Punjab ruling raises questions ahead of ALV

Bertus de Jong 29/11/18

The KNCB’s Commissie van Beroep (appeals committee) ruled in favour of Punjab Rotterdam CC this week in their long-running dispute with the KNCB over questions of player eligibility. The ruling would appear to critically undermine the board’s current rules governing the participation of overseas players in the Dutch domestic competition.

The dispute originially arose early last season, precipitated by Punjab’s selection of Belgian nationals Mamoon Latif and Ali Raza, who were deemed overseas players under Article 12 of the Competitiereglement, to represent the club’s first XI in the Topklasse.

Ali Raza
Ali Raza in action for Punjab

The KNCB initially imposed a number of sanctions on the club, including awarding their match against ACC to the Amsterdam club by default, imposing a 6-point penalty as well as threatening fines. Punjab contended that as EU nationals Latif and Raza were entitled to equal treatment under EU law, and that they could not be counted toward the quota of 2 overseas players in the side, and continued to field the pair throughout the season.

The matter was first referred to the Tuchtcommissie, who in June nominally ruled in the KNCB’s favour, but scrapped the board’s competitive penalties and imposed a fine of a mere € 126 on Punjab -the lightest possible penalty – hinting that the rules themselves might not accord with Dutch or European law.

The KNCB duly appealed the decision, but last week the Commissie van Beroep sided decisively with Punjab. The CvB ruled that Article 12 of the Competitiereglemen amounted to discrimination on the basis of nationality and was consequently unlawful. Crucially, they based their ruling not on EU law but on the Dutch Algemene wet gelijke behandeling (general equal treatmenet act) thus seeming to preclude not only discrimination against EU passport-holders but any direct restriction on the basis of nationality whatsoever.

The current two-player limit for overseas players in the Topklasse applies to any non-Netherlands passport-holder with the exception of those players who have participated in a domestic league in the Netherlands in three of the preceding four years and played a minimum of 8 matches in the immediately preceding season. Lifting that restriction for EU citizens might not have caused undue disruption given that the Dutch season naturally coincides with the domestic seasons of its European neighbours, and there are moreover comparatively few cricketers in the rest of continental Europe likely to have a significant impact at Topklasse level.

This week’s ruling, however, would seem to open the door to an unlimited number of players from further afield turning out in the Dutch competition, threatening to crowd out local talent, a prospect provoking dismay on social media.

The KNCB do not appear to have been caught entirely unawares by the ruling however, and were already planning to amend the rules for the coming season; “we’ll be looking at moving to a system more in line with the approach they take in Scotland and Ireland for 2019” KNCB secretary Robert Vermeulen told TKcricket earlier this year. The board is understood to have consulted with clubs regarding potential changes to the overseas player rules even before the ruling was published last week, and is expected to present its proposals at the KNCB’s Algemene Ledenvergadering (general members meeting) scheduled for the 15th of this month.

Round 13 preview

Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 12/07/18

We’re very much over the hump now and heading rapidly toward the business end of the season with just six games to play, and the table has duly divided itself neatly in three. At the top end VOC, HBS and VRA remain very much in the running for a shot at the title, whilst defending champions Excelsior have joined former frontrunners Dosti and Sparta, together with HCC, as near-certain also-rans this time round, and Punjab, Quick and ACC look set for a nervy relegation battle.

BdJ: A win against table-toppers VOC Rotterdam might just keep Excelsior ‘20’s hopes alive another week, but given their recent run that’s the tallest of orders and the continued absence of batting linchpin and opening bowler James Hilditch won’t help their cause. VOC have looked all-but invulnerable at fortress Hazelaarweg, where a three-wicket win over VRA has been the closest they’ve come to defeat. Both Corey Rutgers and Max O’Dowd showed they were more than capable of pulling their weight for the frontrunners last week against Quick, both notching 80+ scores despite O’Dowd carrying a gluteal niggle and Rutgers a finger fractured six ways from Sunday. With skipper Pieter Seelaar’s imperious run of form showing no signs of stalling, an away match at VOC remains the toughest proposition in the league at this point.

RL: With several key acquisitions over the winter VOC were seen as a good championship bet before the campaign started, and while they took a little while to get into their stride – and despite some misfortunes with injuries – they have evolved into a formidable unit. They still have several big matches to play, and a few weeks ago this would have been one of them: after all, Excelsior were the last team to beat them, back on 19 May. But as VOC’s star has risen Excelsior’s has waned, and it would take a significant reversal of form for the defending champions to take the points back to Schiedam. The VOC new-ball pairing of Fred Klaassen and Pierce Fletcher is another of the Rotterdammers’ trump cards, and without Hilditch the Excelsior attack looks a lot less menacing.

