Topklasse Team of the Year 2021

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.

Max O’Dowd

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.

Tristan Stubbs

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.

Sikander Zulfiqar

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.

Clayton Floyd

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).

Scorecard | Final | Punjab vs VCC | 05.09.21

Punjab I Vs Voorburg I
1-Innings Match Played At Zomercomplex, Rotterdam, 05-Sep-2021, Topklasse
Punjab I Win by 55 runs
Round GF
Toss won by Voorburg I
Umpires RJ Akram – N Bathi – AND van den Dries
Home Side Punjab I
Points Awarded Punjab I 4, Voorburg I 0
Punjab I 1st Innings 157/10 All Out (Overs 47.3)
Batter Fielder Bowler Runs Bls 4s 6s
SJ Myburgh c BFW de Leede b VJ Kingma 24 20 4 1
RU Zulfiqar c A Dutt b GK Nieuwoudt 17 48 1 1
AA Zulfiqar+ lbw b BFW de Leede 30 56 4 0
SM Zulfiqar lbw b PRP Boissevain 22 34 4 0
SA Zulfiqar   b LV van Beek 14 17 2 0
I Ul Haq   b BFW de Leede 11 18 1 0
MMA Bajwa st M Hingorani b PRP Boissevain 4 38 0 0
S Bhatti c M Hingorani b LV van Beek 1 5 0 0
Y Usman c M Hingorani b VJ Kingma 14 24 2 0
S Tariq* c PRP Boissevain b A Dutt 3 6 0 0
Mubashar Hussain not out   3 20 0 0
extras   (b0 lb3 w10 nb1) 14      
TOTAL   10 wickets for 157      
1-31(SJ Myburgh) 2-53(RU Zulfiqar) 3-102(SM Zulfiqar) 4-104(AA Zulfiqar) 5-125(SA Zulfiqar) 6-129(I Ul Haq) 7-130(S Bhatti) 8-146(Y Usman) 9-149(S Tariq) 10-157(MMA Bajwa)
Bowler Overs Maid Runs Wkts wd nb
A Dutt 10 1 29 1
VJ Kingma 8 3 14 2
LV van Beek 10 1 26 2 3
GK Nieuwoudt 7 1 26 1 2
PRP Boissevain 6.3 0 41 2 1 1
BFW de Leede 6 0 18 2
Voorburg I 1st Innings 102/10 All Out (Overs 32.1)
Batter Fielder Bowler Runs Bls 4s 6s
M Hingorani+ run out S Bhatti   5 24 0 0
TN de Grooth c AA Zulfiqar b S Bhatti 0 2 0 0
BFW de Leede* c SM Zulfiqar b S Tariq 9 7 1 0
SA Engelbrecht c MMA Bajwa b S Tariq 7 20 1 0
A Dutt c AA Zulfiqar b SM Zulfiqar 35 82 3 1
LV van Beek   b SA Zulfiqar 19 26 2 1
GK Nieuwoudt c AA Zulfiqar b SA Zulfiqar 2 9 0 0
PRP Boissevain c SM Zulfiqar b SA Zulfiqar 0 1 0 0
FJ de Lange lbw b SA Zulfiqar 2 6 0 0
VJ Kingma c Mubashar Hussain b SM Zulfiqar 1 8 0 0
ST Mulder not out   5 9 1 0
extras   (b4 lb0 w13 nb0) 17      
TOTAL   10 wickets for 102      
1-2(TN de Grooth) 2-12(BFW de Leede) 3-19(M Hingorani) 4-27(SA Engelbrecht) 5-60(LV van Beek) 6-64(GK Nieuwoudt) 7-72(PRP Boissevain) 8-75(FJ de Lange) 9-85(VJ Kingma) 10-102(A Dutt)
Bowler Overs Maid Runs Wkts wd nb
S Tariq 10 4 26 2
S Bhatti 3 0 16 1 4
Mubashar Hussain 6 0 17 0 5
SA Zulfiqar 7 0 22 4 4
SM Zulfiqar 6.1 1 17 2

