Rod Lyall 07/05/18
The glorious unpredictability of cricket was fully in evidence on a sun-drenched opening weekend of the Topklasse season, as sides which had often been remoulded over the winter battled for early advantage.
The one constant was a first-day win for defending champions Excelsior ’20, who cruised to an eight-wicket victory over Punjab Rotterdam at Het Zomercomplex. The home side did well to reach 231, recovering from 147 for seven after Stef Myburgh had got them off to a quickfire start with a 30-ball 35 which included four fours and two sixes.
Thereafter Excelsior’s bowlers worked their way through Punjab’s batting, until Assad Saleemi and Mohammad Latif turned things round with an eighth-wicket stand of 80, 58 of them coming from Latif, who hit four sixes in an aggressive 54-ball innings.
But the champions were untroubled in chasing down this target, Tim Etman and Roel Verhagen getting them off to a strong start with an opening stand of 82, and Etman going on to make 62 before he was the second to depart with the score on 115.
James Hilditch now joined Lorenzo Ingram at the crease, and the two overseas players added 117 in an unbroken third-wicket partnership, Ingram just missing out on his century with an undefeated, 108-ball 95, including seven fours and five sixes, while Hilditch contributed a steady 39.
Early speculation about who Excelsior’s main rivals might be was thrown into confusion elsewhere, not least in the Amsterdamse Bos, where VRA were bundled out for 124 by Quick Haag in just 39.2 overs.
Only Ben Cooper (51) was able to make a significant contribution, with skipper Emile van den Burg and last man Viv Kingma the only others to reach double figures. Newly-arrived overseas player Jay Bista and left-arm spinner Thijs van Schelven picked up three wickets apiece, for 23 and 12 runs respectively.
Quick made heavy weather of their reply, as VRA’s international new-ball pairing of Quirijn Gunning (two for 30) and Viv Kingma (three for 28) claimed five wickets between them, Sean Davey leading the way for the Hanen with 39. When Davey departed the total was 86 for five, and VRA fought hard all the way. But Stefan Ekelmans and Mart Spruit were able to see their side home to a tense two-wicket win.
Sparta 1888, on their return to the top flight, may have been without two key players in Riaan Jeggels and Warren Bell, but they nevertheless proved too strong for HCC at Sportpark Bermweg, fighting back convincingly after the visitors, after electing to bat, had reached 111 for one at 30 overs.
The base for this platform was built in an opening stand of 75 between Bryce Street and Tonny Staal, and after the latter departed, bowled by Joost Martijn Snoep for 39, Street and Boris Gorlee continued to bat with concentration and discipline. Two moments of poor judgement undid the good work, however: first Street, on 45, ran himself our looking for an impossible single, and then Gorlee, who had made 35, tried to hit Usman Saleem over the top and was caught at mid-on.
That swung the game Sparta’s way, and HCC could only reach 176 for nine in their remaining overs. Seamers Mudassar Bukhari, Dost Muhammed and Usman Saleem all bowled well at the back end, ensuring that the target was a more modest one than had seemed likely earlier in the day.
HCC fought hard when Sparta replied, and with Ali Ahmed Qasim the pick of the bowlers they did their best to contain the home side’s batsmen. But it was wickets they needed, and an uncharacteristically quiet innings of 23 from Bukhari and a solid 45 from Tim de Kok ensured that Sparta stayed in touch with their target.
It was New Zealander Michael Pollard, however, who took the game away from the Hagenaars, unleashing some splendid cover drives in an undefeated knock of 55 and sharing in a valuable fourth-wicket partnership of 52 with Faisal Iqbal, and Sparta secured their six-wicket victory with almost four overs to spare.
At Craeyenhout, ACC were once again greatly indebted to the Zulfiqar family for their 18-run win against HBS. Skipper Saqib and triplet brother Sikander each made 51 and elder brother Rehmet contributed 37, Ali Raza chipping in with 31 not out as the Amsterdammers reached 233 for eight.
It might have been more but for three run-outs, while of the HBS bowlers Wesley Barresi was the most successful with two for 34.
233 is not a massive total on the artificial outfield at Craeyenhout, but ACC’s defence of it was led by young Aryan Kumar, who removed both the dangerous HBS openers, Barresi and skipper Tobias Visée by the time 32 runs were on the board.
Sharn Gomes again proved his value to his side by making 64 at almost a run a ball, but with Sikander Zulfiqar taking three for 20 and Kumar claiming another to finish with three for 47, it was ACC who ultimately prevailed. Rehmet Zulfiqar’s dismissal of Gomes with 38 still needed, only three wickets remaining at that point, was the decisive moment, and HBS finished 19 short of their target.
A remodelled VOC Rotterdam are another of the fancied sides in this season’s Topklasse, but they encountered Dosti United’s Taruwar Kohli in supreme form when they made the trip to Sportpark Drieburg on Sunday.
The Indian batsman made a chanceless unbeaten 115 in his side’s total of 246 for three, coming from 133 balls with ten fours and a six, and he was ably assisted by Rahil Ahmed, whose 70 contributed to a second-wicket stand of 142 after VOC skipper Pieter Seelaar had won the toss and put the home side in.
It was always going to be a formidable task, and although Corey Rutgers got his new side off to a decent start with 41, VOC were never really on top. Seelaar (36) and Ahsan Malik Jamil (27) kept them in the hunt with a dogged fifth-wicket stand of 70 against a disciplined Dosti, but the asking rate continued to grow, and when Seelaar holed out on the midwicket boundary trying to create some much-needed momentum it started an avalanche of wickets.
Five wickets fell in the space of ten deliveries without the addition of a run, and despite some late resistance from Bobby Hanif and Pierce Fletcher, the innings closed on 165, giving Dosti aa 81-run victory. Mohammad Hafeez finished with four for 29, while Kohli capped a memorable day with three for 11.
The campaign will resume on Thursday, with a full round of matches on the Ascension Day holiday.