Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 24/05/22
With the traditional Ascension Day round upon us on Thursday the first phase of the Topklasse is accelerating toward a conclusion, and by this time next week at least some, conceivably even all of the contenders for the championship group will be known. For those teams in the lower halves of their respective tables, especially those in Group A, time for a comeback is rapidly running out.
BdJ: For Kampong, who face second-placed HBS Craeyenhout at Maarschalkerweerd on Thursday, practically every match is must-win from here if they’re to avoid the relegation pool. Realistically though, the outcome of the match will probably be of little consequence given the likelihood of the two teams ending up in different pools for the second phase. Kampong pulled off a remarkable upset win over the previously unbeaten Punjab last week which is likewise unlikely to matter much, perhaps suggesting that they rather enjoy playing with little on the line. Notably they bagged the points without any significant contribution from the newly-arrived Pite van Biljon, though one expects it won’t be long before he makes his presence felt. For HBS the fixture is principally a chance to take the pressure off somewhat for the rest of the first phase, as they’re unlikely to take any points won on Thursday through. Despite the heist Kampong pulled on Punjab the Crows remain firm favourites for this one, with Barresi and Walbrugh looking in good touch and Kaplan back (though unneeded last week) the potential return of the ever-busy Toby Visée would be a luxury they would welcome, but not necessarily require.
RL: Kampong have taken a while to settle to their task, but last week’s victory over Punjab showed that they are not as out of their depth at Topklasse level as might at one stage have appeared. With Van Biljon joining Cole Briggs in the batting line-up and the attack, spearheaded by Alex Roy and Usman Malik, an increasingly effective unit, the Utrecht side may be capable of springing more surprises from here on in. But HBS, off-days excepted, are a tough proposition for anybody, and they way they bounced back from their Zomercomplex debacle indicates an impressive toughness. One plus point for Kampong is home advantage: Maarschalkerweerd has proved a tricky venue for batting sides, and Malik’s side have shown themselves thoroughly capable of exploiting it. HBS are indeed favourites, but this game might be closer than the sides’ records so far suggest.
BdJ: Of greater probable consequence is the clash at De Diepput between third-placed HCC and current leaders Punjab Rotterdam, who could both seal their place in the top three this week. HCC’s emphatic win over Sparta last week took them two wins clear in third, and they may sense a chance to both solidify their position and bag crucial second-phase points against a Punjab side whose air of invincibility has comprehensively blown away. Nonetheless the Rotterdammers are defending champions for a reason, and though their batting failed them last week the bowling remains more formidable than what HCC faced last week, especially with the addition of Samiullah Salarazai, who lends the Punjab attack a cutting edge it had arguably lacked, and whether it will be enough to counter the in-form Tim Pringle may prove the key question come Thursday in what looks to be the headline match this round.
RL: HCC’s attack now looks back to full effectiveness, and they will undoubtedly fancy their chances against a Punjab side which had until last week continued winning despite performing distinctly below their best. But Kampong’s cause was greatly helped by the early removal of Steph Myburgh, and unless HCC are able to repeat that trick they could find themselves doing some serious leather-chasing. The Lions have proved adept at making the most of what DLS calls ‘resource’: they were all out off the last ball of their innings against ACC, but not before they had put on 260, and with Clayton Floyd coming in at seven and Yash Patel at eight they bat as deep as anyone in the competition. With Suleiman Tariq bowling as well as ever and Salarazai a real acquisition, Punjab’s bowling is pretty effective as well, and if the group has seemingly split early into a top and bottom three, that is compensated by the fact that the top three are very evenly balanced.
BdJ: Meanwhile in the Last Chance Saloon ACC will head to Bermweg to face Sparta 1888 with both sides looking in the first instance for probable second phase points to stave off relegation, with an outside chance of kicking off a late surge to the top-three should neutral results permit. Sparta scraped to a two-wicket win in a low-scoring dogfight at Het Loopveld earlier in the season and ACC will be keen to level the score on Thursday, though neither side can take much heart from current form. The arrival of Samit Gohil has gone some way toward shoring up the Sparta batting in the meantime, but the rest of the line-up has been desperately short of form. That said, a home outing against an ACC attack that has looked rather toothless last week might be just what the Spartan batting needs. It seems unlikely that they’ll be able to roll a rather more settled ACC batting line-up for as little this time round, so if Gohil can’t find support somewhere, or goes cheaply himself, even an underrated Sparta attack led by canny ex-internationals Malik and Bukhari will struggle to deliver two points with the ball, especially if Bukhari plays as a specialist bat as he did last week.
RL: The bottom three in Group A are fairly evenly matched as well, and with relegation likely to be extremely keenly contested these are crucial points for both teams. If ACC can weather the initial onslaught from Malik and whoever his new-ball partner is they have shown themselves capable of making a decent total, while Sparta’s problem is, as m’colleague observes, finding reliable partners for Gohil. ACC’s youngsters, after several seasons of having to fend for themselves, now have the support of a quintet of more experienced hands, and the likes of Shreyas Potdar and Mees van Vliet are showing signs of coming into their own. This will doubtless stand them in good stead as the season progresses, but their more immediate concern will be to pick up two points which the winners are very likely to carry with them all the way to September. The Last Chance Saloon is also the Too Close To Call division, and this is definitely one which could go either way.
