Group B Preview

Bertus de Jong 15/04/22

While the rather drastic Topklasse restructure that sees the competition expanded to 12 teams and then split into two groups for the first phase of the competition has rather divided opinion, it’s probably too early to say whether there are any clear winners or losers from the introduction of the one-off 2022 format. The easing of global travel restrictions and consequent influx of overseas players for the coming summer will naturally reshuffle the relative strengths of the teams, especially as clubs have not all availed themselves of the reopened borders to the same extent, yet whether by luck or judgement the two pools seem to have come out comparatively well-balanced.

2021 runners-up Voorburg CC have made by a distance the most eye-catching signings for the coming season, with South Africa international Janneman Malan added to the VCC roster for the first phase of the competition, and Malan’s elder brother Andre replacing him for the back end of the summer. North West Dragons seam all-rounder Delano Potgieter will also feature for the first half of the season, strengthening a pace attack that also boasts the returning Logan van Beek and fellow Netherlands internationals Vivian Kingma and Bas de Leede, as well as Ali Qasim Ahmed and the veteran Stef Mulder.

VCC will hope de Leede’s pre-season form with the bat continues, the skipper likely to shoulder more responsibility in the middle order in the absence of the injured Sybrand Engelbrecht and Aryan Dutt, who has moved to VRA. In addition to the South African trio, brothers Musa and Shariz Ahmed will also be turning out for VCC this season, occasional Netherlands opening bat Musa coming from HCC and national under 19s spinner Shariz arriving from Groen & Wit. The latter will join legspinner Philippe Boissevain in the slow-bowling section, and with the unheralded but dependable Mohit Hingorani behind the sticks there’s few obvious weaknesses in the Voorburg side.

VCC’s chief concern will likely be the demands placed on their Dutch internationals by Oranje’s hectic summer schedule, but if they can keep something close to a full strength team on the park through the season they look like strong contenders to take the title.

Conversely 2021 bronze-medallists VRA have seen a number of departures and retirements over the winter, with Dutch international Ben Cooper taking early retirement and the stalwart Eric Szwarczynski also hanging up his boots. Pace spearhead Quirijn Gunning will also be unavailable, having cycled off in the general direction of Australia, while promising young spinner Luke Hartsink is also understood to have stepped back from the game. With plans to bring the iconic Nepali pace duo Sompal Kami and Karan KC to the Bos having fallen through at the last minute, the Amsterdammers are left looking rather bereft of star power and generally threadbare.

They will look to the ever-improving Vikram Singh to both deliver on his promise at the top of the order and shoulder more responsibility with the ball, likely opening the bowler with southpaw Ashir Abid. The arrival of Singh’s fellow Dutch-international Aryan Dutt from VCC will go some way to shoring up both the batting and bowling, With Jack Balbirnie and veteran gloveman Mitch Lees both enjoying solid but unspectacular seasons last year, much will depend on evergreen skipper Peter Borren’s form with the bat, the former national captain also likely to play a holding role with the ball through the middle overs.

Offspinner Leon Turmaine will lend some experience in the slow-bowling department, but VRA will be relying to a great extent youth be it local youngsters such as Udit Nashier, Debrup Dasgupta and Shirase Rasool or two new arrivals – untested South African rookies Johan Smal and Eduard Visser the club’s only overseas acquisitions for the season. All told the venerable Amsterdam club looks to be heading toward something of a transitional phase, and without any high-profile pros will likely be happy enough merely to survive in the top flight another year.

Similarly VOC Rotterdam will be doing without any big-name overseas for the coming season, with sometime VCC-er Matt Smith the Rotterdammer’s only major foreign signing. Sparta quick Max Hoornweg has also come across from Capelle, but with former Netherlands seamer Ahsan Malik going the other way and all-rounder Dirk van Baren bowing out, the pace attack remains reliant on Pierce Fletcher and the veteran Jelte Schoonheim. While Netherlands skipper Pieter Seelaar remains a force with both bat and ball, his workload will have to be carefully managed given a demanding schedule and a dodgy back, likely asking more of young fingerspinners Arnav Jain and Siebe van Wingerden.

Van Baren’s retirement, coupled with Corey Rutgers again resolving to demote himself from the first team, also leaves the batting looking rather top-heavy. Though in Dutch internationals Max O’Dowd and Scott Edwards VOC have an enviable opening pair, the middle order looks comparatively fragile and Tim de Kok may be asked to rein in his naturally aggressive tendencies at three. While the quality of VOC’s Dutch internationals means a top three finish in the first phase is well within reach, should they fail to make the cut they may struggle at the business end of the season, given their limited depth and the Netherlands’ intense international schedule.

Excelsior ‘20 Schiedam have had a rather lean couple of years since taking the title in 2019, twice finishing in the lower half of the table. They’ll be looking to improve on that showing at least, though they will have to do without their most valuable player from last season, as the prolific Tristan Stubbs won’t be returning to Thurlede this season. In his place comes a familiar face in the form of Northern Districts’ seam all-rounder Brett Hampton who returns to the club after a decade’s absence. He joins Schiedam stalwart Lorenzo Ingram to make up a formidable overseas duo that will likely be key to the 2019 champion’s fortunes both with bat and ball.