BdJ: Should the title-holders spring a surprise, HBS Craeyenhout are currently best placed to take advantage as they head to meet bottom-placed Punjab Rotterdam at the Zomercomplex. On paper a match-up between the second-placed HBS and bottom-placed Punjab should be a fairly easy call, but then on paper the Crows’ top order ought to be delivering regular 300+ totals. Instead against HCC last week they clung on to defend 138 in an entirely unconvincing 15-run win, and Punjab’s opening pair of Stephan Myburgh and Ali Raza demonstrated that that sort of score would be unlikely to suffice come Sunday, racking up 149 runs in an unbroken partnership against Sparta at the traditionally bowler-friendly Bermweg. That said, last week HBS were facing a bowling attack featuring two of the league’s top five wicket-takers, whilst Punjab can boast not a single bowler in the top twenty, and indeed last week was the first time they managed to take all ten wickets. It will take a remarkable turnaround in form for Punjab to contain HBS’ battery of big hitters given the short boundaries at the Zomercomplex and one suspects delivering a third victory will be beyond even the powers of Raza and Myburgh.

RL: HBS, too, have settled into a winning pattern based on a powerful top five batsmen backed up by a well-balanced attack, and showed last week that even when the former fails to deliver the latter can defend a low total. Farshad Khan has been incisive since his return to the side, and together with Berend Westdijk and Wessel Coster heads a seam department capable of troubling any batting line-up. Punjab rely more on spin, and unless they can make early inroads into that HBS top order they may find themselves chasing an awful lot of leather. It is indeed hard to see Punjab upsetting one of the main title contenders, but Rohan Qadri has certainly made a difference to the side and the Rotterdammers know that every point is vital if they are to lift themselves away from the bottom of the table.

BdJ: Third placed VRA will be hoping for upsets in both the above-mentioned games, in which case a win against Sparta 1888 at the Bos could get them to second place and just one win behind VOC. The Amsterdammers’ home record may not inspire a huge amount of confidence, and continued questions over Viv Kingma’s fitness are also a concern, nonetheless they remain marginal favourites to take two points on the day. Though Sparta won the first encounter earlier in the season, the sort of cricket played at VRA is traditionally a different beast from what one sees at Bermweg. That said, the game is far from a foregone conclusion, with the hosts’ top order in patchy form and the bowling attack likely understrength. Though Sparta have stalled rather after an impressive early run, seamers Dost Muhammed and Mudassar Bukhari remain a dangerous combination, and Michael Pollard will doubtless be looking forward to a run out on the league’s best batting wicket. Though Sparta’s three consecutive defeats in the last three games have put them pretty much out of contention for the title, they remain more than capable as acting as spoilers for VRA’s hopes too.

RL: Even without Ben Cooper and Viv Kingma VRA were impressive against an injury-weakened ACC last week, with Quirijn Gunning and Haseeb Gul Mia doing the vital early damage and spinners Adeel Raja and Leon Turmaine doing the rest. If Eric Szwarczynski has definitely put his run of poor form behind him the batting, too, will have a more solid feel, and with some of the air having escaped from Sparta’s early-season balloon the home side should go into this game with plenty of confidence. Pollard is, obviously, a potential match-winner, and so too is Warren Bell, who has not so far had the impact in the Topklasse which he had during his side’s promotion-winning run last season. It should be a good tussle, with the encounter between former international team-mates Peter Borren and Mudassar Bukhari one to savour.

BdJ: Similarly HCC find themselves more-or-less safe but solidly out of contention following back-to-back losses, a position their opponents Quick Haag will nonetheless envy. Already weakened by retirements and departures, the Hanen have been plagued by injuries, illness and unavailability issues throughout the season, and now find themselves in real danger of relegation. Still groundless, they return to De Diepput for their nominal home match against their hosts again as underdogs, though HCC’s own shaky batting will give them some hope, as will the form of Quick overseas Jay Bista. The mumbaiker’s near-chanceless 124 against VOC last week consolidated his claim to the title of best player in the competition, and even the impressive collection of scalps dangling from the belts of Hidde Overdijk and Ali Ahmed Qasim are unlikely to faze him. The fitness of his fellow overseas Sean Davey remains doubtful, however, and as events last week again demonstrated it’s pretty tough to win a Topklasse match on your own.

RL: This is probably the toughest game to tip about this week, given the evident vulnerability of both sides, especially with the bat. Overdijk and Qasim can be a very effective pairing, as their demolition of Sparta demonstrated, and the dismissal of HBS for 138 should give Quick – and any other visitors to De Diepput – pause. Bista is obviously a key factor, and HCC will be hoping that Ryan Ninan, who has had a lean season so far, will rise to the challenge and have at least a great an impact on this match. They also need Tonny Staal and Bryce Street to deliver with the bat, while Quick will be looking to the experience of the likes of Geert Maarten Mol and Lesley Stokkers to give Bista the support he needs. If I were going to break the unanimity of this week’s predictions this is where I would do it, but on balance I tend to go with m’colleague and predict a home win.