Scorecard | Qualifier 2 | VCC vs VRA | 04.09.21

Voorburg I Vs VRA I
1-Innings Match Played At Westvliet, Voorburg, 04-Sep-2021, Topklasse
Voorburg I Win by 5 wkts
Round PF
Toss won by Voorburg I
Umpires AND van den Dries – E Ruchtie – D Das
Home Side Voorburg I
Points Awarded VRA I 0, Voorburg I 4
VRA I 1st Innings 210/7 Closed (Overs 50)
Batter Fielder Bowler Runs Bls 4s 6s
V Singh c SA Engelbrecht b A Dutt 31 62 3 0
L Scully   b LV van Beek 39 27 8 0
BN Cooper c A Dutt b PRP Boissevain 22 42 3 0
ES Szwarczynski   b VJ Kingma 41 86 3 0
PW Borren* c M Hingorani b PRP Boissevain 1 3 0 0
J Balbirnie c M Hingorani b PRP Boissevain 16 41 0 0
LA Turmaine lbw b GK Nieuwoudt 4 7 0 0
MB Lees+ not out   16 36 2 0
QWM Gunning dnb          
A Abid dnb          
U Nashier dnb          
extras   (b0 lb6 w30 nb4) 40      
TOTAL   7 wickets for 210      
1-54(L Scully) 2-112(BN Cooper) 3-112(V Singh) 4-113(PW Borren) 5-164(J Balbirnie) 6-170(LA Turmaine) 7-210(ES Szwarczynski)
Bowler Overs Maid Runs Wkts wd nb
VJ Kingma 8 0 39 1 2 1
GK Nieuwoudt 6 0 37 1 4 3
A Dutt 10 0 33 1 5
LV van Beek 9 0 42 1 4
BFW de Leede 3 0 16 0 2
PRP Boissevain 10 0 25 3 1
ST Mulder 4 0 12 0 2
Voorburg I 1st Innings 214/5 (Overs 48)
Batter Fielder Bowler Runs Bls 4s 6s
M Hingorani+ lbw b QWM Gunning 1 4 0 0
TN de Grooth c L Scully b V Singh 29 41 3 0
BFW de Leede* run out U Nashier/MB Lees   5 14 1 0
SA Engelbrecht not out   103 135 10 0
A Dutt c PW Borren b U Nashier 1 8 0 0
LV van Beek c BN Cooper b LA Turmaine 38 63 2 2
GK Nieuwoudt not out   30 23 2 1
PRP Boissevain dnb          
VJ Kingma dnb          
FJ de Lange dnb          
ST Mulder dnb          
extras   (b2 lb0 w5 nb0) 7      
TOTAL   5 wickets for 214      
1-6(M Hingorani) 2-19(BFW de Leede) 3-70(TN de Grooth) 4-73(A Dutt) 5-151(LV van Beek)
Bowler Overs Maid Runs Wkts wd nb
QWM Gunning 8 0 39 1 4
A Abid 4 0 17 0 1
LA Turmaine 10 0 63 1
U Nashier 10 1 34 1
V Singh 6 0 15 1
PW Borren 9 0 39 0
J Balbirnie 1 0 5 0