For the rest the line-up looks both familiar and familial, with the Excelsior youth production line ensuring a steady supply of van Troosts, Etmans and Kroesens. To challenge for a top three spot Excelsior will need their home-grown players to provide rather more in the way of runs than in seasons past – keeper-opener Roel Verhagen the only local bat to have managed more than 250 runs across the last two seasons. Pre-season showings against ACC and Punjab have promised some improvement in that regard, but Excelsior’s principle strength remains their disciplined bowling attack, while none of Niels Etman, Rens van Troost, Tom Heggelman or Klaas Roelfsema bowl express pace, the Shciedam seam section is notoriously difficult to get away, while in the spin section Ingram remains a stand-out and Umar Baker has thrived at Thurlede since making the move from VOC.

With a solid pre-season behind them and enjoying the good fortune of playing their first match against VCC before the cavalry arrives for Voorburg, Excelsior look set to get their season started on the right foot, but in a significantly stronger field they will need to recapture their winning ways in quick time if they are not to end up in the wrong half of the table again.

2021 Hoodfklasse champions Salland CC will be making what is technically their debut in the top-flight this season, the Deventer-based outfit now independent from the venerable multi-sport club Koninklijke UD that last contested the top division in 2000. Yet like their predecessors, the team is dominated by scions of the Lubbers family, with all-rounder Victor captaining the side and his brother Reinder leading the seam attack, while Curtis and Desmond Lubbers also occasionally feature in the first team, and indeed patriarch Steven Lubbers made a brief first-team return at the recent ECN T10 tournament at Capelle.

In recent years Salland have also established a strong German connection, with numerous members of the German national team featuring in their successful Hoofdklasse campaign. There has been something of a changing of the guard in that respect, with Hamid Wardak and Vijay Chikkannaiah heading back to Germany for the 2022 season, but left-arm spinner Elam Barathi and seam all-rounder Sahir Naqash will be joined by the national captain Venkat Ghanisan and finger-spinner Ghulam Ahmadi for the upcoming Topklasse season.

While the German contingent are at least in part responsible for the club’s promotion to the top flight, their potential international commitments may well leave Salland short of players when the German national team are in action. While with the likes of Lubber, Gul Nasir and Gijs van Molen they don’t lack for depth in the seam bowling department, the batting is a different question, especially as overseas signing Justin Gilliland may not be available for the whole season. Should Salland manage to pick up some early wins while at full strength a top three finish in the first phase would secure their place in the top-flight for another year, with potentially three teams facing relegation this season an immediate return to the Hoofdklasse is far from out of the question either.

Since their 2015 title run, Amsterdammers Dosti-United have been in something of a slump, recording just a single win over the last two seasons and at times struggling to get 11 men on the field. Yet while the Drieburgers are keeping their cards close to their chest ahead of the 2022 season, rumour has it that after two years of belt-tightening they are once again prepared to dip into the war chest. The rumoured return of sometime South Africa international Stiaan van Zyl has been the principle subject of gossip, but one that appears to have proved unfounded. Kings XI all-rounder Shivam Sharma is another name that has been floating around, along with Punjab’s Amitoze Singh.

The addition of a handful of overseas could potentially transform Dosti from top-flight whipping boys to title-contenders at a stroke, with the local core of the side having had to step up in the interim and despite the run of results looking arguably the stronger for it. Skipper Vinoo Tewarie had an intermittently impressive season despite missing out on his side’s sole victory, and likewise Rahil Ahmed showed occasional flashes of the form that once earned him a brief career in Orange. Spin all-rounder Mahesh Hans has similarly grown into his senior role in the side, while pace spearhead Wahid Masood also bowled consistently better than his figures might suggest. With the Hoseinbaks brothers rounding out the side Dosti have never looked more than two or three players short of a decent team, and with a few judicious acquisitions could well emerge from two woeful seasons as dark-horse contenders.

Round 2 Preview

Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 07/05/21

After a batch of somewhat one-sided matches to open the 2021 season last Saturday, round two will largely pit last week’s losers against the winners, assuming the weather stays away.

BdJ: Last season’s table-toppers HCC hit the ground running at Het Loopveld last week when they steamrolled ACC, and they’ll be up against another Amsterdam team this week when VRA arrive at De Diepput. VRA were a tad understrength when they lost to VOC in their opener, missing Jack Balbirnie and Eric Szwarczynski due to illness or threat thereof, but the return of the pair will do little to address the relative paucity of quality pace bowling options available to skipper Peter Borren, who shouldered much of that responsibility himself against VOC. De Diepput will likely prove a less challenging environment for batsmen than Hazelaarweg did last week, but HCC no less challenging opponents. Skipper Tonny Staal led from the front against ACC but most all of the HCC top-order have runs under their belt, and while Clayton Floyd’s maiden five-fer was the standout performance of the round with the ball, all five of HCC’s other bowlers also did themselves credit. In short HCC again look the team to beat this season, and will start clear favourites at home against a VRA side that still looks a tad rusty.

RL: Borren’s tactic of alternating young and inexperienced batters with the older hands only works if the latter come off, which was signally not the case last week. The presence of Szwarczynski and Balbirnie will ease that problem somewhat, and the resistance offered in a losing cause by Mitch Lees and Leon Turmaine at least shows that VRA bat all the way down. But HCC look a pretty complete outfit, and on their own ground seem likely to have too many guns for their visitors. The Lions’ top five of Staal, Musa Ahmad, Boris Gorlee, Damian Crowley and Floyd looks settled and menacing, and while VRA’s attack is capable of presenting a greater challenge than ACC’s did last week, it’s hard to see anything other than a home win.