BdJ: It will be a similar situation at Drieburg where hosts Dosti-United are safely ensconced in the mid-table whilst visitors ACC are barely more than one defeat away from the wooden spoon spot. A washout against Excelsior means ACC are just a hair above Quick on points average, but nonetheless they’ll be desperate to put some more distance between themselves and their relegation rivals. Though likely the more motivated of the two teams, they remain underdogs when they head across the Amstel, especially if they are again unable to field a full complement of Zulfiqars. With Dosti coming off the back of a comfortable win against (an admittedly under-strength) Excelsior and Taru Kohli still in flying form with the bat and now in the wickets as well, two points will take some getting at Drieburg.

RL: ACC have been the Jekyll and Hyde of this season’s Topklasse, and much will depend on which of the two incarnations turns up at Sportpark Drieburg. A young and inexperienced team, they are desperately dependent on a good start, and with Anees Davids back in the Dosti line-up the home side are well placed to deny it to them. Their own top order has also been inconsistent, especially on the rare occasions when Kohli has failed to deliver, but ACC’s bowling is their weaker department, and they really missed the injured Sikander Zulfiqar against VRA last week. But if Richardt Frenz and the Zulfiqars who do play stay around for a while, Dosti may need to be at their best to take the points.

BdJ’s tips: VOC, HBS, VRA, HCC, Dosti.
RL’s tips: VOC, HBS, VRA, HCC, Dosti.

Gallery | HBS vs Sparta | 01.07.2018

HBS vs Sparta 1888 at Crayenhout – 01/07/2018
scorecard | as it happened

Round 11 Preview

Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 29/06/18

With six games scheduled for the coming weekend, attention turns to the mid-table for the eleventh round of Topklasse matches where several clubs will be looking to distance themselves from a looming relegation battle, or face must-win matches to maintain their title hopes.

BdJ: For Dosti-United the former is likely the principal concern, having sunk back into the lower half of the table after a bright start to the season. They have two chances this weekend to climb back up toward relative safety, the first a rescheduled 7th-round match against Punjab Rotterdam, currently languishing at the bottom of the pile with just a solitary win.

Dosti will start as favourites at home, but their recent slide has highlighted their dependence on league lead run-scorer Taru Kohli to post winning totals. They themselves have managed to avoid defeat only once this season without a Kohli century, and he has gone scoreless in their last two games. Yet against a Punjab attack that has yet to bowl anyone out this season another ton looks at least as likely as another duck and with three other bats having racked up 200+ runs and Mohammad Hafeez leading the wicket-taking table the Amsterdammers are hardly a one man band.

While their opponents can take heart from the return of Stephan Myburgh, the Netherlands opener is still not fully fit and may not play both games at the weekend. And Punjab have barely looked competitive without him. Myburgh remains their lead run-scorer despite having sat out four games, and despite showing some admirable fight against Excelsior last week it’s hard to argue Punjab haven’t earned their place at the bottom of the table.

RL: Having pushed Excelsior all the way last Sunday Punjab may go into this game with a certain degree of hope – if not confidence – despite their lowly position in the table. Ashan Bamunusinghe has been a slightly surprising keystone of both their batting line-up and their attack, but he and Barend Vorster have received too little support from the rest of the team. Myburgh’s battle for fitness is obviously a continuing concern, and against a Dosti outfit which is capable of much more than they have shown in recent weeks the visitors are likely to struggle.

BdJ: Punjab’s real four-pointer will come on Sunday however, when they face their nearest rivals for the wooden spoon ACC at the Zomercomplex. ACC currently have a 2 point lead over the Rotterdammers, though that may not be the case by the time they meet. Though ACC’s lamentable lack of bench strength was pointed out as a weakness before the season began, but few would have picked them as relegation contenders. They were exposed again by HBS last week however, losing by a calamitous 173 runs as they collapsed to 62 all-out. The promotion of Richardt Frenz to partner Rehmat Zulfiqar at the top of the order has paid off on occasion, but the middle order remains fragile and the tail long.

Whether Punjab have the bowling to capitalise is questionable of course, but likewise ACC’s attack has lacked for penetration at times. Devon Botha has had a creditable debut season thus far but is arguably rather wasted on Dutch wickets, and should Myburgh play one suspects he’ll enjoy himself. Given that two of the three wins these teams have between them have been built on big opening partnerships, and there’s little reason to expect different come Sunday.

