expected to present its proposals at the KNCB’s Algemene Ledenvergadering (general members meeting) scheduled for the 15th of this month.
As the dust settles on another Topklasse campaign, Bertus de Jong and Rod Lyall discuss their Team of the Year.
RL: In my view four players stand out: Taruwar Kohli (Dosti United), Jay Bista (Quick Haag), Lorenzo Ingram (Excelsior), and Sharn Gomes (HBS Craeyenhout). Kohli’s form early in the season shot Dosti up the table, and in addition to his three centuries and two fifties in his first seven innings he took valuable wickets as well. He was less dominant as the campaign progressed, but even so, only his early departure prevented him from topping the batting aggregates. That honour went instead to Bista, whose contribution to a struggling Quick side was enormous, and he was more responsible than anyone for his team staying in the top flight.
Gomes, too, was at his most consistent in the first half, with six half-centuries and a hundred in his first ten innings, but thereafter he fell away, while Ingram, after hitting back-to-back centuries at the end of May, was less influential as Excelsior’s title defence foundered. Kohli and Bista are therefore my pick for the two overseas player spots.
BdJ: Yep, Kohli and Bista are probably the easiest picks in this little exercise. Without them it would be hard to see Dosti or Quick surviving the season. Kohli’s efforts saw Dosti top the table early and ensured they were never in any real danger of relegation, with four centuries and leading the run aggregates when he departed with 722 runs at an average of 60+ he faces no real competition for his spot. Bista meanwhile would be my pick for season MVP, holding Quick above water all-but single-handedly, making 800+ runs largely from the opening spot and stepping up to take the captaincy in Jeroen Brand’s absence.
Were we permitted a third overseas player my pick would be Bryce Street ahead of Gomes or Ingram though. In trying to fill the shoes of Jonathan Vandiar, Street probably had the toughest assignment of any of the league’s overseas coaches, and he delivered admirably for HCC. With 650 runs at a shade over 40, as well as chipping in a valuable 23 wickets over the season the young Queenslander has had an excellent debut season and is pretty unlucky to miss out on a team of the year spot in my book.
BdJ: With Bista having scored heavily from the top of the order I’d say that one of the slots here has already been filled, and indeed it’s not easy to say anyone’s made a convincing case to take the second. ACC’s Richardt Frenz is ruled out as the overseas slots are full, though his contribution to the Amsterdammers’ fortunes after being promoted to open should not be underrated, with 657 runs at 40 he is statistically the most successful opener behind Bista. A case might also be made for his opening partner Rehmat Zulfiqar, who has rather outshone his siblings in domestic cricket this season and memorably smashing the season’s top-score of 188 against Quick from the top of the order.
A more conservative option might be VRA’s Dan ter Braak, who has accumulated an unshowy 620 runs at 38 over the season, but my preference would be for aggression at the top. With 523 runs at a strike rate over 150, I’d be tempted to have HBS skipper Toby Visée as a specialist batsman even were he not also top of the dismissals table with the gloves. In a season where “decent but unspectacular” could be applied to most of the league’s openers, I’m picking the one who can win a game in the first few overs.
RL: No disagreement from this quarter about opening with Visée: his ability to knock new-ball bowlers off their stride makes him an obvious choice. But given his methods you have to allow for the possibility that he won’t come off, and for that reason I’d be inclined to have Jay Bista at three rather than as an opener. That creates room for Rehmat Zulfiqar who, as m’ colleague notes, has been the most consistently successful of the four brothers this time round. A top four of Rehmat, Visée, Bista and Kohli should be enough to daunt any opening attack.
Top and middle order
RL: My proposal would then leave us with two, or at most three, specialist batting places to fill – three if, as is often the case, one or more of the batsmen is also a useful bowler. (Bista and Kohli, indeed, would also be likely to feature in the attack, as perhaps would Rehmat, so maybe we could go all the way down to No. 8 with the batsmen . . . )
The leading contenders on my list would be Ben Cooper and Peter Borren (both VRA), VOC captain Pieter Seelaar, Mohammad Hafeez (Dosti), and Wesley Barresi (HBS). These are all, of course, well established names, and it’s a little worrying that there are so few young guns forcing their way into consideration. Tonny Staal (HCC) played some valuable innings, and despite injury Sikander Zulfiqar (ACC) did so as well. But in a crowded field, it’s hard to go past the left-handed Cooper (third in the aggregates with 661 runs at 47.21), Seelaar, Borren and Hafeez, with Barresi possibly just edging out Borren.
BdJ: Indeed going purely on stats it would seem churlish to exclude Cooper, but then I am nothing if not churlish. Aside from being reluctant to disturb Kohli from his position at first drop, where he’s scored four centuries, I feel it should be pointed out that of his five fifties in the season, only Cooper’s 69 against HBS won VRA a match that mattered.