BdJ: The much-fancied Voorburg will be looking to get their campaign back on track when they welcome VOC Rotterdam to Westvliet, after suffering something of an upset against and understrength Excelsior last week. It was arguably lack of ambition with the bat that cost VCC in that game, though it’s tough to say what a winning total might have been in the face of Tristan Stubbs’ exploits in the chase. VCC’s apparent difficulty playing Umar Baker will be of particular concern considering VOC’s spin stable, Arnav Jain’s success last week meaning skipper Pieter Seelaar only had to bowl four overs himself. Westvliet will likely offer less assistance to slow bowlers than Hazelaarweg however, especially if VCC are minded to tailor conditions to suit their enviable seam attack.

RL: VOC’s curate’s egg effort against VRA last Saturday tended to confirm their dependence on their international stars, although Jain’s performance with both bat and ball was an encouraging sign for Pieter Seelaar and his men. Voorburg will provide a stiffer test, and the contest between Viv Kingma, Logan van Beek and Bas de Leede for the home side and Max O’Dowd, Scott Edwards and Seelaar promises to be something to savour. The Villagers’ own batting is less obviously stellar, although with De Leede, Sybrand Engelbrecht and Van Beek it is strong enough to test a VOC bowling unit which only fired intermittently last week. A harder one to pick, this, but Voorburg should come out on top if they play anywhere near their best.

BdJ: Meanwhile Sparta 1888 will take on Excelsior ‘20 in their first home game of the season, hoping to bounce back from a nine-wicket drubbing at the hands of HBS on Saturday. It was above all the batting that let them down at Craeyenhout, and though the Excelsior attack lacks anyone with the accuracy of Ryan Klein, Sparta lost plenty of wickets to less celebrated HBS bowlers. Both Tom Heggelman and Niels Etman look in decent rhythm for Excelsior, as does off-spinner Umar Baker. The arrival of overseas bat Garnett Tarr may do something to strengthen the Sparta batting, though it’s not clear that he’ll be available come Saturday. Of Sparta’s bowlers only Mudassar Bukhari found any reward in the brief HBS chase, and this round will also have to contend with the in-form Tristan Stubbs who stepped admirably into the shoes of the absent Lorenzo Ingram to see Excelsior comfortably home in the face of VCC’s much vaunted attack. Sparta will have to find some way to remove or contain him if they’re to take points off the 2019 Champions.

RL: Sparta and Excelsior tied last time they met at the Bermweg, and the year before that, in 2018, the Schiedammers were shot out for 41 in one of the great shocks of that or any other season. Neither seems on the cards on Saturday, although Excelsior will be greatly handicapped by the loss of Heggelman, whose hamstring injury last week is likely to keep him out for some time and whose leadership will be missed as sorely as his bowling or, for that matter, his batting. The return of Ingram is therefore even more vital than ever, while Sparta will be hoping that Tarr is there to bolster their rather hit-or-miss batting line-up. But Ali Raza and Sherry Butt will plunder opposing attacks on occasion this season, and Bukhari’s reaction to his rather soft dismissal last week as well as his effort with the ball shows that he’s lost none of his appetite for the battle.

BdJ: With their opener against Dosti postponed due to positive Covid tests in the Dosti camp, Punjab Rotterdam will open their season at home against HBS Craeyenhout. HBS looked in flying form against Sparta last week, but last season’s runner-up will likely provide a sterner test for the Crows. Veteran opener Stephan Myburgh was key to their success last season, topping the run tables and forcing his way back into national consideration. His duel with newcomer Ryan Klein, another who has caught the eye of national coach Ryan Campbell, is arguably the individual match-up to watch this round. The depth of Punjab’s Zulfiqar-heavy batting line-up probably makes them favourites on home turf against a dangerous but somewhat top-heavy HBS (even one bolstered by the arrival of Klein’s Western Province team-mate and fellow Rondebosch alumnus Tayo Walburgh) yet with a points on the board and momentum on their side the Crows may just catch Punjab napping.

RL: Match-up of the day overall for this observer, Punjab and HBS can be expected to slug it out on the Rotterdammers’ smallish ground, and quite a bit of time may be spent retrieving the ball from the undergrowth or the even tinier second field, where there will at least be no lower-division players risking their lives. Klein’s arrival undoubtedly adds cutting edge to the HBS attack, more than compensating for the retirement of Wessel Coster, but Myburgh and the Zulfiqars can be expected to take him on as well as the rest of the Crows’ bowling. How strong the visitors’ batting would be under pressure wasn’t tested last week, but Punjab’s bowling is usually protected by the side’s efforts with the bat, and whoever bats first this game may be decided in the home team’s innings.

BdJ: Likewise Dosti Amsterdam will have to be quick out of the blocks when they cross the Amstel to take on ACC in their 2021 opener. ACC were never really in the game against HCC last week, though their fightback with the ball in the latter stages of the first innings showed some creditable tenacity. Certainly a raw Dosti side still coming out of winter hibernation looks an easier prospect than last year’s winners, though with Rahil Ahmed and possibly Anees Davids returning Dosti may not be the pushovers they were last summer.

RL: This has the look of an early contest in the battle to avoid the wooden spoon, although ACC could legitimately claim that their efforts last year belie that suspicion, and that taking on HCC first up is scarcely a fair test of their potential. In the club’s centenary season they will be keen to see their youngsters make further progress, and the fact that Dosti had to reschedule last week’s game certainly does the visitors no favours. But overall Dosti have more potential match-winners than their opponents, and if one or two of them come off it could be another difficult day for the Loopveld side.

