There may only have been half a Topklasse campaign this season, but that won’t stop us from picking our Team of the Year. One significant difference, though, is that with only a handful of overseas players in the competition we aren’t considering a reserved place in that category; the overseas contingent will take their chances along with the locals.
RL: Punjab’s Stef Myburgh’s is not merely the first name on the sheet; the sheet comes with ‘S Myburgh’ pre-printed on it. His 524 runs at an average of 131.00, with three centuries and two fifties in seven innings, was a phenomenal effort, and his strike rate of 133.67, even allowing for the diminutive proportions of Punjab’s home ground, took the pressure off the rest of the top order. That said, his partner Rehmat Zulfiqar didn’t hang around either, and he is certainly one of the contenders for the other opening slot. Another is VRA’s 17-year-old Vikram Singh, who made a good deal of further progress in a batting line-up whose inconsistency demanded that he take a lot fewer risks than some of his rivals. Lenert van Wyk’s Topklasse form may not have been as stellar as in the T20 Cup, but he still averaged 42.33, while Musa Nadeem Ahmad made a pretty good fist of his step up from Groen en Wit to HCC.
BdJ: Myburgh is of course the easiest pick in this or any other team of the year, though the second opening slot is a good deal trickier. Van Wyk would be the obvious choice if we were to take T20 performances into account, but he only actually opened for Sparta in three Topklasse matches. By the same token Eric Szwarczynski’s unrivalled record at the top of the order for VRA rather suffers from comprising only two data points. The flip side of Singh’s rather placid approach is that one might argue it may have placed the rest of the line up under pressure to up the scoring, but of players that got a consistent run at the top of the order his average there of 40.83 probably puts him slightly clear of what competition there is.
Top and middle order
BdJ: The rest of the top order is perhaps a little more keenly contested, but with 382 runs at an average of 63.67 VCC skipper Bas de Leede is another easy pick, and has a strong claim on the captaincy too. Last season’s MVP Mudassar Bukhari made less of an impact with the ball this season, but the Sparta captain’s 253 runs at a shade over 50 also put him in the running for a middle order slot, though in captaincy terms it was arguably VOC’s Corey Rutgers that had the toughest assignment this season, deputising for the injured Pieter Seelaar while trying to hold together a team that had been thoroughly gutted by absence and unavailability, Rutgers’ own return of 275 runs at 45.83 understates the role he played in keeping VOC looking occasionally competitive this season. It’s tough to make a case for either over Punjab’s Teja Nidamanuru, however; the Auckland all-rounder may have had a modest impact with the ball in his debut Topklasse season but 261 runs at 87 must be enough to guarantee him a place on the strength of his batting alone. Conversely HCC’s Hidde Overdijk would doubtless make the team purely on the strength of his bowling (taking 17 wickets at 12.71 across eight games) even if he hadn’t scored a run all season. In fact he scored 250 at an average of 41.67, which makes him comfortably 2020’s stand-out all rounder.
RL: Corey Rutgers is your man for trench warfare and his role for VOC was invaluable, but no doubt others have a stronger claim here. De Leede, Nidamanuru and Overdijk are all in that category, and the fact that they all bowl as well perhaps gives us licence to add another batsman to the list. Among the younger brigade ACC’s Shreyas Potdar and VOC’s Arnav Jain both made good progress in sides where the batting was often iffy, but the greatest progress of all was made by Julian de Mey of HBS, whose conclusion to the season converted him from spin bowler to batting all-rounder. I’d put him at five or six in this team.
RL: Wicket-keeping statistics are hard to interpret: the number of catches taken behind the stumps is often a function of the attack as much as the keeper himself. Purely on the stats Satish Ravichandran of Dosti came out on top this year, but three others are worthy of consideration: Mitch Lees of VRA was always tidy, Tim de Kok did well in his first season keeping for VOC, but my candidate would be Ali Raza of Sparta 1888, not only for his work with the gloves but also for his destructive batting. I reckon he’d love coming in at seven with eight or ten overs to go.
BdJ: Just on weight of runs it’s hard to argue for anyone but Raza, though it should be noted that his best performances came after he moved up the order toward the back end of the season. But even after what has generally been a rather quiet season with the bat for the league’s glovemen, there’s a couple of further honourable mentions to be made. Toby Visée was rather hit and miss even before injury ruled him out for the last couple of games, but was as brutal as ever when he came off, his 169 runs coming at a strike rate of almost 200. The summer’s most impressive showing however, didn’t come from a specialist keeper at all. Dilettante gloveman Eric Szwarczynski kept for VRA through all 47.2 overs of Punjab’s final innings of the season without conceding a single bye, having batted through the entirety of the first innings for an unbeaten 120*.
BdJ: With Overdijk and De Leede already assured of a spot the seam section is already rather cramped, but space must surely be found for Overdijk’s team-mate Ollie Klaus, whose return of 18 wickets at 9.11 was instrumental in HCC topping the table. Punjab skipper Suleiman Tariq’s 19 wickets may have come at more than twice the price, though given the size of the Zomercomplex that would seem harsh grounds to exclude the summer’s top wicket-taker. A case might nonetheless be made for the VOC’s veteran Jelte Schoonheim, who broke into the top five wicket-takers for the first time in his storied career with 16 scalps at 13.62. Equally impressive was his team-mate Ahsan Malik, who finished with 11 wickets at 12.27 despite missing the first half of the season.
RL: Hard to argue with Klaus and Tariq: the former sharpened the edge of HCC’s table-topping attack, while the latter, as well as taking the new ball, has an enviable record as the competition’s most effective cleaner-up of tails. It’s a bit rough on Schoonheim, who got better as the season went on and who suffers from the plethora of seam-bowling all-rounders, and perhaps even more on Dosti’s Waheed Masood, who was the most consistent performer in a largely overwhelmed side. If we could squeeze in another seamer, Masood would get my vote. And there should be an honourable mention for Rens van Troost of Excelsior, another who grew into a more responsible role in a young and comparatively inexperienced team.
RL: If we include De Mey as a batting all-rounder a case could be made for adding just one more spinner (thus making room for Masood, or Schoonheim), and the strongest contender would probably be Voorburg’s leg-spinner Philippe Boissevain, ahead of HCC’s Clayton Floyd and Punjab’s Saqib Zulfiqar. Floyd’s strike rate was marginally better than Boissevain’s (24.33 to 26.00), but the success of HCC’s pace attack meant that he played a less crucial role overall. In terms of impact, few could rival VRA’s 14-year-old left-armer Luke Hartsink, but one senses that his time will come soon enough.
BdJ: It’s remarkable that if we’re looking for a specialist spinner that young Hartsink is such a strong contender, the 14 year-old’s eight wickets coming across just five matches and at a better economy than any of his rivals, even ignoring the genuine game-changing spells he produced in the T20 competition. That said, Boissevain remains the lead Topklasse wicket-taker amongst the slow bowlers despite missing the final two games due to injury, and his development as a batsman should not be discounted. His average of 35.25 this season is scarcely lower than de Mey’s, and his 141 runs came at better than a run a ball. To my mind Boissevain pretty much owns the spin all-rounder slot this season, freeing up space for another specialist.
So, with all the above in mind, we have:
Our Team of the Year:
Stephan Myburgh (Punjab), Vikram Singh (VRA), Ali Raza [+] (Sparta), Bas de Leede [c] (VCC), Corey Rutgers (VOC), Teja Nidamanuru (Punjab), Hidde Overdijk (HCC), Philippe Boissevain (VCC), Jelte Schoonheim (VOC), Ollie Klaus (HCC), Suleiman Tariq (Punjab)
12th man: Luke Hartsink (VRA)