Bertus de Jong 22/04/22
With a new format, two new teams and an influx of new players, the 2022 Topklasse seems almost an entirely different competition to the 2021 edition, and certainly doesn’t make the job of the prognosticator any easier. Nevertheless
Defending Champions Punjab Rotterdam start their season against newcomers Kampong CC, and as number one seed facing off against the notionally lowest-ranked team in the competition ought to provide us with out easiest prediction. The two teams have seen a fair bit of each other in pre-season, twice facing off in the group phase of the recent ECN T10 competition at Berweg before meeting in the final, and while Punjab claimed two wins from three and took home the title Kampong gave a fine account of themselves, with Sherry Butt and Usman Malik especially impressing. Kampong will also be strengthened by the addition of overseas Cole Briggs and Pite van Biljon, while word is Punjab’s Teja Nidamanuru has picked up a preseason injury and may be sidelined for Saturday. Conversely Stephan Myburgh, who was lamentably absent for the T10 slogathon, is expected to return for the title-holders. While Punjab have not added any significant signings for the coming season, their dominance in 2021 suggests they’ve little need for them even in a strengthened field. Kampong’s appreciably bolstered outfit may yet spring a surprise, but coming up against the champions away first up is certainly something of a baptism of fire.
Likewise something of an unknown quantity for 2022, ACC will be fielding a number of new faces when they take on HBS at het Loopveld. Most notably of course are the trio of South Africans brought in to bolster the side – Batting all-rounder Thomas Hobson along with keeper-bat Robin Smith and his Amanzimtoti clubmate Robert Ackerman – but ACC have also attracted a number of drift-ins for the season, such as young Afghan bat Elias Meakhel and Englishmen Zachary Mitchell and Chris Gregory. How quickly the newcomers at het Loopveld adjust to local conditions will be key to ACC’s fortunes, and they face a stern test first-up. HBS have brought in Gavin Kaplan as player-coach to further strengthen a batting card that already boasts the dangerous Toby Visée, Tayo Walbrugh and (for at least one more season) former national team keeper Wesley Barresi. Former Netherlands under-19s all-rounder Kyle Klein joins his elder brother Ryan in HBS black for 2022. The latter has looked in particularly fine form in pre-season. ACC’s newcomers will have to find their feet quickly if they are to are to avoid being picked apart by the Crows in their season opener.
After a disappointing 2021 season, Sparta 1888 have looked to fill in some gaps in the off-season, though their acquisitions are less eye-catching than some in the League they look a somewhat more balanced side than last year as they prepare to face HCC in their opening match. Former international Ahsan Malik comes over from VOC in a swap with seamer Max Hoornweg, while Sandeep Sardha also returns to Berweg. While the Spartans’ pre-season has not promised much, failing to make finals day in their home ECN-series, they were largely understrength and notably without overseas signings Rikus Allen and Samit Gohil. Their opponents have been strengthened by the arrival of overseas Tim Pringle, Zac Worden, and fomer Zimbabwe youth international Patient Charumbira though the new arrivals didn’t made much of an impression in pre-season Chicking T20 cup at VCC this week, HCC nonetheless start as favourites, with the core of the side that topped the 2020 table intact.
Across the other side of the draw last year’s runners-up Voorburg CC head to Schiedam to take on Excelsior ‘20 at Thurlede. The hosts have the good fortune of catching VCC early in the season, with headline-grabbing signing Janneman Malan yet to arrive and Dutch international Logan van Beek also delayed by wedding plans abroad. Yet VCC have plenty of depth this season, with skipper Bas de Leede looking in fine touch both at the ECN tourney at Cappelle and at the aforementioned ChicKing Cup, while new opening bat Musa Nadeem (over from HCC) also has runs under his belt. Nonetheless Excelsior may sense an opportunity to steal a march on the pre-season favourites, with both firm fixture Lorenzo Ingram and the prodigal Brett Hampton both ready to take the field. Excelsior’s home-grown array of Etmans, van Troosts and Kroesens have also put up a decent showing in the lead-in to the season with the Schiedammers winning two of their three prep matches without the aid of their overseas.
Arguably the biggest game of the round will be contested by two of the least-fancied teams at Amsterdamse Bos, where a threadbare VRA will welcome the newly-promoted Salland CC. With expectations for both sides carefully moderated for the season, both will be expecting to carry any points from Saturday’s encounter through to lower division in the second phase. For Salland their first top-flight game in over a quarter century is one they have been targetting, assured of a full complement of German internationals and with a fair bit of match practice behind them they will be disappointed to take less than two points back East. They find their hosts in a rather dubious state, not only deprived of three key players in Ben Cooper, Eric Szwarczynski and Quirijn Gunning, but also electing to do without any warm-up matches whatsoever. While in seasons past VRA have generally started poorly despite intensive preparation, it is questionable whether taking the opposite approach will necessarily produce better results. Youngsters Vikram Singh and Aryan Dutt do have the benefit of a preparatory ODI Super League tour to New Zealand of course, which may stand them in good stead when the serious business of the season begins Saturday.
A similar approach to preparation has seemingly been taken by Dosti United and VOC Rotterdam, who will belatedly contest the final match of the round on Sunday, owing to traditional field-availability issues at Drieburg. VOC’s trio of Netherlands internationals Max O’Dowd, Scot Edwards and Oranje skipper Pieter Seelaar have also had the benefit of a tour to New Zealand to hone their skills of course, but will find a sterner test awaiting them at Drieburg than last time round, when the appalling weather was their chief nemesis. Dosti have again secured the services of Kuldeep Diwan and Amitoze Singh for the coming season, and by no means look like the pushovers they’ve been for the past two seasons.
BdJ’s tips: Punjab, HBS, HCC, Excelsior, Salland, VOC.