Rod Lyall 04/05/18
A year ago, Rotterdam’s Zomercomplex became the Topklasse’s newest venue when Punjab made their debut in the top flight with a notable win over Quick Haag. This time last season’s newcomers again start at home, but against defending champions Excelsior ‘20, who will be setting out on their quest to become the first side since VRA in 2005-07 to win three national titles in a row, a feat which the Schiedammers themselves achieved a decade earlier.
This match will have added piquancy because Excelsior will feature seamer Haider Khan, who returns to his old club after a spell with Punjab, while the home side will include Dutch international opener Stef Myburgh, who had two seasons at Thurlede before moving to Schiedam neighbours Hermes-DVS, whence he has now landed at the Zomercomplex.
Punjab will be hoping that Belgian international allrounder Ali Raza and 20-year-old South African Bernard Vorster are able to fill the gaps left by Shoaib Minhaas and Khurram Shazad, and that the amateur members of what proved a workmanlike and resilient side last season are able to rise to the occasion against a stable, increasingly experienced Excelsior outfit.
With Lorenzo Ingram and James Hilditch once again at the heart of Tom Heggelman’s side, and Gijs Kroesen back from a successful grade season in Perth, Excelsior will start as clear favourites, but the opening of a Topklasse campaign always throws up a surprise or two, and the Schiedammers would be happy and relieved to head home with their first points tomorrow evening.
This year’s new venue is Het Schollebos in Capelle aan den IJssel (a.k.a. Sportpark Bermweg), where promoted Sparta 1888 will host HCC at the ground they have developed in the years since their last, brief sojourn in the top flight.
Successful as they were in the Hoofdklasse, Sparta’s overseas players Riaan Jeggels, Warren Bell and Craig Ambrose will need to adjust quickly to the tougher demands of the Topklasse, and a HCC lineup which includes new player-coach Bryce Street and the returning Ryan Ninan alongside a healthy mix of experienced and developing home-produced players will constitute a stiff test.
Mudassar Bukhari will doubtless relish his return to the highest division, and he can be expected to use all his experience against the Hagenaars. HCC’s ability to deal with him, and that of the Sparta batting to cope with a varied HCC attack, spearheaded by Mark Jonkman and Reinier Bijloos, may well be the keys to what promises to be an intriguing encounter.
On paper at least, VRA Amsterdam look to be one of the main challengers to Excelsior’s hegemony, and they will have an early test of their mettle when they take on traditional rivals Quick Haag in the Amsterdamse Bos. It will be interesting to see how quickly and effectively international Viv Kingma takes over the new-ball role from the departed Fred Klaassen, and how well Daan ter Braak fits into an already-strong batting lineup.
For Quick, overseas players Jay Bista and Sean Davey will need to settle in as rapidly as possible to get the season away to a solid start, especially with Wesley Barresi and Henk-Jan Mol no longer in the side. But man for man, new VRA skipper Emile van den Burg looks to have a more accomplished side, with deep batting – the top six have 20 centuries in the top division to their credit – and a well-balanced attack, and a home win looks to be on the cards.
HBS Den Haag had a significant impact last year on their return to the Topklasse, and they will be aiming to build on that platform when they entertain ACC at Craeyenhout.
With Australian player-coach Jaron Morgan – one of three batsmen to pass 1000 runs last season – joined by left-arm spinner Sharn Gomes, and the top order reinforced by the arrival of Wesley Barresi, the Kraaien are another side capable of putting in a convincing title challenge, and will hope to exploit the advantage of their artificial outfield against an ACC side which often struggled last year.
In the constant battle to find new ways of saying that the Amsterdammers are worrying dependent on the brothers Zulfiqar, perhaps it is sufficient to remark that much may hinge on the contribution of their new overseas players Richardt Frenz and Devon Botha. But in the longer term it is the emergence of one or more of the crop of ACC youngsters which will determine whether the Loopveld club is able to emulate Excelsior’s achievement in building a young side into a winning combination.
Another of last year’s struggling sides, Dosti United will start at Sportpark Drieburg against another of the potential title challengers, VOC Rotterdam, although because of field availability issues this match will be played on Sunday.
With five current or recent Dutch internationals in their squad and national skipper Pieter Seelaar at the helm, VOC have plenty of firepower with both bat and ball, and they will be very disappointed if they do not give a much better account of themselves than in 2017. Dosti, too, have a lot to prove, but they will need a much greater team effort if they are to avoid putting excessive weight on the shoulders of their overseas players, Taruwar Kohli and Anees Davids.
Overall, though, VOC look like a much stronger outfit, and they will be favourites to take the points back to Rotterdam, avenging in the process their last opening visit to Drieburg, when they were dismissed for 17 in the first round of the 2016 season.
Rod Lyall’s first-round tips: Excelsior, HCC, VRA, HBS, VOC.