Rod Lyall and Bertus de Jong 27/05/22
For those that think that dead rubbers are a thing, this weekend offers a lot to moan about. But there’s an argument that every match counts, and where it’s not yet clear which second-phase pool teams will end up in, there’s an exhilarating uncertainty about whether any points will be carried through. And as Kampong proved against Punjab last weekend, the possibilities for a surprise are in any case if not infinite, at least substantial. So with three rounds to go, if it’s not all to play for, there’s still a lot of interest in Saturday’s fixtures.
RL: Although there’s still a faint mathematical possibility of someone bridging the gap, the split in Group A is effectively settled, and at least part of that possibility will be extinguished this week if Punjab Rotterdam take the points from their visit to Het Loopveld to take on ACC. Punjab have, of course, lost two on the trot, the first of them to previously-winless Kampong, and even the advent of Jonathan Vandiar could not prevent their defeat by HCC on Thursday. They will therefore need to dig deep to make absolutely sure of their spot in the Championship pool when they take on an Amsterdam side which, though still very dependent on its bevy of South Africans, has demonstrated its ability to fight all the way to the final over. You still have to favour the visitors, but a Punjab victory is clearly less self-evident that it was a couple of weeks ago.
BdJ: ACC have looked increasingly competitive as the season has progressed, while Punjab’s early dominance seems to have faded rather, but both trends likely come too late to make any difference to who ends up where for phase two. Consequently this match, and indeed all three Group A matches this weekend, are effectively pointless – at least for as far as the Phase 2 points table is concerned. Nonetheless Punjab will be keen to avoid a third successive defeat, lest losing prove habit-forming. ACC are in a better position to bag a confidence boosting win here however, with their winter acquisitions, Hobson especially, coming good in the batting department, and of course it’s worth remembering they had Punjab 5-25 at one point in their first encounter. Nonetheless Punjab are where they are for a reason, and with Vandiar added to the side will start as firm favourites.
RL: HBS Craeyenhout, at least, are now certain of reaching the Championship pool, but for their opponents on Saturday, Sparta 1888, three wins in their last three games are essential if they are to have even a theoretical chance of catching either Punjab or HCC. Victory on Saturday may seem unlikely for the Capellenaren, who lost to ACC in the final over on Thursday, but in Samit Gohil and Mudassar Bukhari they have potential match-winners, while Ahsan Malik is capable, along with Bukhari, of taking the top off opposing batting sides. They will need to strike early if they are to have a realistic chance against HBS, who bat deep and whose attack is both sharp and varied. Now top of the group, the Crows will go into the second phase with plenty of confidence, and although the points here are unlikely to have any long-term significance, they will be keen to stay in a winning vein.
BdJ: Indeed any points either side picks up at Craeyenhout will likely evaporate at the end of the first phase, but bragging rights are bragging rights. Sparta look to be hitting some sort of form a little too late to challenge for a top three spot, but look less like pushovers than when the two sides met last month. It was the batting that rather let Sparta down that time, failing to chase 139 owing largely to the efforts of Ryan Klein. With international duty looming it’s entirely possible Klein won’t be bowling his full quota on Saturday however, and with the addition of Gohil since then the Sparta line-up’s less fragile than it was. Nonetheless HBS have a deeper pool to draw on than do Sparta, and unless the rest of the side can back up Bukhari, Gohil and Malik better than they have thus far the Crows look likely to claim the ephemeral points on offer.
RL: After beating Punjab on Thursday, HCC are just one win away from a certain shot at the title, and know that those two points will very probably go with them. But even though they have dropped back to sixth in the group, Kampong remain a potential banana-skin, even if they are perhaps less threatening on the mat at De Diepput than they would be in Utrecht. They put up a good fight there on 1 May, and with Pite van Biljon having joined Cole Briggs in the top order they are more of a force to reckon with than their lowly position suggests. Again, the Lions are distinctly the stronger side on paper, but if they are not firing on all cylinders, Kampong could be the side to take advantage.
BdJ: With just two points on the board Kampong can only hope to play spoiler at de Diepput on Saturday, though again they’re headed for the relegation pool largely because of their slow start to the season. In recent matches they’ve looked more competitive, at least with the bat, and of course pulled off a remarkable upset against Punjab. It would certainly be a surprise if they pulled the same trick against HCC, Kampong having struggled to bowl out weaker sides thus far. That said they go to de Diepput with even less to lose than they have to gain, and will be keen to carry some momentum into the two more consequential matches remaining in the first phase.