Scorecard | Qualifier 1 | Punjab vs VCC | 29.08.21

Voorburg I Vs Punjab I
1-Innings Match Played At Zomercomplex, Rotterdam, 29-Aug-2021, Topklasse
Punjab I Win by 3 wkts
Round SF
Toss won by Punjab I
Umpires ML Hancock – WPM van Liemt
Home Side Voorburg I
Points Awarded Voorburg I 0, Punjab I 4
Voorburg I 1st Innings 209/7 Closed (Overs 50)
Batter Fielder Bowler Runs Bls 4s 6s
M Hingorani+   b Mubashar Hussain 18 44 1 0
TN de Grooth   b Mubashar Hussain 22 47 3 0
BFW de Leede* c AA Zulfiqar b I Ul Haq 38 75 2 1
SA Engelbrecht   c&b SM Zulfiqar 59 82 4 0
A Dutt c sub b SM Zulfiqar 15 16 1 1
LV van Beek c Y Usman b I Ul Haq 40 23 1 4
FJ de Lange run out Y Usman/AA Zulfiqar   10 13 1 0
PRP Boissevain not out   0 0 0 0
VJ Kingma dnb          
ST Mulder dnb          
N Kulkarni dnb          
extras   (b1 lb0 w6 nb0) 7      
TOTAL   7 wickets for 209      
1-39(TN de Grooth) 2-48(M Hingorani) 3-126(BFW de Leede) 4-147(A Dutt) 5-164(SA Engelbrecht) 6-208(LV van Beek) 7-209(FJ de Lange)
Bowler Overs Maid Runs Wkts wd nb
S Bhatti 5 1 28 0 6
S Tariq 10 2 24 0
Mubashar Hussain 10 2 16 2
SA Zulfiqar 4 1 22 0
SM Zulfiqar 10 0 63 2
AT Nidamanuru 1.1 0 4 0
I Ul Haq 9.5 0 51 2
Punjab I 1st Innings 211/7 (Overs 48.2)
Batter Fielder Bowler Runs Bls 4s 6s
SJ Myburgh c M Hingorani b VJ Kingma 11 8 2 0
RU Zulfiqar   b LV van Beek 10 35 2 0
AA Zulfiqar+ lbw b VJ Kingma 8 18 2 0
SM Zulfiqar lbw b A Dutt 4 21 0 0
SA Zulfiqar not out   114 116 6 5
I Ul Haq c M Hingorani b BFW de Leede 1 11 0 0
Y Usman   b BFW de Leede 0 3 0 0
S Tariq* c TN de Grooth b LV van Beek 18 42 2 0
S Bhatti not out   31 38 1 0
Mubashar Hussain dnb          
AT Nidamanuru dnb          
extras   (b0 lb2 w10 nb2) 14      
TOTAL   7 wickets for 211      
1-15(SJ Myburgh) 2-29(AA Zulfiqar) 3-31(RU Zulfiqar) 4-44(SM Zulfiqar) 5-51(I Ul Haq) 6-52(Y Usman) 7-93(S Tariq)
Bowler Overs Maid Runs Wkts wd nb
A Dutt 10 3 16 1
VJ Kingma 10 2 38 2 1
LV van Beek 10 1 38 2 3
BFW de Leede 9.2 0 54 2 6 1
ST Mulder 8 0 57 0 1
PRP Boissevain 1 0 6 0

Topklasse 2022: The case for a two-pool solution

Rod Lyall 11/09/21

Trying back in March-April to get an elite competition up and running, and faced with the reluctance of the Topklasse clubs to run the risk of relegation and the wish of the Hoofdklasse clubs, should pandemic conditions permit the lower divisions to play at all, to play for promotion, the KNCB Board decided to expand the Topklasse to 12 teams for 2022.

This understandable solution, however, would run for only one season, and it brought with it considerable problems: 2022 is likely to be one of the busiest in the history of Dutch cricket, with home Super League series against Pakistan, England and the West Indies, and this will put great pressure on the fixture list in a year in which at least two, and possibly three, sides would be facing relegation as the Topklasse reverted to ten teams.

[This pre-empts, of course, the ongoing discussion about the optimal competition structure, where there are powerful arguments for going still further, and ultimately reducing the top division back to eight sides.]

A full twelve-team double round robin, which last applied in the Netherlands in 1997, would require 22 playing dates, plus any finals which might be agreed – and that’s without considering any demand that rained-off matches should be replayed.

Even if the competition started on the unprecedentedly early last weekend of April and observed no traditional ‘free weekend’ in late July, it would still take until the first Sunday in September to complete the round-robin phase, although it could be compressed if clubs were prepared to agree to some double weekends.

And on the evidence of this season, that seems pretty unlikely.

If we accept that in view of the international schedule there are no more than 16-18 available playing dates, the Board therefore faced two broad alternatives: a single, home-or-away round robin followed by a further top-six/bottom-six home-or-away phase, or a double round robin in two groups followed by a Super Six and Bottom Six (both 16 matches).

Neither is without its difficulties, but the Board, on the advice of a working party which included club and player representatives as well as Competition Manager Bart Kroesen and High Performance Manager Roland Lefebvre, has reportedly opted for the latter, apparently on the grounds that it would be inequitable for some clubs to have to play only seven home games as against nine away.