RL: ACC provided Punjab with their sole victory so far, when Myburgh and Raza shared a big opening partnership at Het Loopveld back in May. Neither has repeated that form in such a sustained way since, although in the former’s case that is scarcely surprising. Both teams show the shallowness of the talent pool at the highest domestic level, raising legitimate questions about the wisdom of the ten-team Topklasse format. Yet the best of the ACC squad (most of them named Zulfiqar) would grace any team, and they have been much more prolific with the bat in recent weeks – last Sunday’s dramatic collapse against HBS excepted. This is a crucial match for both teams, and even more a must-win occasion for Punjab than for their visitors.

BdJ: Also still in the relegation mix are Quick Haag, who will be Dosti’s second opponents this weekend. If Dosti have looked dependent on Kohli thus far, Quick have been no less so on Jay Bista, who remains the only Quick bat to have passed 200 runs this season. Another side that might be said to be in a transitional phase, Quick have tested a number of youth and former second team players this season, but their depth has thus far proved as lacking as that of ACC. Though seamer Josh Davey has proved a solid signing for them and Bista’s current 3rd spot in the run aggregates probably undersells his talents, the two overseas have lacked any consistent support from the rest of the side who, Geert Maarten Mol apart, have looked an underperforming team that wasn’t too strong in the first place.

RL: This, too, is a vital match for both sides, with Quick just one win clear of ACC and Dosti currently only just ahead of Quick on points average. A mid-table position beckons for the winner, but the loser may face a nerve-wracking battle in the weeks ahead. Quick have indeed looked vulnerable for much of the season, and while a late rally spared at least some of their blushes against VRA last Sunday the collapse of the top and middle order confirms that concern. The attack, too, lacks bite and the variation provided in different ways by Henk-Jan Mol and Asief Hoseinbaks last year, and undoubtedly Dosti have the batsmen in Vinoo Tewarie, Kohli, Rahil Ahmed and Anees Davids to take full advantage.

: The league’s new front-runner VOC Rotterdam meanwhile will take on the mercurial HCC at Hazelaarweg, looking to consolidate their place at the top of the table. Though HCC will be coming off the back of a crunching win over erstwhile front-runners Sparta, the odds are against them taking two points back from Rotterdam. Given the traditionally slow and spin-friendly conditions at Hazelaarweg the Hagenaars’ principal match winners Ali Ahmed Qasim and Hidde Overdijk are unlikely to be at their most effective, whilst the conditions are expected to play in favour of VOC’s spinners Umar Baker and current MVP favourite Pieter Seelaar. Even without Max O’Dowd, Ahsan Malik and probably Corey Rutgers, the hosts head into the game with the wind in their sails and the bookies’ backing.

RL: If m’colleague’s reading of the Hazelaarweg conditions is correct, then the influence of Ryan Ninan on this match should not be under-estimated. He bowled with great control last week while Ali Ahmed Qasim was creating havoc at the other end, and is likely to find the Rotterdam environment much more to his liking. VOC’s batting was in early trouble against Dosti last Sunday, and they too needed a vigorously wagging tail to set an adequate target. I think this may be a closer game than many expect, and while the strength of their batting leads me to favour VOC on balance, it would not surprise me if the leadership of the table had again changed hands by Sunday evening.

BdJ: Tougher to call will be VRA’s return match against defending champions Excelsior ‘20, who travel to the Bos without the usual benefit of a well-established winning habit. The Schiedammers looked altogether unconvincing against bottom-placed Punjab last week, clinging on for a 19-run win to break an all-but unprecedented 2-game losing streak. Nonetheless Excelsior’s lower-middle order again showed an encouraging resilience after the bedrock pair of Ingram and Hilditch both fell cheaply, suggesting that containing or removing the pair remains a necessary but not sufficient condition for besting the title-holders.

VRA certainly have the attack to do it, though the continued side-lining of Vivian Kingma means skipper Van den Burg does not have quite the flexibility he might like should anyone have an off-day. Moreover, off-days have been rather par for the course in the VRA middle-order of late, which has yet to really live up to its potential thus far. In short, this looks like anyone’s game, and two points will likely go to whoever underperforms the least.

RL: Another of the three top-six encounters which this week’s draw offers, this match-up of two clubs who have won twenty championships between them in the past 26 years has plenty of history behind it as well as a fascinating immediate context. Excelsior struggled to reach a modest target of 177 when the sides met on 10 May, owing their victory to a fine innings from Hilditch, and neither has been completely convincing in recent weeks – or, in VRA’s case, all season. There’s an opportunity for one of the big guns – Ingram or Hilditch, Cooper, Borren or Gunning – to stamp their influence on the game, but the result may well depend on how much support they receive from the rest of their team.

