Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 12/05/22
Suddenly we’re at the halfway mark of the first phase in this very unusual season (unusual not least because so far not an over has been lost to the weather), and it seems almost as if the draw had been worked out with the results known in advance. Let us explain.
RL: The unquestioned match of the day is between the two unbeaten sides in the group, with HBS Craeyenhout travelling to the Zomercomplex to take on Punjab Rotterdam. Neither had things entirely their own way last week, with the defending champions dismissed for a comparatively modest total by Sparta, and HBS having to draw on all their resources to see off the challenge from HCC. Punjab’s top order has been a lot less consistent this season than it was last year, although they bat deep enough for rescue operations to be mounted, as they were last Saturday by Saqib and Sikander Zulfiqar, and as they have been in other games by the Netherlands’ latest international prospect Teja Nidamanuru. The attack, moreover, is incisive enough to dig them out of most situations. HBS, by contrast, have shown that they can survive the early dismissals of Tobias Visée and Tayo Walbrugh, although the injury to Gavin Kaplan last week will be a source of concern. These sides are unbeaten for a reason, and we can hope to be treated to a Battle of the Titans at the Zomercomplex on Saturday.
BdJ: Punjab have certainly had to work a little harder for their early wins this season than last time round, but though the top order has been a little hit-and-miss so far they do indeed have enviable batting depth, and the bowling has generally been more reliable. Nobody has yet managed to put 200 runs on them, and one suspects HBS will need at least that if they’re to keep their own unbeaten record intact. In Kaplan’s absence they will likely need runs from either Visée or Walbrugh, with the middle order having looked rather fragile otherwise. Though having Ryan Klein and Wesley Barresi lurking down the order has proved a more than handy insurance policy, the rest of line-up have been little more than passengers thus far and the Crows will likely need to flock together on Saturday if they’re to take any points back to the Hague.
RL: Having secured their first win of the season at home to Kampong last Saturday, ACC face what is likely to be a much stiffer task in the form of HCC, again at Het Loopveld, this week. HCC spearhead Hidde Overdijk bowled superbly against HBS on Sunday and has also been in useful form with the bat, while Zac Worden has been an immovable force at the crease in all four games so far. With Damian Crowley now back in the line-up as well the Lions might reasonably expect to be kings of the Topklasse jungle, but those points dropped to Punjab and HBS may well come back to haunt them later in the season. Their hosts, by contrast, are still settling into a unit, and although tall paceman Mees van Vliet is making encouraging progress and thoroughly deserved his five-for against Kampong, it will be a real test of his character and skill when he faces the HCC top order. ACC’s big problem remains making enough runs quickly enough, and while it was good to see Anis Raza and Shreyas Potdar combine in a solid stand last week, Thomas Hobson, Robin Smith and Co. will need to be on their mettle against HCC’s varied and menacing attack.
BdJ: If ACC’s unfancied 2021 squad turned out to be somewhat more than the sum of its parts, the story this season has been rather the opposite. Despite a number of acquisitions over the winter looking to have strengthened the Amsterdam outfit considerably, the newcomers have, broadly speaking, yet to effectively adjust to the conditions. Rather it was the familiar faces that delivered their first points last week. That said, the fact that ACC have plainly under-performed so far suggests ample room for improvement and their opponents, despite looking the more impressive outfit, have taken their only wins against teams in the lower half of the table and twice come up short in the face of stronger opposition. The persistence with the experimental promotion of Clayton Floyd to replace Musa Nadeem at the top of the order suggests a lack of confidence in other options, and Worden aside none of HCC’s top order have delivered consistently. That is not to say that HCC will be heading to Amsterdam as anything other than clear favourites of course, but the ingredients for an upset are there. So on that basis, in the absence of any other disagreement between us, this will be the match where I make my sporting prediction distinction.
RL: Yet to get off the mark after losing to ACC last week, Kampong Utrecht will get a repechage when they welcome Sparta 1888 to Maarschalkerweerd on Saturday. Both these sides seem almost certainly to be heading for the relegation pool, so the points on offer here are of even greater significance. The Capelle outfit have now been boosted by the arrival of overseas player Samit Gohil, and if he made a greater impact with the ball than with the bat against in his first outing against Punjab, in the longer term he provides a much-needed strengthening of a palpably struggling Sparta top order. With Ahsan Malik and Mudassar Bukhari having proved that they can take the top off opposition line-ups, Kampong will need to weather that initial storm if they are to break their duck here. Several of their batters have contributed usefully on occasion, but they have yet to put together a really convincing collective effort with the bat, and apart from the admirable Alex Roy the attack has lacked penetration. No doubt Kampong have the potential to gain crucial points from this game, but Sparta will start as favourites.
BdJ: If there remain serious questions about the top-flight credentials of the Sparta batting card, they seem unlikely to be asked on Saturday by a Kampong attack that has either conceded 200+ runs or taken no more than three wickets in each of their four matches to date. Should the thus-far absent Pite van Biljon belatedly arrive to bolster the Kampong batting by Saturday it would certainly increase the chances of an upset in a game that, on current form, they will likely have to win with the bat. Current form for both sides is, however, extrapolated almost entirely from matches played on mats, so it’s questionable how much predictive power that may have. Kampong could not capitalise on home advantage in their one outing at Maarschalkerweerd against HCC, but it’s not impossible to envisage Sparta’s batting struggling to adjust.