BdJ: Finally on Sunday Dosti and Punjab are slated to meet in their delayed Round 1 match, and the odds are little different than they were last week.

RL: What the man said, although the second match of a double weekend can often turn up a couple of surprises.

Bertus de Jong’s tips: VRA, Voorburg, Excelsior, Punjab, ACC, Punjab
Rod Lyall’s tips: HCC, Voorburg, Excelsior, Punjab, Dosti, Punjab

Round 1 Preview

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 28/04/21

There is always a strong element of the unknown in the first week of a Topklasse season, and this year, playing under special conditions with a reduced complement of overseas players, there are more imponderables than usual. Unlike last year the championship will be at stake, but there will be no relegation looming for the weaker sides; instead, should the Hoofdklasse get started later in the summer, attention will focus on which two sides will be coming up to take part in next season’s top flight.

RL: With four matches taking place on Saturday, a good deal of interest will centre on the clash between Excelsior ‘20 and Voorburg at Thurlede. The home side will be welcoming back Tim Etman and looking to Tristan Stubbs to make an early impression in the top order, while Voorburg have strengthened their squad with the addition of South Africans Sybrand Engelbrecht and Karl Nieuwoudt and New Zealander (and former Dutch international) Logan van Beek. With Bas de Leede, Viv Kingma, Philippe Boissevain and Aryan Dutt all returning from national team duty Voorburg again look like a strong outfit on paper, but with Stubbs and Lorenzo Ingram in the opposing line-up they will need to be at their best against Tom Heggelman’s youthful but already experienced side.

BdJ: Among the unknowns for the first match of the season is often precisely when overseas arrivals will be available. Such is the case at VCC, where Sybrand Engelbrecht has already turned out for his new club but van Beek and Niewoudt have not been in evidence for the pre-season. It could be both will miss Saturdays match, but nonetheless VCC look in decent shape. Neither club has looked entirely convincing in warm-up games, though absent Kingma, de Leede, Dutt and Boissevain due to national duty it’s hardly surprising that the VCC attack has lacked for penetration. Exclesior have also missed their reinforcements in practice matches, and while Ingram’s return will doubtless help with the batting as will Stubbs and Etman, it may take them a while to (re)acclimatise to conditions at Thurlede. On the bowling side though the loss of Sohail Bhatti may prove to have left a bigger hole than some might have thought.

RL: Having topped the table in last year’s half-competition, HCC will travel to Amstelveen to take on ACC at Het Loopveld. Both clubs have opted not to fly in overseas players this season, but with Clayton Floyd and Damian Crowley in the visitors’ squad and Cameron Burnett and Charles McInerney turning out for the Amsterdammers there will still be an exotic element of sorts. ACC’s emphasis on youth stood them in good stead last year, while HCC skipper Tonny Staal, another returnee from far Kathmandu, will have been encouraged by Musa Ahmad’s century against a scratch Voorburg side last Saturday. Equally, Sahil Kothari’s double of 77 and three wickets against VRA last weekend suggests that he’s ready to play a full part for ACC.

BdJ: Kothari’s efforts last season are a significant part of the reason that ACC performed better than many expected in 2020, and he does indeed look in fine form again ahead of this season. He’ll need more support from the rest of ACC’s still rather green young line-up if they’re to upset the defending pseudo-champions on Saturday though. HCC have been in fine form during the pre-season, claiming the excellently-named “ChicKing Cup” with wins over VCC and HBS. Most all of the HCC top-order have runs under their belt, while ACC struggled to contain an under-strength VRA line-up in pre-season. One bright note was young spinner Zinesh Master bagging a couple of top-order wickets in that match, but ACC’s young attack will all need to be at the top of their game if they are to take two points off last season’s winners.

RL: The traditional rivalry between VOC Rotterdam and VRA Amsterdam resumes early this time, with the latter taking on the Rotterdammers at the Hazelaarweg. VRA skipper Peter Borren is another who got some runs under his belt last weekend, making 93 against ACC, and the Amsterdam side’s youthful aspect will be given greater solidity by the addition of Lenert van Wyk from Sparta and Irishman Jack Balbirnie. The home side, too, will benefit from the return of Max O’Dowd and Scott Edwards, not to mention seamer Pierce Fletcher, while a warm-up century from Corey Rutgers indicates that he is ready for the fray. This promises to be an epic battle between two sides who could both be strong contenders for the title come August.

BdJ: VRA will have to do without van Wyk for this and likely all their games, but the batting is unlikely to be their chief concern this season. Balbirnie appears to have hit the ground running if warm-up scorecards are anything to go by, Cooper looked in decent nick in Nepal, and skipper Peter Borren’s new glasses seem to be working admirably. The bowling is perhaps more of a concern, though the same is true of their opponents. VOC conceded 280 in 40 overs against Punjab in their recent practice game despite Stephan Myburgh making just one, and found only five wickets between them. Seelaar’s return will help some, assuming he can shake the back trouble that kept him from bowling as much as he’d have liked in Nepal. With Seelaar, O’Dowd and Edwards back the batting does look appreciably stronger, likely allowing Rutgers to drop back down to his preferred lower-order finisher/live-stream lead commentator position. With similar strengths and weakness it’s tough to call either side a clear favourite, though barring a particularly bowling-friendly pitch a traditional VOC-VRA low-scoring dogfight looks unlikely this time round.

