Round 2 Preview

Bertus de Jong and Rod Lyall 27/04/22

One sunny round into the 2022 season and a sextet of matches to look at, it’s apparent that some sides have emerged from the winter break rather rustier than others, with only the one match at het Loopveld ever looking like much of a contest. With a double-header coming up after this week’s festivities there’s little time for teams to settle in either, given how rapidly the mid-season split will be upon us.

Group A

BdJ: At the top of the Group A table defending champions Punjab Rotterdam will be heading to de Diepput to take on staying at the Zomercomplex to welcome second-placed HCC, the two teams’ first encounter since Punjab bested HCC at the Zomercomplex in their final group game on their way to the title last season, a match surrounded in no little controversy even by the high standards of the tail end of the 2021 Group Phase. While it is to be hoped that there is no lasting animosity, even if this is no grudge match it nonetheless looks a potential “four pointer” between two of the pre-season favourites. Both sides are coming off convincing wins over Kampong and Sparta respectively, each set up by a century from the top, Stephan Myburgh and Tonny Staal tonning-up for Punjab and HCC respectively. Myburgh’s form will be a boost for a Punjab side doing without overseas this year, especially as the now-local Teja Nidamanuru is apparently not fully fit. If Myburgh’s efforts meant the rest of the batting was not really tested, the bowling looks in good order, Saqib Zulfiqar and Mubashar Hussain the stand-outs last week as Kampong were rolled for 171. Likewise the depth of HCC’s batting remains a question, though newcomer Zac Worden certainly looks an asset in the middle order, and Henrico Venter’s 3-15 led an impressive first outing with the ball. As yet there’s little to choose between the two teams, though home advantage might just have given HCC the edge had this been a home game as originally scheduled, but de Diepput’s unavailability hands that advantage to Punjab.

RL: With both these sides likely to finish in the top half of their group points earned now are likely to remain a factor all the way through to the end of August, so this is indeed a key match for all concerned. The two attacks are a study in contrast, with Punjab having won last year largely by a policy of containment while HCC tend to go all out to grab early wickets. Spinner Clayton Floyd, last season’s leading wicket-taker, often bowls an over or two up front, and he is joined now by New Zealander Tim Pringle, with Hidde Overdijk, Reinier Bijloos, Olivier Klaus and Venter a menacing seam quartet. On last week’s evidence getting Myburgh early will be crucial, but the Punjab left-hander will have fond memories of De Diepput, where he began his Dutch career. For Punjab, on the other hand, skipper Suleiman Tariq is still rolling out his naggingly accurate ten-over spells, and Samiullah Salarazai, though wicketless on his first outing, gave every indication he will be a real asset in weeks to come. Too close to call, but I’ll go with the champions.

BdJ: Of last week’s losers ACC looked the closest to competitive, while their upcoming opponents Sparta 1888 will likely want to put their opening game behind them. New overseas Thomas Hobson and Robin Smith both impressed with the bat on debut for ACC, but there was little else to celebrate on the batting side with the rest of the top order failing to make double figures. Along with Hobson, newcomer Joseph Reddy also impressed with the ball, as did Mees van Vliet, but ACC will be hoping for a better effort with the bat this weekend to back up the bowlers. The Amsterdam side were admittedly understrength for their first game, with a number of new arrivals such as Eleas Meakhel and Adriaan Verbeek absent as well as regulars Shreyas Potdar and Devanshu Arya. Sparta meanwhile were missing Mudassar Bukhari in their season opener, and unquestionably missed him. A disappointing debut for fellow former international Ahsan Malik is also concerning, as the Capelle side will likely need strong showings from both if they are to survive the season.

RL: It was the batting which caused ACC the greatest headaches last year, and the acquisition of Smith and Hobson will undoubtedly make a significant difference. But realistically both these sides are probably competing for the title of Best of the Rest, and here too, if they both finish in the lower half of their group, the two points on offer on Saturday could prove vital in the relegation stakes at the end of the season. Sparta are in even greater need of reinforcement than their opponents, and overseas Samit Gohil cannot get here soon enough, or the talismanic Bukhari return to the colours. Ahsan Malik would look a very different bowler with his old mate Bukhari at the other end, and while Nasratullah Ibrahimkhil’s effort with the bat in a losing cause was a bonus, Sparta need a lot more solidity in their top order.

BdJ: The final Group A game will see Kampong head over to Craeyenhout to take on HBS, and based on Saturday’s evidence will need to up their game if they are to take any points back to Utrecht. Kampong can take some heart from the contributions of their top order despite the failure of overseas Cole Briggs, but the rapid collapse of the middle order and tail against Punjab suggests a real vulnerability should the top four fail. It is perhaps unfair to judge their bowling too harshly given that they came up against Myburgh in full flight, but there were few positives to take from their first showing on top-flight return either. For HBS Saturday did suggest some worries in the middle order too, but with the Klein brothers coming in at eight and nine with Ferdi Vink behind them the Crows have by a distance the deepest batting line-up in the competition, and a middle order collapse may not mean disaster.

RL: Usman Malik seems likely to need to get through a lot of overs and bat for long periods – as he did against Punjab last week – and he will be another with his eye on Schiphol as Kampong await the return of Pite van Biljon. Facing the champions away first up was a tough reminder for the Villagers of the gap between the Hoofdklasse and the top flight, and the inexperience unquestionably showed. And with Tayo Walbrugh immediately back into the groove he cut for himself in the first half of last season HBS are scarcely less forbidding opposition. But Kampong might take heart from two factors: the slump in the middle of the HBS batting against ACC, and the length of time it took for their bowlers to finish off a spirited response by the Amsterdammers. It’s hard to see anything other than an HBS win here, but if Malik’s men can be more competitive for more of the game they’ll be entitled to see that as an important step towards the more crucial battles to come.

