Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 05/06/22
Two rounds to go, and it’s very far from being all over, especially in Group B. Even in Group A, the identity of the top three is not yet quite settled, and the points to be carried through to the second phase certainly remain a point of considerable interest for all concerned. Some of the big questions may well be settled on Monday, but others seem likely to be carried into the final round of fixtures next Saturday.
RL: One of the more significant encounters of the Pentecost holiday will be at De Diepput, where HCC will be at home to HBS Craeyenhout. A victory for the home side would not only cement their place in the Championship pool, but would give them two valuable points in the battles to come in July and August. For the Crows, equally, the two points could be crucial in due course, and might conceivably also see them top the group, depending on results elsewhere. In this Aesopic battle the Lions will need to recover quickly from their demolition by Kampong last week, and the Crows’ pace attack, spearheaded by the brothers Klein and Ferdi Vink, will be keen to emulate the efforts of Kertan Nana and Co. But you’d think that the strong HCC batting line-up is unlikely to have two bad days in a row, and on the other side of the balance sheet the home side’s attack is undoubtedly capable of unsettling an HBS top order which has blown somewhat hot and cold in the course of the season. One of the trickier matches to predict!
BdJ: Indeed it seems that the rumours of the death of Group A have proved, if not wildly exaggerated, then at least a tad premature. It should nonehtless be pointed out that the outside chance of HCC being knocked out of the top three by Sparta is contingent on the four remaining relevant matches going against HCC, and on net run rate trumping head-to-head results as the first tie-breaker this season. The most recent Playing Conditions stipulate that Sparta’s hopes are still alive, but the experience of last season’s debacle suggests such things are not always to be relied upon. HCC missed out on a chance to put their place in the top three beyond doubt against Kampong last week, and will hope to settle the matter against a rather inconsistent HBS on Monday. The Crows are safe already of course, though the fact that they’ve contrived to bag their spot while maintaining a negative net run rate tells a story of narrow wins punctuated by blow-out losses. With probable Phase 2 points on the line HBS can’t afford to rest on their laurels, but it remains to be seen which HBS side will turn up come Monday.
RL: Having performed impressively with the ball against ACC last week but a good deal less so with the bat, Punjab are at home to Sparta 1888 and will be keen to maintain their currently slender advantage over their nearest rivals. For the visitors, though, much more is at stake: their slim hope of squeezing into the top three hinges on victory here, as well as an HBS victory at De Diepput. With Samit Gohil now in supreme form, having made 93 and 102 in his last two innings, the chances of Sparta upsetting the defending champions are less remote than they would have been a couple of weeks ago, but against that Safiullah Salarazai bowled splendidly against ACC and will certainly relish an opportunity to get at a Sparta batting line-up which, Gohil and at times Mudassar Bukhari apart, has largely failed to make much of an impression. But Bukhari and Ahsan Malik will equally hope to make early inroads in a Punjab top order which has been a lot less imposing this season than it was last, and which undoubtedly missed the steadying hand of Saqib Zulfiqar last week. Saqib’s leg-spin is also an important component of his team’s success, not least when he took four for 28 against these opponents on 7 May.
BdJ: Sparta need just about everything to go their way for the remaining two rounds if they’re to sneak past HCC, but the flip side there is that while a win against Punjab may not be enough, a loss will cost them exactly nothing. Punjab conversely have nothing at all to gain from beating Sparta, in fact it’s arguable that a win could actually hurt their position. Whether HCC or Sparta make the top three would make no difference to the points that Punjab carry forward, but the Rotterdammers would presumably prefer Sparta to make the cut given the net run rate situation in the matches that would be carried forward. If the defending champions were looking to cynically manipulate the numbers, a narrow loss is technically the result to aim for. It’s doubtful that the strategists at the Zomercomplex are quite so cynical of course, and there’s something to be said for building momentum. Sparta have looked an improving outfit as the season’s progressed, but their reliance on Gohil for runs remains a theme. Punjab meanwhile have been reinforced by the arrival of Jonathan Vandiar, and though he failed to make an impact last week it’s unlikely he’ll be kept quiet for long.