My own view, in contrast with that of Bertus de Jong, is that is this on balance the better option, although I accept that it’s an issue on which legitimate disagreement is possible, perhaps even inevitable.

One objection to the group arrangement, forcefully made by Bertus, is that given the season-on-season fluctuation in teams’ relative strength the groups are very likely to be unequal , especially if there is an influx of overseas players next year.

[Again, whether the KNCB should or can take steps to limit that influx is a separate issue, but one which should not be ignored.]

This is a problem easily dealt with, though, by basing the rankings on, say, a three-year average of placings rather than simply on 2021, a season influenced not only by the relative sparseness of overseas players but also by the stramash between HCC and VOC. Such a three-year average would produce the following rankings:

Team 2021 2019-21
Punjab 1 1
HCC 4 2
Voorburg 2 3
VRA 3 4
HBS 5 5
Excelsior 7 6
ACC 8 7
Sparta 9 8
VOC 6 9
Dosti 10 10

Some shifts, then, but with the main exception of VOC, a difference of no more than a place or two in the rankings. Using the traditional seeding system, this would produce the following groups:
Group A: Punjab, VRA, HBS, Sparta, VOC, Kampong.
Group B: HCC, Voorburg, Excelsior, ACC, Dosti, Salland.

As for the problem of the transition from the first phase to the second, even a career of nearly forty years in university politics and more than a quarter-century in Dutch cricket have not equipped my mind for the sort of Byzantine intricacies Bertus de Jong envisages in his scenarios for ‘perverse’ results and competitievervalsing.

Both carrying all the first phase points through and only those from matches against the other sides which progress have both been tried elsewhere, and I am not aware of any documented cases of such willful manipulation of results in order to procure an unfair outcome.

The odds on such a situation arising are, I think, extremely long, and while I don’t in any way underestimate Dutch clubs’ capacity for finagling, I’m inclined to believe that watchful umpires and match referees are capable of dealing effectively with any such problems should they arise.

And let’s not forget that this is an arrangement which will apply for just one season in fairly extreme circumstances; it’s not a system which anyone is proposing should operate in perpetuity.

That leaves the question of relegation, where the Board has decided that the 11th- and 12th-placed sides will be relegated automatically, while the side finishing tenth will face a play-off against next year’s Hoofdklasse champions to decide who plays in the 2023 Topklasse.

This is essentially a repeat of what happened in 1997, and again in 2009 when the top division was reduced from ten teams to eight.

Once again, this seems to be the least-worst solution: no promotion at all is obviously not an option, and to have three sides going down directly would be unacceptably savage.

The scheme may not be ideal, and no doubt every aspect of it could be tweaked one way or another, but in view of all the constraints it seems to me to be a reasonable compromise as a one-off resolution of the problems as we emerge from the pandemic crisis.

Better Together – A two-pool 2022 Topklasse is a recipe for rancour

Bertus de Jong 08/09/21

With a successful 2021 season only just behind us, it may seem a bit early to start worrying about next season. But the KNCB and the clubs face a rather tricky predicament when it comes to the 2022 Topklasse, with an packed international Summer that will see ODI series against England, the West Indies and Pakistan clogging up the calendar, two new arrivals to the expanded top division in the promoted Kampong and Salland, and the prospect of a return to relegation with likely three teams dropping back down to the Hoofdklasse for 2024, devising an appropriate and equitable format for next year’s domestic fifty over competition poses a practically unprecedented challenge.

That challenge does not, as it stands, look likely to be met.

The current proposal that has been put to the clubs, TK Cricket understands, involves splitting the 12 Topklasse teams into two pools for the first phase of the season, with each pool to play a double round-robin before the field is split into a top six and a bottom six. The top three teams from each pool would then play home and away fixtures against the three top teams from the other side of the draw, with a similar format for the bottom six. Following the conclusion of this second phase the top two teams would contest a one-match final, while at the other end of the table the bottom two teams would be relgated automatically, while the tenth-placed team would play a relegation play-off against the Hoofklasse champions.