Group B

BdJ: Over in Group B, VRA will welcome Excelsior ‘20 to the Bos. Last year’s bronze-medallists surprised many with a dominant showing against newcomers Salland in their very first outing of the season, while the Schiedammers’ extensive preparations could not prevent a rather tame capitulation against VCC. Despite the pre-season promise of Excelsior’s home-grown bats they were again left relying on Lorenzo Ingram for runs, only Stan van Troost and Joost Kroesen passing 20 against VCC. The bowling likewise looked lacking, despite Rens van Troost and Niels Etman finding early inroads the attack seemed short of penetration. The arrival of Brett Hampton may help in both departments, though it appears even a depleted VRA side may prove a sterner test than anticipated. Their total of 249 last week on a slow wicket and slower outfield was largely down to an excellent century partnership between Jack Balbirnie and skipper Peter Borren, whose continued form will likely be key as a young top order settle in. The comparatively callow bowling attack also impressed, with youngsters Ashir Abid and Udit Nashier both picking up early wickets, newcomer Eduard Visser bowling well without reward and Aryan Dutt picking up a five-fer on debut for his new club. That said one might suggest VRA were at their best last week while Excelsior were well below theirs, and any reversion to the mean could shift the odds in favour of the latter.

RL: As one of the unsurprised I think it’s easy to underestimate this emerging VRA side, which even with the loss of Cooper, Szwarczynski and Gunning has a good balance of cagey experience and youthful enthusiasm. Under Borren’s watchful eye the Amsterdam club are bringing through a talented crop of youngsters, a policy which earned Excelsior national titles a few years ago. Some of the Schiedammers’ youngsters, like Roel Verhagen, Tim Etman and Rens van Troost are now seasoned campaigners, while a new generation, such as Luuk Kroesen, Stan van Troost and Niels Etman are finding their way in the side. With Van Troost junior taking the gloves it was interesting to see Verhagen pressed into the attack against Voorburg (who knew?), but the Excelsior bowling will have much greater edge with Hampton’s presence, and VRA’s top order will face a big test. These sides may well be competing for third place in the group come June, so this too is a big four-pointer.

BdJ: Meanwhile Salland have another long bus ride in store as they head across to Rotterdam to take on VOC, who completed a convincing win over Dosti on Sunday despite looking fairly rusty in the field. The newly-arrived Max Hoornweg was a notable exception in that regard, picking up three wickets on his debut for the Bloodhounds. The addition of Hoornweg will go some way toward easing the pressure on a sometimes overburdened seam attack, while Arnav Jain and Max O’Dowd showed themselves capable of taking on front-line slow-bowling duties as skipper Seelaar takes a back seat. With Scott Edwards’ unbeaten century seeing VOC comfortably home last week VOC’s batting depth is also rather untested, though whether Salland can find a way through the imposing top order on Saturday is of course an open question. For Salland the bowling in fact looks the principle concern. While the batting (with the exception of Pasan Piyaranga) rapidly fell apart in the chase, by then the game had largely been lost. Similarly one suspects that the result on Saturday will depend largely on whether and how quickly Salland can take the top off VOC’s batting line-up.

RL: Like Kampong, Salland faced a stern reality check last week, and will undergo another at the Hazelaarweg on Saturday. VOC’s international trio of O’Dowd, Edwards and Seelaar is enough to give any visiting captain the heebie-jeebies, and with Jain and Hoornweg among the up-and-comers (and Siebe van Wingerden not even getting a game against Dosti), the Rotterdammers have to be among the early favourites for the title. Salland, on the other hand, seem likely to be fighting a battle against relegation, an impression only confirmed by their performance against VRA. They will need their German contingent to produce the goods consistently, but the Topklasse is a demanding environment, and the Deventer side will need to adapt quickly if they are to have any chance of staying up.

BdJ: Finally Dosti head down to Westvliet to take on a full-strength VCC, with Janneman Malan understood to have arrived at Voorburg to bolster an already intimidating line-up. Dosti themselves are also expected to be somewhat strengthened, with Amitoze Singh and Shivam Sharma reportedly on their way to join the Drieburgers; but nonetheless taking on this Voorburg side at Westvliet is likely to be the toughest engagement facing any Topklasse side this season. Bar Wahid Masood’s excellent day with both bat and ball there was little to suggest an impending turnaround in Dosti’s fortunes this season, though the ingredients for a competitive team remain. VCC conversely looked in fine touch against Excelsior, with Bas de Leede carrying on his fine form with the bat and newcomer Delano Potgieter proving his worth with the ball. With the addition of Malan at the top of the order the Voorburgers look arguably the strongest side that the competition has seen in its 132-year history, and anything but a VCC victory would be the upset of the round.

RL: One might cavil about the historical point (the 2001 VRA outfit for one, with Craig Cumming, Shane Thomson and Chris Pringle, would, I reckon, have given this Voorburg side a run for their money), but the quality assembled at Westvliet is indeed formidable, and even a reinforced Dosti seems likely to struggle. That said, Voorburg’s batting does have a reputation for making haste slowly, and while they weren’t under much scoreboard pressure against Excelsior they only just got the tempo right in the end. And if Singh and Sharma are indeed about to join their compatriot Kuldeep Diwan at Dosti, then the side will have a very different timbre, with a lot of pressure off the likes of Vinoo Tewarie, Rahil Ahmed, Mahesh Hans, Asief Hoseinbaks and the always-admirable Wahid Masood. Whether even that would be enough to overcome Voorburg if they play anywhere near their capability is, however, debatable.

BdJ’s picks: HCC, ACC, HBS, VRA, VOC, VCC.

RL’s picks: Punjab, ACC, HBS, VRA, VOC, VCC.


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