Bertus de Jong 03/05/18
Defending champions Excelsior ’20 will be looking to lay claim to their third successive Topklasse title this year following their come-from-behind win in 2016 and remarkable run of dominance last season, where they didn’t lose their first game until late June and dropped only one more for the rest of the season.
They will be looking to do so with much the same team as they fielded last time round, most crucially welcoming back overseas players James Hilditch and above all Lorenzo Ingram. Excelsior remains a young side heavily dependent on Ingram and Hilditch to deliver, especially with the bat. Whilst Roel Verhagen, Tim Etman and Joost Kroesen have all looked more than capable on occasion all but Etman had a poor run last season.
Ingram’s 823 runs were more than enough to cover for them though, and the Jamaican all-rounder led the way in the wicket-taking too. Should Ingram have an poor season the Schiedam spin section would look as rickety as their batting. Sohail Bhatti has come into his own as speadhead of the pace attack at Thurlede though, alongside skipper Tom Heggelman and youngsters Rens van Troost and Gijs Kroesen. Two years ago I said Excelsior’s young team were probably a couple of seasons away from their best, and arguably they’re still not there. If Ingram’s on song again though, they may not even need to be.
Young player to watch: Tim Etman
The 14 wins that VRA amassed last summer would have been enough to top the league most seasons, but as it turned out they would have needed at least two more to catch Excelsior. A repeat effort will probably be enough this time, but new skipper Emile van den Burg will not be keen to repeat the slow start of last season.
Concerningly his side have looked rather under-cooked in their warm-up games thus far and the loss of last season’s lead wicket-taker Fred Klaassen to VOC is certainly a blow. In fellow Dutch international Vivian Kingma they have a solid replacement however, and a VRA pace attack also boasting Quirijn Gunning, Haseeb Mia and ex-captain Peter Borren remains the most formidable in the league. Leon Turmaine’s return from injury will also be a relief, though the young offie has yet to recapture his old form and the veteran Adeel Raja remains the principle slow-bowling threat at the Bos.
Raja’s contributions with the bat have rather tapered off in recent years, but VRA’s two-stroke middle-order batting engine of Borren and Eric Szwarczynski remains in fine working order. Young Vikram Singh has yet to really find his rhythm at the top of the order, but remains one of the most exciting prospects in the competition. With Dan ter Braak (over from Hermes) as Singh’s opening partner and Ben Cooper coming in behind them VRA’s batting line up looks stronger even than last season, and a run to the title far from out of the question.
Young player to watch: Vikram Singh
HCC‘s ambitions will probably be rather more modest, especially after the news that last season’s top-scorer Jonathan Vandiar will likely miss most if not all of the season due to a hamstring injury. The loss of Vandiar leaves a 1,000-run hole in HCC’s batting plans, and big shoes to fill for young Bryce Street, Vandiar’s replacement as overseas player.
Early signs suggest the Australian batting all-rounder to be a judicious acquisition, but HCC will look to Tonny Staal and Hidde Overdijk to take on rather more responsibility this year. The big question remains how well they and rookie Boris Gorlee will cope with the loss of Vandiar’s steadying influence.
In Vandiar’s absence HCC will be glad of spinning all-rounder Ryan Ninan’s return, and new head coach Tyrone Peters, though officially non-playing, is on the list should some experience be required to marshal the batting. Skipper Mark Jonkman and left arm quick Reinier Bijloos remain an enviable new-ball combination, and with Street bolstering the pace attack the bowling looks solid, but HCC’s youth graduates will need to step up with the bat if they are to hold their place at the top end of the table this season.
Young player to watch: Boris Gorlee
After a dynamic return to top-flight cricket last season that saw HBS mount a serious if short-lived challenge for the top spot, the Crows look the team to beat this season. Despite the loss of coaches Cory Anderson and Pierce Fletcher to VOC the HBS top-order arguably looks even more dangerous this time round.
With the prolific Jaron Morgan back for another season, South African left arm spinning all-rounder Sharn Gomes (fondly rembered at Craeyenhout as their lead scorer and wicket-taker in 2013 despite playing only 14 games) also returning HBS and skipper Toby Visée looking in good nick in the warm-ups, not to mention the acquisition of Wesley Barresi from Quick, HBS boast a top four that can take any game by the scruff of the neck.
The middle order is perhaps less intimidating, but Ferdi Vink is coming off the back of a stand-out season and fellow all-rounder Navjit Singh, 2016 youth player of the year, has looked increasingly assured. With veteran Berend Westdijk’s form good enough to warrant a spot on a national team development tour at the age of 33, Farshad Khan may have some competition for the title of HBS’ lead wicket taker this season, and the Crows’ new ball attack looks pretty handy.
Without question they look capable of besting any team in the league, and though questions remain as to whether they have the middle-order resilience to recover from early wickets or can find penetration with the older ball, they start their second season back in the Topklasse as favourites.
Young player to watch: Navjit Singh
Punjab Rotterdam will look back with justifiable satisfaction on their debut Topklasse season, despite falling away toward the end of the Summer. That they won just one of their last six matches is testament to their reliance on overseas players Shoaib Minhas and Khurram Shahzad, together with erstwhile overseas Ahsan Masood and Yasir Ali (the latter pair now naturalised) who missed the last few games.
Minhas and Shahzad have now departed permanently for Hermes DVS, leaving a gap of some 450 runs and 32 wickets to make up. Doubtless they hope the arrival of Stephan Mybugh (who makes the opposite move) will go some way toward making up if not overhauling the former, given Myburgh’s buccaneering style and the Zomercomplex’s short boundaries. Masood and Ali’s return is also yet to be confirmed, and as yet there has been no word on this season’s overseas signings as Punjab seem intent on holding their pre-season cards close to their chest. Rumour has it, however, that they will be plentiful.
They will join a core of players centred around the batting unit of Yasir Usman, Zaffar Chaudhary, and keeper Ahsan Bamunusinghe, Skipper Suleiman Tariq will lead the way with the ball last season together with a rotating cast of bit-part players, but consistency of selection was something of an issue, with some 29 players getting a run out – more than any other team in the league. One name likely to feature regularly however is that of all-rounder Assad Saleemi, the former Netherlands youth international reportedly having transferred from VVV.
Young player to watch: Assad Saleemi