At first glance this seems a sensible enough system, condensing a twelve-team league into just 16 rounds (plus a single final and one relegation match). There are, however, significant problems with such a format both in terms of practicality and fairness.

The most obvious (if least serious) of these drawbacks is that clubs are faced with the rather regrettable prospect of playing some teams twice (or potentially three times) and some not at all. This lack of variety in fixtures is not the principal problem however. The most significant issue with this two-pool system is that the two groups will be almost by definition unbalanced. There is simply no sensible way of seeding the groups to ensure that they are equally competitive. Leaving aside the fact that the final ranking of teams this season is neither clear nor uncontroversial, there is not, nor has there been been for some time, any particular correlation between any given team’s strength from one season to the next.

Fig 1: Topklasse final league standings and year-on-year change per team

Over the past five seasons, clubs on average have finished more than three places above or below where they placed the previous season (fig. 1). This degree of deviation suggests there is barely more consistency in performance year-on-year than what one might expect from pure random chance. Moreover, this issue is likely to be exaccerbated by the return of a substantial number of overseas players as the effects of the covid pandemic wane.

Splitting the league into two groups also raises the thorny question of how to calculate points carried forward into the second phase. There is, simply put, no good solution to this question. The likelihood of unevely seeded groups means that the simplest option – carrying forward all points into the second phase – gives a considerable advantage to teams that find themselves in the weaker group, as well as substantially raising the chance of dead games at the back end of the season where a number of teams may end up safely in the top six but with no prospect of making the final. In the past this has led to such teams fielding enormously understrength sides, often in the name of giving youngsters a run-out, which gives their opponents at the back end of the season a considerable unfair advantage.

The current proposal’s preferred alternative, only carrying forward points from matches against teams who end up in the same half of the table, makes clubs’ fortunes hugely dependent on neutral results. Not only could the luck of landing in an easier group improve a club’s chances of making the top six, but who else does or doesn’t get through may appreciably affect their position once they get there. Worse still, such a system also gives rise to the possibility of perverse incentives, where in the final round of the first phase a team might be better off throwing a match in order to maximise the points they carry forward into the next phase (fig 2).* Though generally most clubs are unlikely to resort to this sort of Competitievervalsing even when it is clearly in their interests to do so, an equally possible eventuality is for a team to find itself in a situation where they need only limit their margin of victory in their final match to see their opponents progress on net run rate. It is hard to imagine any team deliberately chasing a target any faster than necessary if doing so would leave them in a worse position for the second phase of the competition.

Fig 2: hypothetical first phase results yielding a table-state where Team 2 is incentivised to throw their final game vs Team 3 (see note)

It is in fact difficult to see what conceivable advantage a two-pool double round robin system has over the simpler alternative; just playing a 12-team single round robin in the first phase before splitting the field into a top six and bottom six. A simple round-robin such as that played in 2020 would span 11 rounds, only one round longer than the first phase of the current proposal. A second phase where the top six and bottom six each play a single round robin of return fixtures would take five match days, giving a 16-round league before finals – the exact same number of match days as the current proposal. The notional equity advantage of playing home and away fixtures against each pool opponent in the current proposal seems laughably insignificant in the face of the obvious inequity of teams playing different opponents altogether in the first phase, especially given that under a simple 12-team round robin followed by return fixtures played among the top and bottom half of the table in the second phase would all but obviate this advantage. A single round robin first phase would also eliminate the potential for perverse incentives in the last round of league play and the prospect of teams finding themselves in a position where they could (and from a purely competitive standpoint should) seek to underperform or otherwise manipulate the result of a match in order to gain advantage later in the season.

Though the idea of a two-pool first phase is by a distance the worst (and most easily remedied) aspect of the current proposal, it is not the only drawback. At the bottom end of the table the automatic relegation of two teams is less than ideal, as it arguably means that surviving in the Topklasse next year is actually a tougher challenge from a competitive standppoint than gaining promotion from the Hoofdklasse. In effect one might argue that the two newly-promoted Topklasse clubs start next season from a worse position than their erstwhile Hoofdklasse rivals. If we are to return to a ten team Topklasse for 2023, however, it is difficult to envisage a more equitable solution given scheduling-constraints. Likewise it is regrettable but understandable given the limited space in the calendar that the finals play-off system that added so much tension to the back end of this past season will not feature next summer. If an extra day can be found there would surely be value in adding a 2nd vs 3rd Semi Final before the winner meets the 1st placed side Grand Final, granting the league phase winner a genuine advantage while keeping the table alive deeper into the season, though given that whatever format is agreed in the end will likely only be used for a single season such concerns are comparatively trivial.