RL: Unbeaten at the top of their group, Voorburg head to the Amsterdamse Bos to take on VRA Amsterdam. With Janneman Malan running into form at Salland last week and Delano Potgieter demonstrating his hitting power as well as his skill with the ball, Voorburg are starting to live up to live up to their billing as prospective champions. Logan van Beek is yet to join the party, but once he does this will be a team with almost no visible weaknesses, and it will be a huge challenge for Peter Borren’s young side to end their visitors’ winning run. Eduard Visser is a valuable acquisition for the Amsterdammers, as much as an opening pinch hitter as a new-ball bowler, and with Borren himself chipping in with the ball last week as well as continuing to make significant runs in the middle order, VRA deserve their position in the top half of the table. Again, the points here are likely to carry their weight all the way to August, and if Voorburg will inevitably start as favourites, it would be extremely rash to rule out VRA springing a surprise.
BdJ: If VRA have perhaps surprised even their most ardent fans with the degree of success their “be alright on the night” approach to the season has brought them so far, derailing the VCC championship train on Saturday would likely leave them pinching themselves. While Malan seemed to have gotten the hang of typical Dutch conditions last week one suspects the wicket at the Bos will be one that suits him far better, and VRA has also been a happy hunting ground for the prodigal Viv Kingma, who took five-fer against his former club the last time the two side met there in the first of VCC’s three wins over VRA last season. VRA’s rag-tag bunch have come together remarkably well thus far, with Visser, Shah and Dutt looking likely to prove valuable acquisitions and the Amsterdammer’s youngsters (most notably Vikram Singh and Udit Nashier) beginning to deliver on their promise. Yet they remain underdogs against a full-strength VCC, especially in the expected absence of Luke Scully, who has made runs against the Voorburgers in the past. On the other hand, the hosts will feel they have little to lose come Saturday in a fixture they won’t be expecting to yield any points. While Voorburg will start the day as favourites, in a talented VRA side playing close to their best with little fear of losing, they are walking toward likely the slipperiest banana skin that they’ll encounter all season.
RL: VOC Rotterdam have had a disappointing start to the season, and a win against Excelsior ’20 Schiedam at the Hazelaarweg this week will be absolutely crucial to their chances of battling their way back into the top three in the back half of the first phase. Excelsior have duly excelled in their first four games, and their thumping victories over VRA, Salland and Dosti have given them the healthiest NRR of any team in either group. We do tend to harp on about VOC’s dependence on their three internationals, but that’s mostly because they keep reminding us that it’s true. Scott Edwards’ two centuries have been a bright spot in an otherwise dismal few weeks for the Rotterdammers, and even with the all-round efforts of Max O’Dowd and Pieter Seelaar it’s hard to see things improving significantly for them unless players like Tim de Kok and Arnav Jain make a greater contribution with the bat. Excelsior’s recent success might prove to be a bit of a problem, in the sense that with victories by nine, seven and eight wickets their middle order is short of time in the middle, but Lord knows that’s not a bad problem to have. And the attack has the cutting edge to reinforce VOC’s own problems.
BdJ: It has to be said that if it’s fair to make any kind of story out of just four rounds of Topklasse games, the biggest would be the exposure of VOC’s remarkable lack of bench strength. The Bloodhounds have admittedly been hit by the retirement of Dirk van Baren, injury to Bobby Hanif, and the loss of Ahsan Malik to Sparta together with Corey Rutgers’ recusal from first team cricket, yet their inability to fill the gaps must be seen as something of an indictment of their youth production line. In Seelaar, O’Dowd and Edwards they will unquestionably have three of the best players on the park come Saturday, and any of the three could potentially turn the game, but they will start as underdogs in their own back yard against an Excelsior side that, while admittedly bolstered by overseas talent, more importantly shows fewer weak links among their home-grown contingent. Excelsior themselves have only been properly tested once this season and in that instance found wanting against VCC, but then so has everyone else that’s come up against the Voorburgers. The key question on Saturday, one suspects, will be whether Excelsior’s new ball attack can deliver the requisite decapitation strike to prevent Edwards or O’Dowd or from taking the game in hand.
RL: If Dosti are playing at home it must be Sunday, and it’s Salland who make the trip to Sportpark Drieburg this week. Once again, the fact that both sides are pretty certain to be playing in the relegation group come the second phase makes this match a real four-pointer, and Mahesh Hans’s team will perhaps feel that they will have few better chances of posting their second win in nearly three years. But Salland showed with their win over VOC that they are capable of battling their way to a win on occasion, and these are points which could stand them in very good stead when the Relegation Stakes reach the final furlong in August. It’s true that they’ve only managed two half-century partnerships so far, both against VOC, and only half-a-dozen more which reached 20, but Dosti have only passed 50 once, also against the VOC attack. Salland’s bowlers, moreover, have found the going even tougher than Dosti’s, Elam Bharathi and Venkat Ganesan leading the way with four wickets apiece. It’s likely to be a dour battle, but I’m inclined to think home advantage may tip the balance Dosti’s way. ‘If not now, when?’
BdJ: Four rounds in is a little early to be making such firm predictions of course, and both teams are in principle still expecting overseas reinforcement at some point this season which could change such calculations significantly, but as things stand this week’s straggling fixture at Drieburg does already rather look like the first leg of a relegation clash. While Dosti’s batting looks a little deeper on their own matting compared to grass, Salland’s spin-heavy attack won’t play to the pinch-hitting strengths of Masood or Raja at the top, and despite Salland’s disappointing start the hosts will likely need one or both of Rahil Ahmed, Vinoo Tewarie or Hans himself to play a substantial innings on Sunday.
RL’s picks: Punjab, HCC, Sparta, Voorburg, Excelsior, Dosti.
BdJ’s picks: Punjab, ACC, Sparta, Voorburg, Excelsior, Dosti.