RL: With the arrival of South Africans Ryan Klein and Tino Walbrugh HBS Craeyenhout are another side who will fancy their chances, and they start at home against Sparta 1888, who seem likely to miss Lenert van Wyk following his move to VRA. The Capelle outfit have picked up hard-hitting Belgian captain Shaheryar Butt, however, and both sides are likely to remember last season’s encounter at Craeyenhout, in which Mudassar Bukhari’s unbeaten 120 set up a comfortable Sparta victory. Sparta were frequently more than the sum of their parts last year, but they will need to be at their best if they are to take the points back south with them this time.

BdJ: The return of Northern Cape bat Garnett Tarr will go some way to compensate for the departure of van Wyk, but it’s fair to say that Sparta look a weaker side on paper than they were last season, while HBS’s new acquisitions may yet make them title contenders. Walbrugh has yet to appear for the Crows, but Ryan Klein has looked in good form with bat and ball in the warm-ups. Though skipper Toby Visée had a wretched tour to Nepal (in which he was hardly alone) he remains a menace in domestic cricket, and with a strengthened middle order will likely allow himself more license than he could afford last season.

RL: As has been the case over the past few seasons Dosti Amsterdam have ground availability issues as long as football reigns supreme, and that’s again the reason that they will kick off their campaign against Punjab Rotterdam at Sportpark Drieburg on Sunday. Punjab evolved into a powerful unit last year, with the four Zulfiqar brothers and Steph Myburgh enough at the top of the batting to intimidate any attack. Saqib Zulfiqar just missed a hundred against VOC last weekend, and Dosti will need to take early wickets if they are to have any chance against the Rotterdammers. Their batting looks stronger with the return of Rahil Ahmed and Anees Davids, but they will need strong team performances if they are to avoid this year’s wooden spoon.

BdJ: Things can hardly go any worse for Dosti than they did last season, though taking on Punjab in their first game odds are they will at least start similarly. Punjab missed out on last season’s non-title by the barest of margins, trailing HCC by just a single point in the end and notably finishing with a better net run rate. Dosti will take some comfort from the fact that Myburgh doesn’t appear to have carried over his invincible form from last summer, but Punjab have shown themselves capable of posting big totals without him. The Rotterdammers’ bowling is perhaps something of a potential weakness, though Dosti don’t necessarily have the batting depth to take advantage. It will take a lot of things going right for Vinoo Tewarie’s team to take the points come Sunday, though it is fair at least to say they are due a win.

Rod Lyall’s tips: Excelsior, HCC, VOC, HBS, Punjab.
Bertus de Jong’s tips: Voorburg, HCC, VRA, HBS, Punjab

Season Preview 2021 – Part 1

Rod Lyall 25/04/2021

ACC are still recovering from the loss of their quartet of Zulfiqars and young batter Shirase Rasool, and in the light of that they did surprisingly well last season. 2021 is the club’s centenary year, and that gives them all the more reason to push themselves to the limit. With no relegation at stake ACC has elected to again rely on its remarkably youthful and largely home-produced squad, with five teenagers Aryan Kumar and Ammar Zaidi (both 19), Shreyas Potdar and Jamieson Mulready (18) and Mees van Vliet (17) all making good progress. Spinner Devanshu Arya often opens the bowling, and the inexperience of the side is also balanced by openers Cameron Burnett and Charles McInerney and middle-order batter Chris Knoll, while Anis Raza remains a key figure with both bat and ball. With other clubs bringing in overseas reinforcements, though, ACC may find this another testing season.

Strengthened by the advent of South Africans Ryan Klein and Tayo Walbrugh (the former in possession of a Dutch passport), HBS Craeyenhout will be looking to improve considerably on last season’s seventh place. The mercurial batting of Tobias Visée is always a menacing factor at the top of the order, and if the rest of the line-up – minus the huge contributions of now-retired Wesley Barresi – hasn’t always realised its potential, players like Navjit Singh, Wessel Coster and Adil Ahmad may find the going easier in the presence of Klein and Walbrugh. Julian de Mey, now in the national side as a spinner, made decent progress with the bat last season, while with Ferdi Vink as valuable as ever in a seam attack which also features Singh, Coster and potentially Farshad Khan, the Crows have as threatening a pace unit as any. They gave the impression last year of having two-thirds of a really good side; with the addition of the two South Africans they may turn out to be a good deal better than that this time.

After their unaccustomed finish in the lower reaches last year Excelsior ’20 Schiedam seem well placed to go chasing after another championship. Outstanding South African prospect (and another Dutch passport holder) Tristan Stubbs joins veteran Lorenzo Ingram in what looks like a pretty strong batting line-up, especially with the return of opener Tim Etman from Australia. With three Van Troosts (seamer Rens and his teenage brothers Stan and Jelte), three Kroesens (middle-order batter Joost, seamer Gijs and opening bat Luuk) and a brace of Etmans (seamer Niels was a regular part of the attack in brother Tim’s absence), Tom Heggelman’s side could well be something of a family affair. Seamer Sohail Bhatti has moved to Punjab, but the Schiedammers have picked up Klaas Roelfsema from Rood en Wit, and he will be vying for a place in the pace attack. Add in keeper-opener Roel Verhagen and middle-order bat Sanjit Shankar, and Excelsior have a squad capable of giving any opponent nightmares.