BdJ: The round’s final game pits a resurgent HBS against former table-toppers Sparta 1888, who have struggled to maintain their early momentum into the mid-season. The Crows have not lost a game at home since their defeat at the hands of HCC in the third round, when Ali Qasim ran riot for the first time, and though in Dost Mohammad and Mudassar Bukhari Sparta have seamers capable of doing a similar job on HBS’ explosive top order, now that all four of Gomes, Barresi, Visée and Morgan have runs under their belt the chance of such a repetition looks more remote. Sparta have some big hitters of their own of course in Pollard and Bell, not to mention the belligerent Bukhari and Atse Buurman down the order also capable of clearing the ropes, so it’s tough to say what a safe first innings score might be.

RL: Sparta will return to Den Haag with the shadow of last week’s collapse hanging over them, but they will also remember the initial sting of Bukhari, Mohammad and Bell and the way they fought back to dismiss HCC for a fairly modest total. Especially at Craeyenhout, HBS has the most imposing top six in the competition, and Sparta’s five seamers and spinner Faisal Iqbal will need to be at their absolute best if they are to contain them. Warren Bell was very unlucky last week, and if he and Michael Pollard are able to take advantage of the Craeyenhout outfield we could be in for some prolific scoring, and the bowlers could be in for a tough time.

Bertus de Jong’s tips: Dosti, Dosti, VOC, VRA, Punjab, HBS.

Rod Lyall’s tips: Dosti, Dosti, VOC, Excelsior, ACC, HBS.

Sparta’s lead short-lived as the seamers run riot

Rod Lyall 25/06/18

There cannot have been many more extraordinary afternoons in the recent history of Dutch top division cricket than Sunday’s – in particular there was an hour in which wickets were tumbling all around the country as top orders fell apart and seam bowlers had a field day.

Nowhere was the mayhem more spectacular than at De Diepput, where after coming back well to restrict hosts HCC to a relatively modest 189, Sparta 1888 saw their hopes of consolidating their position at the top of the table torn apart by a concentrated burst of well-directed hostility from Ali Ahmed Qasim.

He took six for 18 in the space of just 38 deliveries as Sparta slumped to 21 for six, and although they managed to prolong the innings long enough to reach 65 they never seemed remotely likely to mount an effective challenge.

Earlier, Sparta’s bowlers had done well to get their side back into the game after HCC had reached 132 for three, stand-in captain Tonny Staal making 49 and Bryce Street 56, with support from Boris Gorlee (25).

HCC squandered that good start, however, the last five wickets producing just 27 runs as Mudassar Bukhari, who had begun by removing both openers, came back to clean up the tail and finish with season’s best figures of five for 32.

It all proved in vain as 40 minutes of lively pace from Qasim, who had similarly demolished HBS earlier in the season, tore the heart out of Sparta’s response.

The chief beneficiaries of the Sparta collapse were new leaders VOC Rotterdam, who themselves needed to recover from 41 for four batting first against Dosti United Amsterdam at Hazelaarweg and eventually reached 177 before bowling their opponents out for 128.

They owed their total to a useful partnership of 44 between Pieter Seelaar and Scott Edwards, but even more to the contribution of Bobby Hanif, whose unbeaten 36 held the tail together and frustrated the Dosti bowlers, for whom Anees Davids and Mohammad Hafeez had led the way with three for 22 and three for 31 respectively.

Then Pierce Fletcher quickly removed the in-form Vinoo Tewarie and the talismanic Taruwar Kohli, who again failed to score, and Dosti never really recovered from these twin setbacks, despite a dogged 30 from Hafeez and some late aggression from Asief Hoseinbaks and Wahid Masood.

Hanif followed up his heroics with the bat with two for 9, while Fletcher finished with two for 14 and skipper Pieter Seelaar took two for 38.

The closest encounter of the day was, a little surprisingly, at Thurlede, where relegation-threatened Punjab Rotterdam made a decent fist of chasing Excelsior ‘20’s 219 for seven, eventually falling just 19 runs short.

Although Lorenzo Ingram went cheaply, significant contributions from opener Tim Etman (37), Roel Verhagen (38 on his return from injury), Sandeep Shankar (36) and David Woutersen (36) enabled the defending champions to reach a competitive total, sufficient at least to give their attack something to work with.

Stef Myburgh gave his side a rapid start with a 47-ball 48 when Punjab replied, but wickets were falling at the other end, and despite 34 from Mamoon Latif it was again left to Ahsan Bamunusinghe to hold the middle and lower order together.

43 were still needed when the ninth wicket fell, but in company with last man Mubashar Hussain Bamunusinghe gradually worked his way to a well-deserved half-century and reduced the target in the process.

But it was Ingram who had the last word, eventually bowling Hussain to seal the victory for Excelsior and keep them well in the hunt for a third successive title.

Just behind the three leaders, HBS Den Haag also maintained their challenge with a comprehensive victory over ACC, another team to implode during Sunday’s Hour of Death.

Given a great platform by a second-wicket stand of 136 between Wessel Coster (64) and the remarkably consistent Sharn Gomes (66), HBS assembled a challenging total of 235, helped by a 41-ball knock of 48 from Wesley Barresi.