Ultimately the finals format and relegation question are both less consequential and harder to fix than the format of the league proper. The current proposal to split the league in two is not only wrongheaded, it is entirely unnecessary. At best it will be inequitable from a competitive standpoint, at worst it may give rise to distorted incentives and needless controversy. It has little to reccomend it over an alternative that is both simpler and fairer, and which fits equally well into the constrained calendar.

*For example, say Team 2 is assured progression from its pool on 14 points after 9 rounds, and is scheduled to play it’s final first phase game against Team 3, currently in third on 12 points, who are one point ahead of Team 4 on 11. Imagine Team 2 has beaten Team 3 in their first match, but has already lost twice to Team 4. It is then clearly in Team 2’s interests to throw their match against Team 3, in order to ensure that Team 3 also progresses. They would thus ensure they carry one win from their four games against Teams 3 and 4 through to the next phase, whereas if they were to beat Team 3 they would risk Team 4 taking third place, leaving themselves one win down in phase 2.

Punjab CCR vs VCC at Zomercomplex. Grand Final Topklasse|05.09.2021

VCC vs VRA at Westvliet Topklasse semi final|04.09.2021

Punjab’s bowlers clinch the championship

Rod Lyall 06/09/21

Punjab Rotterdam claimed their first national championship in their 30-year history at the Zomercomplex on Sunday, and it was entirely appropriate that it should be their bowlers, who have worked so tirelessly all season, who had the last word.

Bowled out for 157 after being put in to bat by Voorburg captain Bas de Leede, Punjab’s attack produced another disciplined, determined performance to dismiss their opponents for 102 and set the seal on a campaign in which they had previously bowled sides out for under 150 on no fewer than nine occasions.

Even so, the wind appeared to be in Voorburg’s sails after their own attack, chock-full of internationals, had restricted the powerful Punjab batting line-up to such a meagre total.

The Rotterdammers have justly developed a reputation for brutal hitting on their bijou Zomercomplex ground: their batters had smacked a total of 67 sixes there in the season so far at better than one every two overs but on Sunday they managed only two and, more importantly, openers Steph Myburgh and Rehmat Zulfiqar, both fell trying to add to that total.

Myburgh had contributed a typically aggressive 20-ball 24, but it was the more conventional techniques of Asad Zulfiqar (30) and his brother Saqib (22) which enabled Punjab to reach 93 for two at the 25-over mark.

With the Zulfiqars starting to play their shots a total in excess of 200 seemed on the cards, but then Philippe Boissevain, who had had trouble finding a length, trapped Saqib in front, and when De Leede removed Asad the same way in the following over Punjab, without Teja Nidamanuru, needed some serious reconstruction work from the middle order.

But neither Sikander Zulfiqar, batting hero of Punjab’s semi-final victory over the same opponents the previous Sunday, nor Irfan ul Haq stayed long as Logan van Beek and De Leede pressed home Voorburg’s advantage, and the last six wickets fell for just 32 runs.

The wickets were deservedly shared: Kingma’s two for 14 from eight overs and Van Beek’s two for 26 from ten were just reward for some genuinely hostile bowling, while Aryan Dutt with one for 29 maintained the pressure well.

Punjab needed to make early inroads into Voorburg’s line-up, and Sohail Bhatti duly obliged by getting Tom de Grooth caught behind by Asad Zulfiqar in the second over of their reply.

It was once again skipper Suleiman Tariq, however, who set the tone, bowling his ten overs unchanged and claiming the crucial wickets of De Leede, brilliantly caught by Saqib Zulfiqar at slip, and Sybrand Engelbrecht, who had made 59 and 103 not out in his last two innings and who now fell to an equally fine catch by Mohsin Bajwa in the gully.