VOC Rotterdam really felt the absence of internationals Max O’Dowd and Scott Edwards last season, and with Pieter Seelaar also out through injury they battled to produce convincing performances with both bat and ball. The return of Tim de Kok from Sparta and the arrival of Arnav Jain made some difference, and with a more solid base the club will be looking to the further development of youngsters like Tizo Moorman and Siebe van Wingerden. The attack improved greatly when Bobby Hanif and former international Ashan Malik returned mid-season, while experienced hands like Dirk van Baren and Jelte Schoonheim (the side’s leading wicket-taker last year) may perform more consistently with less weight upon their shoulders. O’Dowd, Edwards and Seelaar all have the capacity to turn the Rotterdammers from a decent side into title challengers, but they will need plenty of support from the rest of the squad.

With their complement of overseas players reduced to just one Dosti Amsterdam had a miserable, winless campaign in 2020, relieved only by the fact that nothing was at stake. The return of Anees Davids, at least for part of the season, will bolster Dosti’s hopes somewhat this time round, while his countryman Touseef Ahmed whose 6-29 against HCC was the best individual showing with the ball last season, will also be back. Nonetheless it seems likely that there will in any case be plenty of opportunities for skipper Vinoo Tewarie, keeper-batsman Rahil Ahmed and off-spinner Mahesh Hans to demonstrate their skills. Seamer Wahid Masood has contributed some valuable spells over recent seasons and was Dosti’s leading wicket-taker last year, while Sukumar Raji chipped in with the bat when everyone else failed. Occasional individual performances won them no points last season though, and without a more consistent team effort the Amsterdammers may again find wins elusive.

Read part two here

Season Preview – part 1

Bertus de Jong and Rod Lyall 03-07-2020

Nothing is normal in the world we now find ourselves inhabiting, and even by normal standards this year’s abbreviated – and in a certain sense unofficial – Topklasse is difficult to predict.

The most obvious source of uncertainty, of course, is the absence of overseas players, with or without a Dutch passport, from the ranks of most teams. That means that those who are around, like Excelsior ‘20’s Lorenzo Ingram, may well be even more influential than usual.

But other than that, the 2020 competition will be an unusually clear indication of clubs’ strength in depth, and of emerging players’ true ability to make their mark.

logo punjabFew clubs will be more greatly affected by the situation than promoted side Punjab Rotterdam, whose Hoofdklasse win last year owed a great deal to a quintet of South Africans, led by former HCC coach Jonathan Vandiar.

The Rotterdammers will, however, be compensated for that loss by the acquisition of Saqib, Sikander and Rehmat Zulfiqar, who have joined family voortrekker Asad at the Zomercomplex.

With international opener Stef Myburgh also in the line-up Punjab will have a powerful, hard-hitting top five, while Sikander’s lively fast-medium bowling will complement long-serving captain Sulaiman Tariq in the attack.

Then there’s evergreen Muhammad Hafeez, still scoring runs and bamboozling batsmen, the utility players’ utility player Ashan Bamunusinghe, who can slot into the side in almost any capacity, a well as brothers Mohsin and Faizan Bajwa, and Punjab should be capable of giving any team in the competition a run for their money.

SpartaOver at the Bermweg in Capelle a/d Ijssel, Sparta 1888’s principal gain is the transfer of top-order batsman Lenert van Wyk from Excelsior ’20.

A former Boland, Cape Cobras and Free State player with 2000 first-class runs to his credit, Van Wyk appeared in four matches for the Schiedam club last season after taking a job in the Netherlands.

His arrival will compensate Sparta to some degree for the absence of overseas players, as well as the return of Tim de Kok to VOC.

New skipper Mudassar Bukhari will have a strong attack at his disposal, with Martijn Snoep, Manminder Singh and youngster Max Hoornweg joined by Punjab’s Mamoon Latif and the returning Faisal Iqbal.

Bukhari, of course, is a powerful force with both bat and ball, and with Ali Raza at the top of the order former international keeper Atse Buurman still valuable in the middle order as well as behind the stumps, and 16-year-old Prithvy Balwantsingh showing real promise with the bat, Sparta will be hoping for a better season than they managed in 2019.

Former skipper (and now Chairman) Snoep was upbeat about his club’s preparation and prospects despite the absent overseas players, “We’ve been training, had some intra-club and intra-squad games, and we also took the initiative to play in Belgium against Antwerp, we good contacts there and outdoor sports where allowed there. Missing Ter Braak en Hampton makes a big difference for obvious reasons. Still with an experienced team with Bukhari, Van Wyk, Ali Raza, Buurman, Manin Singh Myself and with Latif coming over from Punjab as well as Max Hoornweg who’s in the KNCB setup we feel we have a decent local squad to pick from, Faisal Iqbal back as well. New players Van Wyk, Latif, Iqbal and young players Maxi and 16-year old Prithvi Balwantsingh (who scored 28 of 20 against Antwerp) will get some games. Ivo Hoornweg (Max’s youngest brother) will get opportunities, hes a medium pacer. We’ll be looking to win every game and develop the team into a better one for next season.”

LogoVOCOne of the biggest disappointments of least season was the form of defending champions VOC Rotterdam, who slumped to eighth, and they will not be helped this time by the absence of international star Max O’Dowd and the (mostly) retired seamer Bobby Hanif.