I’d also be hesitant to chance Bista as a front-line bowler given his mixed results with the ball for Quick, though obviously I’d not say the same of Hafeez, who is the only player this season who would likely make the team on the strength of both his batting and bowling. Peter Borren probably comes closest on that front, despite having what he himself described as a “pretty ordinary” season (though having averaged over 100 last year perhaps his expectations of himself have become somewhat unreasonable). The former Dutch skipper picked up 29 scalps to finish joint 5th in the wicket-taking tables, as well as scoring 565 runs from number 5. His successor at the helm of the national team, Pieter Seelaar, has had an equally successful season, with 555 runs and 50.5 and 21 wickets at 13.7 not to mention captaining his side to the title, the VOC skipper is surely a must-pick.
BdJ: Having settled on Visée at the top of the order our hands are rather tied here, though with 34 dismissals behind the stumps HBS’ skipper’s glove-work is hardly in question. One might otherwise make a strong case for VOC’s Scott Edwards, who despite trailing Visée by eleven dismissals has arguably shown himself the tidier keeper, conceding just 9 byes in 16 matches as well as racking up 576 runs at an average of 52.36 – one of only four players to average over fifty over the season.
RL: Indeed, including both Visée and Edwards, one of them as a specialist batsman, would not be a daft move. That’s probably worth looking at when we review the overall balance of the team. And we’re agreed that they are the two outstanding keepers of the season.
RL: This is an interesting one. If we assume seam from both ends initially, there are several contenders for the new ball: Sparta’s Mudassar Bukhari, who was pipped by Hafeez as leading wicket-taker but who claimed 34 wickets at 13.82; Ali Ahmed Qasim and Hidde Overdijk, both of HCC and both with 32 wickets; and Fred Klaassen (VOC), who took 29. There are pros and cons in all four cases: Bukhari played half his games at bowler-friendly Bermweg; Ali Ahmed took 14 of his wickets in just two devastating performances; Overdijk mostly bowled first change for HCC, who preferred pairing Ali Ahmed with spinner Ryan Ninan; and Klaassen surely benefited from having Pierce Fletcher at the other end. But the VOC man was outstanding in claiming early wickets, and his left-arm pace could be genuinely threatening.
A few other seamers are certainly worthy of consideration, even if their statistics are less impressive than those of this foursome: the HBS new-ball pairing of Wessel Coster and Berend Westdijk, the latter plagued by injury, as well as their team-mate Farshad Khan; VRA’s Quirijn Gunning, and Sikander Zulfiqar, who despite also being injured has a reasonable claim as an all-rounder.
But my pick would be Klaassen and Ali Ahmed, with Overdijk as first change.
BdJ: Klaassen is a sure pick for me, consistently finding early wickets and outstanding at the death, though the question of who he shares the new ball with is a little trickier. Bukhari’s duties with Belgium took precedence over his bid to best Hafeez at the top of the wickets table in the final round, but sheer weight of wickets is hard to argue with regardless of where he took them, and as it happens he took more than half of them away from home. He would just edge Ahmed in my book, though reasonable minds may differ on that. We agree on Overdijk though, if anything, his ability to take wickets with an older ball is a plus, as first-change is a somewhat less hotly-contested spot and a creditable average just shy of 20 with the bat only strengthens his case.
Rather overlooked in the role of seam-bowling all-rounder, however, is the veteran Doc Mol, who has quietly played an absolute blinder for Quick, and is arguably as much responsible for their survival in the top flight as was Jay Bista. In the midst of what might charitably called a transitional phase for the club (less charitably as a shambles of a season) Mol’s 480 runs (including a maiden century) and 26 wickets make him their lead wicket-taker and second behind Bista in the runs. Mol’s numbers may still be modest in the scheme of things, but given the context and the pressure Quick were under from the start, it’s hard to think of a player who’s been more crucial to his side this year.
BdJL With Seelaar and Hafeez sure of their spots the slow-bowling question more or less takes care of itself, but there’s certainly some honourable mentions to be made. First among them is Seelaar’s spinning partner at VOC, Max O’Dowd. He had the help of traditionally spin-friendly conditions at Hazelaarweg of course, but nonetheless 21 wickets at a shade over ten apiece is a remarkable effort. Leon Turmaine (VRA) also bowled better than his (still perfectly decent) figures suggest, whilst Lorenzo Ingram would be a tempting option had we another overseas slot.
RL: Turmaine’s team-mate at VRA, the evergreen Adeel Raja again demonstrated that he is, when available, still able to winkle out opposing batsmen, while Wesley Barresi would no doubt also wish to be seen as a spinning option, having claimed 16 wickets in his limited opportunities with the ball, at a strike rate of 26.06. But only O’Dowd (with a strike rate of 19.33, the best in the competition) is a real contender to balance off-spin against the very different left-armers in Seelaar and Hafeez.
So, with all the above in mind, we have:
Our Topklasse Team of the Year:
Jay Bista (Quick Haag), Tobias Visée (HBS, wk), Taruwar Kohli, Mohammad Hafeez (both Dosti United), Wesley Barresi (HBS), Peter Borren (VRA), Pieter Seelaar (VOC, captain), Geert Maarten Mol (Quick Haag), Hidde Overdijk (HCC), Mudassar Bukhari (Sparta 1888), and Fred Klaassen (VOC).