Rod Lyall and Bertus de Jong 20/07/18
With five rounds left it’s beginning to look as if the national championship is VOC’s to lose, and with their two main rivals due to meet this week the title race may effectively be reduced to two contenders by Sunday evening.
RL: The match of the day is undoubtedly the visit of third-placed VRA Amsterdam to Craeyenhout to take on HBS, currently one place above them on the table by virtue of having lost one game fewer. VRA won the corresponding encounter in the Amsterdamse Bos on 21 May despite openers Daan ter Braak and Eric Szwarczynski making just eight runs between them, and with this pair having shared century opening partnerships in each of their last two games the Amsterdammers are beginning to look like a formidable batting line-up on the field as well as on paper. But HBS are a different proposition on their own astroturf, and their seamers have shown that the side’s championship prospects do not depend wholly on its batting. This promises to be one of the best games of the season, and it’s certainly one of vital importance to both teams.
BdJ: A crucial game no doubt, one that looks almost like a semi-final as we head toward the late phase of the league. Both sides still have a game in hand against VOC at the top of the table which could see them draw level with the leaders on points, but first they will need a win on Sunday in what will likely be on of the last few genuine “4 pointers” of the season. VRA’s batting will be strengthened by the return of Ben Cooper as well as Szwarczynski’s belated return to form, and though Vivian Kingma looks set to miss the remainder of the season the presence of Michael Rippon in the Netherlands and on the VRA list gives van den Burg a tempting option, especially if Adeel Raja is unavailable. Should Rippon play VRA’s already remarkable batting depth would be still further extended, and might give them the edge even in the face of HBS’ own intimidating top order. Though Toby Visee had the chance to get another good look at Rippon’s left arm wrist spin from behind the stumps in today’s Pro-Series matches, and Wes Barresi has seen plenty of him from the same vantage point over the years, for the rest of HBS’ line-up it may take some getting used to.
RL: Leaders VOC Rotterdam, on the other hand, have what is theoretically a less challenging task, away to struggling ACC at Het Loopveld. They were uncompromising in their dismissal of champions Excelsior last week, and they are likely to focus equally hard on neutralising the undoubted threat of the Zulfiqar brothers and Richardt Frenz (which incidentally would be a pretty good name for a blues band). ACC’s problem is that they have too little to back up that top four or five, depending on whether Sikander Zulfiqar is able to return to the side, and that their attack lacks the firepower to trouble a side with the batting depth of VOC. With Scott Edwards coming in at six and able to rely on significant support from the lower order, even early wickets don’t necessarily put the Rotterdammers on the back foot, while the pace attack of Klaassen and Fletcher will certainly test the top of ACC’s batting.
BdJ:No argument here. The depth of VOC’s side even when key players such as Rutgers or Ahsan Malik have sat out due to injury is largely what has got them to the top of the table, and though skipper Seelaar’s form has certainly helped, they have shown they can win even when he has a rare off-day. Conversely, ACC’s lack of bench strength has been exposed repeatedly, and they will need a solid showing from the top order and more penetration with the ball than they’ve consistently shown to upset the Rotterdammers.
RL: Two sides which started well and have fallen away, Sparta 1888 and Dosti United Amsterdam meet in a mid-table clash at Sportpark Bermweg. Both sides are reliant on a few key players, although Sparta’s largely seam attack is more extensive and a good deal more imposing than Dosti’s. Generally speaking, when Taruwar Kohli makes runs Dosti wins, and when he doesn’t, they don’t. Sparta, equally, need a significant contribution with the bat from Michael Pollard and/or Warren Bell, and neither has been as consistent as they or their team-mates would have liked. Mudassar Bukhari needs just one wicket to reach 300 in the top flight, and it’s a fair bet he would love to do it against his former team-mates – and then go on to claim a few more. Having lost four on the trot Sparta need to halt their slide, while Dosti remain in the top half of the table and will be very keen to stay there.
BdJ: The first of the inevitable mid-table dead rubbers is indeed already upon us, and with neither of these sides in realistic danger of relegation or a late surge to the title this match rather takes on the appearance of a friendly. That said, newcomers Sparta certainly have plenty to prove in their return season, and should not be underestimated on home turf. Whilst Dosti boast both the season’s lead runscorer and lead wicket taker in Kohli and Hafeez, Sparta look the more rounded side and at a ground such as Bermweg reliance on a single player for runs is arguably a greater weakness than elsewhere.
RL: Having lost to Quick Haag last Sunday HCC will be hoping for yet another reversal of fortune when they entertain bottom-placed Punjab Rotterdam at De Diepput. Ryan Ninan was one of the few bright lights in last week’s performance, and HCC need him to produce a strong finish to the season to back up his overseas colleague Bryce Street and the younger brigade of Tonny Staal, Hidde Overdijk, Boris Gorlee and the rest. Punjab, on the other hand, continue to drift towards relegation, which seems increasingly certain unless openers Stef Myburgh and Ali Raza can repeat their two century stands on a weekly basis or someone else can emerge as a potential matchwinner. With five games left HCC are not yet mathematically safe, but two points here would make their cushion a good deal more comfortable than it is at present.
BdJ: For all Myburgh and Raza’s belligerence at the top of the order, Punjab have looked increasingly like a side that has resigned itself to a return to the Hoofdklasse. All too often early wickets have seen the Rotterdammers throw in the towel early in a chase, blocking their way to respectable defeat rather than going down blazing, and with a bowling attack that rarely threatens to take ten wickets they have struggled to defend any sort of total. HCC’s inconsistent form will give them some hope though, especially if they can get off to a decent start in the first innings with either bat or ball. They remain a dangerous side if there’s blood in the water, but nonetheless head to de Diepput as outsiders.
RL: Excelsior ‘20’s season reads WWAWWWALLWLLL, which looks a bit like the sound their supporters must feel like making as a season which began so promisingly comes to pieces before their eyes. This week they are at home to a Quick Haag side which produced one of their better performances in beating HCC last week, while Excelsior, after a decent start in the field, were again dismissed for under 100. Hampered by James Hilditch’s absence, the champions lack conviction with the bat, and to some degree with the ball, and Quick, needing a couple more wins to get clear of the danger zone, will be hoping that Jay Bista, now captain as well as leading allrounder, can lift them to a victory which would have seemed deeply improbable a few weeks ago. So much of cricket is played in the head, and Quick’s may just be in a better place at this point than the Schiedammers’.
BdJ: It’s remarkable in itself that these two recent champions should be battling for mid-table position at this point in the season, though the current title-holders will doubtless be the more disappointed of the two with the position they find themselves in. Quick were targeting top-flight survival even before a game had been played, and have not had to revise their ambitions, whilst Excelsior’s defense of the championship has unwound calamitously since Hilditch’s injury. For all the talent in Excelsior’s young squad, his absence has underscored the extend to which the Schiedammers’ success has been built around his and Ingram’s partnership. Quick meanwhile are down one overseas as well, with Sean Davey likely to sit out, and as Jay Bista himself observed at de Diepput a couple of weeks agom a pro can’t reliably win Topklasse games on his own. That said, on the mumbaiker’s current form one could see him proving himself wrong. He will have a tougher task than Ingram come Sunday though, the prolonged absence of Quick skipper Jeroen Brand further weakening a Quick squad already struggling with departures and retirements.
Rod Lyall’s tips: HBS, VOC, Sparta, HCC, Quick.
Bertus de Jong’s tips: VRA, VOC, Sparta, HCC, Excelsior