They had hoped to have the services of international keeper-batsman Scott Edwards, but word is the Netherlands gloveman has run into difficulties securing permission to fly from Australia. Top-order batsman Corey Rutgers did manage to return to the Netherlands just before the borders closed however, and will have an increased role in the first team in O’Dowd’s absence.

His experience will be valuable support for skipper Pieter Seelaar, who is likely to find his bowling assumes even greater importance without not only Hanif but also Pierce Fletcher, Dirk van Baren and Ashiqullah Said.

On the other hand, there will be a good deal of interest in the progress of teenager Siebe van Wingerden, who made his Topklasse debut last season and who now has the opportunity to establish himself in the side.

Seelaar was understandably keen to downplay expectations somewhat ahead of the opening round, telling Tkcricket; Thursday will be our first and only practice of the year. When the season was cancelled earlier, there was hardly any commitment to training or practice games, that is was decided to pretty much cancel this year … Our ambition is to enjoy what is left of the cricket season. For some players it will be good to see how they will develop.”

logo VRAConversely VRA’s roster is comparatively unaffected by the continued travel restrictions, but nonetheless the Amsterdam club has seen more than a few departures over the winter, and will be fielding a somewhat new-look side this season. Pre-season talks with Adam Wiffen were eventually nixed in part due to the virus, Brandon Graber will not be returning and left arm quick Haseeb Gul is also understood to be seeking his fortune in England. Former skipper Emile van den Burg also departs for Nijmegen, while seamer Tom Long’s work commitments have taken him to Germany.

Veterans Adeel Raja and Eric Szwarczynski remain on the roster, though it’s unclear how regular a role the latter especially will play. Young Vikram Singh will consequently have to shoulder a greater share of responsibility at the top of the order, where he will likely open with Dutch international Ben Cooper. Skipper Peter Borren will likely also call upon Singh to contribute with ball in hand, alongside senior seamer Quirijn Gunning and offspinner Leon Turmaine, and indeed with the latter pair also likely to miss a couple of games owing to prior commitments, Singh’s reportedly much-improved bowling may prove crucial to his team’s considerable ambitions.

Despite the departures the VRA club look in better shape than many for the abridged season, with a bevy of promising youngsters expected to follow Singh into the senior side.

“We have a great bunch of u18s most if whom are in the Dutch u18 side.” Borren told Tkcricket,As well as Vikram Singh we have Udit Nashier, Zamaan Khan, Shirase Rasool, Luke Hartsink, Ashir Abid, Debrup Dasgupta. They are a group who has been together for a while and I’m looking forward to seeing them all getting opportunities to grow and learn at this level. Our ambition is to win the competition. I don’t think it is an unrealistic goal. Also exposing some young talented guys to a decent standard of cricket. These guys will all be future Topklasse stars, to get this chance to get used to that standard is a win in itself.”

VCCLikewise Voorburg CC will be looking to improve on their 6th place finish despite a number of last season’s first choice side being stranded abroad. Absent will be keeper-bat Noah Croes as well as the Smit brothers, whilst pace spearhead Brandon Glover has been snapped up by Gloucestershire and Clayton Floyd by HCC.

HCC’s Ali Ahmed has made the trip in the opposite direction, however, and Voorburg are also bolstered by the return of Bas de Leede from the UK, whist national legspinning prospect Philippe Boissevain will also be sticking with the club in liueu of a planned stint at MCC Young Cricketers. Aryan Dutt also returns to Westvliet after a stint at Kampong, and together skipper Tom de Grooth VCC will be looking to returnees Dutt and de Leede to plug the run-gap left by the absent Croes and Smit brothers.

Much will also depend on the fiery but fragile Viv Kingma as he steps back into the spearhead role, but de Grooth is bullish about his side’s chances. “We were back at training pretty much straight away. We’ve been playing (an intra-club) T20 comp with four competitive teams and a league with four social teams. Last round of that will be this Friday. So should all have some games behind us. Will be great to have Bas back in the side and see how he has develops. Aryan Dutt is back from Kampong and is looking the part and young keeper Tobias Nota is one to look out for with the gloves. I think there is a great opportunity to show that we can play competitive cricket without the big overseas stars. Hopefully a season where young players can step up and as a club to show out depth. Lots of chances for coming players to shine and grab their chances.”

Round 1 Preview

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 03/05/19

The 2019 competition opens with a split round over the Liberation Day weekend, with three matches taking place as originally scheduled on Saturday and two moved to Sunday. In a further adjustment to the normal programme, Saturday’s matches will start at 10:00 in order to allow for the observance of the national commemoration in the evening, while those on Sunday will commence at 12:00.

RL: Much attention will focus on Voorburg’s Westvliet ground, which was in its first season when the club last played in the top flight. Their guests on their return will be Sparta 1888, who made a winning start last season on their own return to top-division cricket. Saturday’s match will give us a first glimpse of Voorburg’s side, impressive as it unquestionably is on paper, while Joost-Martijn Snoep and Mudassar Bukhari will have the task of quickly moulding their reshuffled outfit into a winning combination. The return of Viv Kingma to Westvliet adds a good deal to the Voorburg attack, and it would come as no surprise if the home side take the points.

BdJ: Also expecting a winning return to the Topklasse here for VCC, who have arguably just been biding their time in the second division in the last couple of seasons to build a side capable of making an immediate impact. Even with Bas de Leede’s departure for England this Voorburg side has the look of top four contenders rather than also-rans, though Sparta’s strength is perhaps tough to guage given the personnel changes over the winter. In Fletcher and Tarr they have two batsmen with proper first-class pedigree, and should they both take quickly to Dutch conditions Sparta may yet take an early lead again this season, but such rapid adjustment has generally been rare in batsmen new to the country.