Bowling three consecutive maidens in the powerplay, Tariq denied the Voorburg innings any real momentum, and although Dutt and Van Beek put on 33 for the fifth wicket, Sikander Zulfiqar then took a hand with the ball, claiming four for 10 in three overs to run through the lower middle order and end any chance of a Voorburg recovery.

Dutt remained to the end, hitting Saqib for a defiant six, but he was eventually caught behind off the leg-spinner, and the innings finished 55 runs short.

Low-scoring matches are often the most absorbing, and this one, dominated by two contrasting but equally outstanding attacks, was no exception. It was, moreover, a complete vindication of the KNCB’s decision to bring back play-offs as a climax to the Topklasse season.

Engelbrecht century takes Voorburg into grand final

Rod Lyall 05/09/21

A near-chanceless century from Sybrand Engelbrecht was the difference between the sides at Westvliet on Saturday as Voorburg chased down VRA Amsterdam’s 210 for seven to win by five wickets with two overs to spare.

In a match of fluctuating fortunes altogether worthy of a preliminary final VRA, put in to bat, began at a gallop, reaching 111 for one after twenty overs, thanks to Luke Scully’s 27-ball 39 and a valuable, if somewhat less frenetic stand between Vikram Singh (31) and Ben Cooper (22).

When spinners Philippe Boissevain and Aryan Dutt took over, however, the character of the innings changed, and with three wickets falling for one run in the space of nine deliveries, two of them to Boissevain and the other to Dutt, the Amsterdammers were rocked back on their heels.

On a pitch where scoring was never easy, especially with pace taken off the ball, it took a diligent partnership between Eric Szwarczynski and Jack Balbirnie, largely comprising singles with an occasional two and punctuated by a regrettable flow of wide, to keep VRA in the game; at one stage 14 overs passed between two Szwarczynski boundaries as the spinners, backed up by Stef Mulder’s mostly accurate seamers and short bursts by Viv Kingma and Logan van Beek, steadily turned the screw.

The stand was worth 51 when Balbirnie became Boissevain’s third victim, but Szwarczynski held firm, and in company with keeper Mitch Lees he was able to achieve a slight improvement in the scoring rate, 31 coming from the last five overs before, having reached 41, he swept Kingma’s final delivery of the innings onto his leg stump.

Boissevain’s three for 25, supported by Dutt’s one for 33, had kept VRA’s total within bounds, though the target would have been a lot more manageable without a total of 40 extras, 30 of them from wides, which also meant that Voorburg had bowled no fewer than four additional overs.

The home side suffered two early setbacks, Quirijn Gunning trapping Mohit Hingorani leg-before and Bas de Leede run out by some smart work from Udit Nashier and Lees after a mid-pitch mix-up, and when Tom de Grooth, on 29, fell to Singh and Dutt went almost immediately to an outstanding one-handed, diving catch by Borren off Nashier, they were on 73 for four and in real trouble.

Van Beek now joined Engelbrecht, and they steadily rebuilt the innings, more than doubling the score over a 20-over stand in which Van Beek was the more enterprising, declaring his intentions by hitting Nashier for the first six of the match.

That apart, Nashier kept things tight, but the required rate never nudged much above six an over; unlike their opponents VRA kept the extras to a minimum, but they were never able to eliminate the boundaries, and gradually the deficit became smaller.

Van Beek hit another six off Turmaine, but when he tried to do it again later in the same over he succeeded only in holing out to Cooper at long on and as he departed for 38 60 were still needed with ten overs remaining.

Engelbrecht was still there, however, now on 70, and it was clear that it was his wicket which was crucial to the outcome.

His shot selection became more adventurous as the target approached, with Karl Nieuwoudt giving him excellent support, and with four overs left he brought up his own century and the side’s 200.

It was, in fact, Nieuwoudt who hit the winning boundary, his 30 not out coming from just 23 deliveries, while Engelbrecht’s unbeaten 103 came from 135 balls with ten fours.

VRA had stuck to the task well, but Engelbrecht, Van Beek and Nieuwoudt made batting on a tricky pitch look deceptively easy, and they will go into Sunday’s grand final against Punjab with renewed confidence.