Sikander Zulfiqar, deputising as captain for his injured brother Saqib, kept his side in the game by removing both Coster and Gomes and finishing with three for 51, while Dewald Botha claimed three for 41.

ACC’s batting has fared much better in recent weeks, but form deserted them this time, as they were bundled out for just 62, Berend Westdijk taking five for 35 after Coster had removed both Richardt Frenz and Rehmat Zulfiqar by the time 28 runs were on the board.

Across Amstelveen in the Amsterdamse Bos, VRA Amsterdam took full advantage of playing on the own ground against Quick Haag, running up the highest total of the day with 238 for seven and then dismissing their opponents for 127.

VRA were given a solid start by Vikram Singh (27), Dan ter Braak (49) and Ben Cooper (45) as this trio took them to 129 for three, and Peter Borren built on this with 42, supported by Leon Turmaine, who in turn shared a useful partnership with Mitch Lees.

Quirijn Gunning then joined the national seamers’ bonanza by ripping through the Quick top and middle order, his career-best five for 36 reducing the notional home side on 52 for six and 73 for eight.

Only some enterprising resistance from Daan Vierling and Imran Khan, each of whom made 30, got Quick past the hundred mark, but when Dan ter Braak finished things off by removing both of them the score was still 101 short.

Not the least remarkable feature of a remarkable day was the fact that of the five winning sides four had started the season by losing to the same opponents, only Excelsior making it a double by again prevailing over Punjab – and even that proved to be hard work. Such are the glorious uncertainties of this season’s Topklasse.

Round 10 Preview

Rod Lyall and Bertus de Jong 21/06/18

As the Topklasse moves beyond the halfway point the first round of matches this Sunday pits each of the current top five against a team from the lower half of the table, with the former jockeying for advantage and the latter keen to stay clear of the relegation zone.

RL Having started the campaign with a home win over HCC and now sitting at the top of the table, Sparta 1888 will travel to De Diepput with a stiff breeze in their sails. With nine wickets in his last two matches Dost Muhammad has emerged as an unheralded key figure in a varied attack, while the side’s remarkable victory over ACC last week underlines what a dangerous, resilient combination the Capelle club has assembled. Michael Pollard confirmed his class with a century in that game, but his opposite number in the HCC line-up, Bryce Street, is showing signs of running into form as well. The Hagenaars certainly need him to succeed consistently, since the batting looks brittle otherwise, and the bowling fires somewhat erratically.

BdJ One imagines that Sparta’s position at the top of the table at the half-way stage likely comes as a surprise even to them, but it’s hard to call it a fluke. The two defeats they have suffered this season (at the hands of HBS and VOC) may betray a capacity for spectacular implosion, but it is remarkable how little either seems to have shaken their self-belief. Street firing either with bat or ball (or ideally both) is likely a necessary but not sufficient condition for HCC to put the brakes on the Sparta train. A return to form for Mark Jonkman might help too.

RL After starting a little shakily VOC Rotterdam have demonstrated that their strength is not just on paper, while conversely Dosti United have slumped rather since beginning the season on a high. That included, of course, an opening-day victory over Sunday’s opponents, driven by the first of Taruwar Kohli’s three hundreds so far, but he has gone cheaply in several recent innings. His side will need him to be at his best this week, even though VOC seem likely to be without international Max O’Dowd, who sustained a thigh injury during the first of the T20s against Scotland. Still, the Rotterdam side are well balanced in both batting and bowling, and with Pieter Seelaar in great form with the bat they will know that they cannot afford another slip-up if they are to maintain their challenge for the club’s first title since 1994.

BdJ O’Dowd’s addition to a sick list that already includes Ahsan Malik and possibly Corey Rutgers (bot suffering from finger trouble) does leave something of a hole in VOC’s line up, and comes as all the more bitter a blow given his recent return to form. Much will depend on skipper Pieter Seelaar, though the Dutch captain does not look a bad man to rely on just now. Averaging 93 with the bat and a shade under 11 with the ball, Seelaar looks the most valuable player in the league by a distance at the moment, certainly on a VOC pitch that has played to his strengths. Yet if Dosti are at their best Seelaar will struggle to win it on his own. Vinoo Tewarie and Rahil Ahmed stepped up admirably following Kohli’s failure last week, and despite the loss to HCC there were plenty of positives to take from the game. Mahesh Hans will doubtless also be looking forward to a trip to Hazelaarweg, and though VOC certainly start as favourites, this match looks a candidate for an upset.