RL: Defending champions VOC Rotterdam will be at home to Dosti Amsterdam at the Hazelaarweg on Saturday, and despite the loss of Fred Klaassen and Umar Baker from their attack they will start as clear favourites. They were not always completely convincing last season, especially with the bat and early in the season, but they settled into a formidable combination as the campaign went on, and although the pace attack will look different they will still be a force to be reckoned with. Dosti are likely to rely heavily on their overseas players, but will also be hoping that Vinoo Tewarie and Rahil Ahmed among the batsmen and Mahesh Hans, Asief Hoseinbaks and Wahid Masood among the bowlers can play a greater role. If that happens this could be an intriguing game to watch.

BdJ: Hans and the wily Mohammad Hafeez will likely be key to Dosti’s hopes of upsetting the defending champions in the season opener as they memorably did a year ago, though this time they’re taking on the title holders in their own yard, where they went unbeaten last season. It remains to be seen whether VOC persist with their tactic of preparing dry, turning wickets again now that they are a spinner lighter, but either way if Vinoo Tewarie hopes to grab two points off the better-fancied VOC in the first game again, a good start might be winning the toss.

RL: Excelsior ‘20, who entertain Quick Haag at Thurlede in the third of Saturday’s matches, will be keen to put a slightly disappointing 2018 behind them and return to the winning ways which took them to the title in the two previous seasons. Lorenzo Ingram has been joined in Schiedam by West Indian Test batsman Brenton Parchment, who has the most distinguished credentials of any of this year’s overseas players, and surrounded by a talented bunch of young players who are now three years older and more experienced than they were when they first claimed the championship, they should prove too strong for a Quick side which tailed off badly last season.

BdJ: Well word is Quick are still waiting on overseas signings Jay Bista and Prathamesh Dake, who are both apparently going under the hammer at the Mumbai T20 tomorrow when Quick might prefer them to be taking the field, while both Lorenzo Ingram and Brenton Parchment have arrived in good order for Excelsior. Given Bista kept Quick afloat more-or-less single-handedly last season it would be a remarkable upset if they were to knock over a full-strength Excelsior tomorrow without him. That said, it would presumably be a major confidence boost if they managed it. Skipper-in-exile Tim Gruijters has apparently arranged for his Canterbury Country team-mate Rupert Young to fly over and bolster the Quick batting, whilst the veteran Edgar Schiferli is understood to have taken the team in hand over the winter, subjecting them to a remorseless and unrelenting fitness program, and is reportedly mulling a return to competitive cricket to continue pushing his side on the field. They are still far from favourites tomorrow, but it could just be that the 2014 champions surprise everyone this season.

RL: On Sunday ACC, with South Africans Jean Marais and Brady Barends making their Topklasse debuts, will take on VRA Amsterdam at Het Loopveld in the first of this season’s traditional derbies. The Bos-dwellers turned out to be the strongest of VOC’s challengers last year, and although they will be without Daan ter Braak this season they have the most experienced outfit of all: Peter Borren and Eric Szwarczynski have more than 7000 top-flight runs each, and will again provide the core of the batting. Het Loopveld, though, can be a tricky place to visit, and the Amsterdam derby in recent years has generally been a hard-fought affair.

BdJ: Het Loopveld may take some getting used to for visitors, but this VRA side have generally felt quite at home there. Last season they skittled the home side for 112 and then knocked off the runs for the loss of just two wickets in half their allotted overs, despite a 3-ball duck for Peter Borren who generally makes hay on the ACC mat. Somewhat perversely, the visiting side will be more familiar with the “conditions” at ACC than two of the home side’s key players, with Marais and Barends likely having little experience on artificial pitches. That said, VRA are traditionally slow starters in the Topklasse and will be without Quirijn Guinning, who took 2-17 in the team’s last encounter at het Loopeveld.

RL: The other Sunday game pits HBS against HCC at Craeyenhout. The only first-round match which pits two teams from the top half of last season’s table against one another, this promises to be an absorbing duel. With New Zealander Zak Gibson and South African Zac Elkin joining Sharn Gomes at Craeyenhout HBS promise to be at least as strong as they were last year, while HCC will have Gibson’s compatriot Matt Hay joining Ryan Ninan to support their crop of young locally-produced players, led by allrounder Hidde Overdijk, Tonny Staal and Boris Gorlee in the batting and Ali Ahmed Qasim among the bowlers.

BdJ: HBS carry form and home advantage into their opening fixture after the match-up was belatedly relocated, and are firm favourites on paper. Despite the loss of Jaron Morgan, the Crows only look to have got stronger over the off-season, whilst HCC have put their faith in their maturing cohort of youth players. Word is that Ninan will not in fact be back at all for HCC this season, and indeed he was absent for both their warm-up matches. Heavy defeats in both suggest HCC’s young side has yet to really find their feet under new skipper Tonny Staal, and they will either need everything to click for them if they are to take home 2 points from Craeyenhout or Ali Ahmed Qasim to put on a repeat of his performance at the crows’ nest from last season.

Rod Lyall’s tips: Voorburg, VOC, Excelsior, VRA, HBS.
Bertus de Jong’s tips: VCC, VOC, Excelsior, VRA, HBS.