RL: The attention in Group B centres on which two out of VRA, VOC and Excelsior join unbeaten Voorburg in the Championship pool, and it will be VOC’s turn to entertain the leaders at Hazelaarweg on Saturday. This is a moment when having six members of the national team in your squad reveals its down side, since with the first Super League match against the West Indies just three days away, it is unlikely that Voorburg’s bowling, at least, will be at full strength. VOC, of course, also boast three internationals, but skipper Pieter Seelaar did not play at Salland on Thursday, and may again be watching this one from the boundary. Still and all, this context is likely to favour VOC more than it does Voorburg, and in a potential four-pointer this may well be the best chance anyone has to overturn Voorburg’s imposing line-up.
BdJ: VOC’s net-run-rate boosting win against Salland last week has improved their chances of a top three finish somewhat, but not as much as they were hurt by Excelsior’s closely-contended (and not uncontentious) win over VRA. Taking points off VCC on Saturday would allow them to steal a march on their two nearest rivals before facing both in their final two games, as well as bagging them two extra points if they do make it to the top three. As such, VOC have plenty to gain and little to lose, and against a Voorburg side that’s perhaps taking it’s foot off the gas rather, the upset is there for the taking. VOC’s international trio will also have half an eye on the Windies next week of course, and the remainder of the side has been less than reliable so far this season.
RL: Of VOC’s rivals for one of those two places, Excelsior ’20 Schiedam face the trip to Deventer knowing that Salland have had an increasingly tough time in their debut Topklasse season, losing heavily to both VRA and VOC in their last two games. Excelsior, who survived a serious scare against VRA on Thursday, will be especially keen not to lose any ground against their rivals, and if possible to improve a net run rate which currently has them trailing both. Salland, with their German contingent back in the side, were able to post a respectable total against VOC on Thursday, but it was still well short of what they needed to give their bowlers a chance, and Excelsior, too, are decidedly stronger in both departments than their hosts. Skipper Tom Heggelman continues to lead from the front, and Brett Hampton is a potent force with the ball. Excelsior may not look like serious title candidates at the moment, but they should take the points back to Schiedam on Saturday evening.
BdJ: It has indeed been a tough old time in the top flight for Victor Lubbers’ side, and doubtless the strategists at Salland will already be turning their attention to the coming relegation fight. In that respect Saturday’s game may prove of little significance, depending on Excelsior’s later fortunes. A win for Salland would provide a little security however, all-but ensuring they will take at least four points into phase two, or as many as six should they beat Dosti again in their final fixture. It does look a tall order against and Excelsior attack that skittled a near full-strength Salland side for 123 in their first match without the in-form Heggelman even bowling. The trip out East remains a banana skin for Excelsior however, with their net run rate lagging behind both that of VRA and VOC with only two matches to go they may well be targeting more than just a win.
RL: Still second on net run rate, VRA Amsterdam have what is theoretically the easiest task of the round when they take on still-winless Dosti at Sportpark Drieburg on Sunday. Even the talent and experience of Kuldeep Diwan and Amitoze Singh has been unable to lift Dosti’s fortunes so far, although the former’s heroics against VOC did give their supporters something to cheer about. That total of 249, however, was 60 better than they have managed in any of their other games, while their lowest total, 70, came against their opponents on Sunday. With net run rate conceivably a factor when the split comes and matches against VOC and Voorburg to complete their first-phase programme VRA will be particularly keen to extend their advantage.
BdJ: While we’ve been spared any significant weather interruptions this season, the customary day-long lag in for Dosti home games may end up costing VRA this weekend, with wetter weather expected Sunday and the Bos-dwellers in dire need of a win this round. Certainly there’s been occasional signs that Drieburg may not remain a reliable a points-dispensary for teams to rock up and claim a couple, but there were few on Thursday as VCC brushed their hosts aside without breaking a sweat or bowling their first-choice seamers. Anything less than a win would be a significant disappointment for VRA, not only making a relegation fight more likely but also worsening their prospects in it, with Dosti certain to be in the lower pool. For the hosts the chance to drag VRA down toward the relegation fight and perhaps take some points with them in doing so is a significant opportunity of they can take it, with their prospects of top flight survival looking increasingly bleak.
RL’s picks: Punjab, HBS, HCC, VOC, Excelsior, VRA.
BdJ’s picks: Punjab, HBS, HCC, VCC, Excelsior, VRA.