RL Mention of slip-ups leads us naturally to Excelsior ‘20, whose two defeats in their last two matches have seen them knocked off the top of the table for the first time for over a year. They will have an excellent chance of getting things back on track on Sunday, when they are at home to bottom-placed Punjab Rotterdam, who may have escaped with a fine – at least for the time being – in their dispute with the KNCB over player eligibility, but who are finding life just as difficult on the field as in the committee room. With just one win in eight matches they will need to achieve a substantial turnaround in form if they are to avoid a repeat of Excelsior’s comfortable win on the opening day of the season. The champions may be overly dependent on the success of Lorenzo Ingram with the bat, but their attack remains strong, and they are likely to have too many guns for Punjab.

BdJ One suspects if Excelsior were allowed to pick their opponents next week the beleaguered Rotterdammers would likely have been near the top of the list, but arguably the reverse might just apply too. Excelsior’s vaunted discipline with the ball seemed to desert them last week when they gifted HBS some 27 extras in the innings, which can be only partly explained by apprentice wicketkeeper Woutersen’s struggles behind the sticks. Though Stephan Myburgh may only be semi-fit he will doubtless be looking forward to a return to Thurlede, and he puts on a show at the top of the order it will be interesting to seem how well Exclesior’s rattled attack hold together. Nonetheless there’s little to suggest that Punjab have the depth to really challenge the defending champions, nor, on recent showing, do they seem to have the appetite.

RL Two successive century opening stands indicate that ACC’s promotion of Richardt Frenz was an inspired move but the revival of the side’s fortunes with the bat has not been matched by the attack, and their dramatic defeat by Sparta last week will be in the backs of their minds as they take on HBS Den Haag at Het Loopveld. Nor will their cause be helped if skipper Saqib Zulfiqar’s injury, sustained during the second T20I on Wednesday, keeps him out of the side or significantly restricts his contribution. Even away from Craeyenhout the HBS top order has the firepower to cause the ACC bowlers plenty of problems, and the Amsterdammers’ win in the corresponding match at the start of the season – one of only two they have achieved so far – must now seem a very long time ago. The HBS attack, too, demonstrated against Excelsior last week that they can be an extremely effective unit.

BdJ Little argument here. ACC have looked a decent side at times, even dangerous when the Zulfiqars were all firing, and Frenz’ coming into form makes them a better team than their position on the points table suggests, but a lack of bench strength has long been an issue and they can little afford to lose even one first choice player. A key effect of Frenz taking responsibility from the top of the order has been to free the consistently underrated Rehmat Zulfiqar to pursue the sort of belligerent game which makes him arguably the most dangerous of the brothers at Topklasse level (the elder Zulfiqar has hit as many boundaries this season as his three brother combined) but even so it’s hard to see the hosts out-hitting the HBS top order.

RL Quick Haag’s defeat of VRA Amsterdam at the start of May has also proved to be a false dawn, as the Hanen have won only twice more since. They will, however, return to the scene of that success on Sunday, since the construction work at Nieuw Hanenburg means that VRA will again be playing on their own ground. VRA have problems of their own: the batting, despite some flashes of excellence, has been underwhelming overall, and with Viv Kingma on the casualty list the attack has also lacked a degree of incisiveness. Leon Turmaine has done well with both bat and ball since his return, but with Eric Szwarczynski having a miserable season the top order continues to look vulnerable. Whether Quick have the resources to make it two out of two is another question, but the game is likely to be closer than the sides’ relative positions on the table suggest.

BdJ Whilst the visiting Ross ter Braak may provide something of a temporary solution to the gap Kingma leaves in VRA’s attack, no easy solution to the misfiring middle-order presents itself. It will be interesting to see if skipper Emile van den Burg is tempted to play with the batting order or will prefer to back his batters to come good. Quick’s attack have been on the receiving end of a battering in recent weeks, and ought not to present too much of a threat to the quality in VRA’s batting card, but then the same was true last time round. Another loss to Quick would likely see VRA slip still further behind a crowded upper table and likely be the end of their title challenge, and it’s not entirely out of the question either. The man to make it happen would be Jay Bista one suspects, he missed out on his first trip to VRA after an attractive-looking 17, and Sunday may just look like a free do-over for the mumbaikar.

Rod Lyall’s tips: Sparta, VOC, Excelsior, HBS, Quick
Bertus de Jong’s tips: Sparta, VOC, Excelsior, HBS, VRA

Sparta move top as Excelsior lose to HBS

Rod Lyall 18/06/18

HBS Den Haag opened up the Topklasse competition and did their own chance of the title no harm with an impressive 99-run victory over Excelsior ‘20 at Thurlede on Saturday. With four teams within one defeat of each other at the top of the table, this season’s competition is developing into one of the most open for years.

After winning the toss Excelsior made early inroads into the HBS top order, the device of opening the bowling with Lorenzo Ingram again achieving its purpose of removing the menacing Tobias Visée before he was really into his stride.