BdJ: Over in Group A it’s all a bit tighter in the middle, and there’s every chance that Excelsior ‘20 versus VRA at Thurlede could determine who ends up on which side of the cut-off when the music stops in June. Excelsior did a number on the VRA batting in their first encounter this season, with prodigal overseas Brett Hampton taking four wickets as the Amsterdammers collapsed to 57 all-out, but the Schiedammers’ recent results don’t inspire as much confidence. Both sides showed some fight against champions-presumptive VCC over the last couple of weeks, but VRA are coming off thumping Salland last week while Excelsior are still recovering from a shellacking at the hands of VOC. On paper the hosts remain favourites however, with VRA lacking the top-tier overseas reinforcement that Excelsior have in Ingram and Hampton, and the homegrown core of the Schiedam side is rather more seasoned that VRA’s array of recent youth graduates.
RL: With three teams currently fighting over two places in the Championship pool this game is doubly key: depending on other results the loser here could be the one to miss out, while if both go through and VOC are the ones to finish in the relegation pool, then the two points from a win here could be vital in the season’s closing stages. It was Ashir Abid who was instrumental in VRA’s demolition of Salland last week, but he will no doubt face greater and more determined resistance in Tom Heggelman and Co. Similarly, the Excelsior attack, in which skipper Heggelman led from the front against Voorburg, will present more of a challenge to a VRA batting line-up whose form has been (sometimes literally) hit and miss. Their profiles may differ but these sides look more evenly matched than the result in the Bos suggested, and in Peter Borren and Heggelman they have the two most seasoned captains in the competition.
BdJ: The principal draw for the encounter between Salland and VOC at Deventer is the potential disaster that defeat would mean for the visitors. A second loss to the unfancied Salland would not only put VOC on track for the relegation pool, but would also potentially leave them profoundly short of points when they got there, should Salland likewise fail to make the cut. For Salland two points on Thursday would not only buy them some insulation against relegation, it could put them in contention for the still greater security of a top-three spot. An ignominious drubbing at the hands of VRA last week may not be the best preparation, but given the number of first-choice players absent need not have unduly dented their confidence as they look to knock over VOC for a second time. They will also have noted the vulnerability of VOC’s attack to a bat willing to tee-off with abandon, having had plenty of time to watch Kuldeep Diwan’s fireworks on Saturday. So long as VOC can put Edwards, O’Dowd and Seelaar on the field they will remain heavy favourites of course, but if you had to pick an upset this week (which for once I don’t) you could do worse than this match.
RL: What the man said. It’s hard to see VOC stumbling over this particular hurdle a second time, especially with Arnav Jain and Tim de Kok now running into form with the bat, although the contributions of Max O’Dowd, Scott Edwards and Pieter Seelaar remain fundamental to their prospects of making it into the Championship pool. Salland have had real continuity issues, having used no fewer than 21 players in six games, with only skipper Victor Lubbers, keeper and opening batter Piyaranga Ottachchige, Akhil Gopinath and Hashim Khan having been ever-present. They really need the presence of Venkat Ganesan and his German team-mates; as last week’s disaster demonstrated, they are a long way short of Topklasse standard when they are missing. VOC seem pretty certain to have too many guns for their Deventer hosts, even if the latter gain some reinforcements.
BdJ: Finally in what seems certain to be the least consequential match of the round, the unbeaten Voorburg travel to Drieburg to take on the winless Dosti Amsterdam. Given that, barring some implausible turn of events, VCC are guaranteed to make the top three and Dosti guaranteed to end up in the relegation pool, this Thursday’s game is effectively little more than a friendly. In that respect it would of course be entirely in-character for the luckless Dosti to go ahead and win it. As unlikely as such an outcome remains (which is to say, very) it is not quite so hard to imagine as it might have been last week, before we witness Kuldeep Diwan’s assault on the VOC bowling and two of VCC’s South African pros bag first ball ducks on Saturday. It’s also worth noting that VCC have not had to play on an artificial wicket yet this season, and that Amitoze Singh has belatedly arrived to bolster the Dosti ranks. All this of course has to be weighed against the obvious fact that Voorburg have a much stronger team in all respects, which often proves decisive in such encounters.
RL: And again. Voorburg may not always have been 100% convincing, but then, they have seldom needed to be. They may drop points before the season’s end, but it’s not likely to be on Thursday against a Dosti side which has consistently struggled to do itself justice. The addition of Amitoze may make some difference and skipper Mahesh Hans will be fervently hoping that Diwan’s knock last week wasn’t a flash in the pan, but it will take more than a repeat of that effort if the Amsterdammers are to mount a serious threat to a Voorburg side which is, one way or another, carrying all before it.
BdJ’s tips: HBS, Punjab, ACC, Excelsior, VOC, Voorburg.
RL’s tips: HBS,HCC, ACC, VRA, VOC, Voorburg.