But the champions’ progress was halted by a fine fourth-wicket partnership of 132 between Sharn Gomes, who achieved his fifth half-century of the season in making a solid 79, and Wesley Barresi, who stayed until the end and finished on 89.

Najvit Singh chipped in with a brisk 26 before being somewhat unfortunately run out by a direct hit from Tom Heggelman on the long on boundary when trying to get Barresi back on strike, and the innings closed on 252 for six.

Excelsior’s batsmen did better than they had against Sparta the previous week, but a combination of Barresi’s off-spin and the seam of Wessel Coster, Ferdi Vink and Berend Westdijk proved too effective, and they could only manage a disappointing 153. Barresi took three for 27, Westdijk cleaned up the tail to finish with three for 23, and there were two wickets apiece for Coster and Vink.

Notably, all ten Excelsior wickets fell to catches, of which Singh’s to remove Ingram and Barresi’s to account for James Hilditch were outstanding.

At Het Loopveld in Amstelveen, meanwhile, Sparta 1888 took advantage of Excelsior’s second defeat to move to the top of the table, but their victory over ACC was hard won. It gives Sparta a real chance of becoming the first newly-promoted team to win the championship since the introduction of automatic promotion in 1970.

Chasing ACC’s 254 for six, a total largely based on a 140-run opening stand between Richardt Frenz, whose 100 was his second successive century since taking over the role of opener, and Rehmat Zulfiqar (79), Sparta were in trouble at 101 for five.

Michael Pollard was still there, however, and his partnership of 88 with Atse Buurman brought their side back into the game. Pollard was eventually bowled by Aryan Kumar for 108, but Buurman continued to produce his best knock for many seasons, and by the time he was dismissed for 72 Sparta were on the brink of victory.

Dost Muhammad, who had earlier taken four for 36 in the ACC innings, and Usman Saleem made the five runs still needed, and Sparta won by two wickets with an over to spare.

There was a thrilling finish, too, a few kilometres away at Sportpark Drieburg, where home side Dosti United came within five runs of chasing down HCC’s total of 208 for eight.

Bryce Street was again amongst the runs for HCC, making a 98-ball 82, while Boris Gorlee contributed 29 and keeper Laurens Lagas 23 not out in the closing stages. Mohammad Hafeez was once more the most effective of Dosti’s bowlers with three for 30.

Skipper Vinoo Tewarie confirmed his return to form with 63 when Dosti replied, and his third-wicket stand of 81 with Rahil Ahmed (41) gave his side a real chance.

But once Tewarie was trapped in front by his opposite number Mark Jonkman it was left to Anees Davids to keep the chase going, but when he was last out for 51, made at almost a run a ball despite the regular loss of partners at the other end, the home side was still just short of their target.

Jonkman took three for 49 and Hidde Overdijk three for 33, but it was Street’s dismissal of Taruwar Kohli before he had scored which was perhaps the most decisive blow for HCC.

VOC Rotterdam maintained their challenge for the title with a three-wicket win over old rivals VRA Amsterdam in a tight match at the Hazelaarweg.

Despite another middle-order collapse by VRA after Ben Cooper (45) and Daan van Braak (31) had given them a decent start with an opening stand of 72, the visitors battled through to 211 for nine thanks to useful contributions by Leon Turmaine, Quirijn Gunning and Mitch Lees, and this looked as if it might be enough when VOC were reduced to 74 for four.

Then Scott Edwards joined Pieter Seelaar, and their partnership of 112 virtually ensured a VOC victory. Edwards was finally bowled by Peter Borren for 56, but only 26 were still needed, and although two more wickets fell quickly Seelaar was able to see his side home, finishing with an unbeaten 80 from 87 deliveries.

Turmaine took three for 39 in the losing cause.

At Hermes-DVS’s new ground at Sportpark Harga, pressed into service because Quick Haag’s ground has been dug up prior to being converted to an artificial surface, there was a game of bizarre contrasts in which Quick came out on top against relegation-threatened Punjab Rotterdam.

The highlight of Quick’s 197 for eight was a rapid 90 from Jay Bista, who completely dominated a third-wicket partnership of 106 with Stefan Ekelmans, of which his partner contributed only 19.

After Bista’s departure the Quick total was pushed towards respectability by the recalled Abhinav Gill (27) and Thijs van Schelven (28 not out), while for Punjab Ahsan Bamunusinghe had his best return with the ball with five for 31.

Punjab soon lost Awais Khan and Stef Myburgh to the bowling of Imran Khan when they replied, and thereafter the score crept upwards at a snail’s pace, despite a solid 46 from Berend Vorster.

Behind the rate, Punjab then started losing wickets as they tried to accelerate, Van Schelven picking up three for 34 as the innings closed on 144. This defeat leaves Punjab firmly anchored at the bottom of the table, below ACC and Quick.