RL: Much has been made of the injustice of Kampong Utrecht’s having nothing concrete to show for their victories over top sides Punjab and HCC (an issue which would, of course, be partially alleviated in the still-unlikely event of HCC slipping out of the top three in the group), but in truth Kampong’s prospects of escaping relegation will depend greatly on whether they can post wins in their final two matches, stating with the visit of ACC to Maarschalkerweerd on Monday. They lost to both ACC and Sparta in the first half of the group games, but they have demonstrated against Punjab and HCC that they are more than competitive at this level, and after Nana’s heroics last week in defence of a low total, the significant addition of Pite van Biljon to the top order, and the contribution of Alex Roy with both bat and ball, they should start as favourites against an ACC side which looked all at sea with the bat against a rampant Punjab last week. The Amsterdammers’ batting is, perhaps, unlikely to have another day like that, and the bowlers did indeed fight back hard, Robin Smith a slightly surprising addition to the unit. The points here will certainly be vital come the end of the season, and we can expect a real tussle as a result.
BdJ: While plenty of clubs have reason to gripe about the vicissitudes of the new format, none have suffered more than the newly-promoted Kampong; the newly-promoted turf club forced to play half their matches on artificial wickets and now likely to see their wins erased ahead of the relegation battle. They’ll have home advantage in their favour at least when they look to belatedly bag some more permanent points, playing an ACC side that has not won a Topklasse match on natural turf since 2019. The Amsterdammer’s South African recruits could find the surface more to their liking of course, though the sort of deck traditionally encountered at Utrecht may prove no more familiar than a mat. All told the hosts ought to fancy their chances in what will likely prove the only Group A fixture of consequence this round.
RL: The match between VRA Amsterdam and VOC Rotterdam, moved late in the day to Hazelaarweg because of the Super League programme in Amstelveen, is clearly the most significant of the round, with the winner gaining a distinct advantage in the tense three-way battle for two spots in the Championship pool. VRA have distinctly the tougher final game, against Voorburg away, but VOC will simultaneously take on Excelsior in what could potentially be a straight contest for the final place in the top three. Monday’s game will pit several of the heroes of the Dutch side’s series with the West Indies against each other, with Vikram Singh and Aryan Dutt turning out for the nominally home side and Max O’Dowd, Scott Edwards and Pieter Seelaar for the Rotterdammers. Their contributions may be crucial, but so too may the roles of the supporting cast, including VRA skipper Peter Borren, allrounder Jack Balbirnie and seamer Ashir Abid on the one hand, and batter Tim de Kok, paceman Max Hoornweg and young Belgian international allrounder Burhan Niaz on the other. Definitely in the Too Close to Call category, this would have been a match worthy of the international stadium in which it should have been played.
BdJ: Given that ensuring equity in terms of home advantage was the one and only argument in favour of the otherwise absurd and inequitable two-pool format adopted this season, the fact that VOC are being awarded that advantage for both legs of what might very well prove the decisive fixture in the group, and that for entirely predictable reasons, makes an absolute mockery of the format. It’s a sign of how significant this fixture could prove that VRA attempted to reclaim their hosting rights for the game, only to again be over-ruled at the last minute, and indeed how much of a difference the nominal hosts expect the switch of venue to make. VRA did win the first leg at Hazelaarweg this season, but historically their record there is comparatively poor.
RL: The third element in the show-down in the middle of the group, Excelsior ’20 Schiedam, travel to Sportpark Drieburg to take on Dosti Amsterdam. Their hosts put up a much better show against VRA last Sunday, with Vinoo Tewarie returning to form with his highest score for years and Amitoze Singh joining him in a solid partnership. Whether that sort of effort would be enough to beat Excelsior, for whom Tom Heggelman and Brett Hampton are causing opponents all kinds of problems with the ball and Tim Etman, Roel Verhagen and of course Lorenzo Ingram are capable of making big scores, is another question. Excelsior’s quick disposal of Salland last week helped their cause considerably, and they will want to repeat that on Monday. With one win in three seasons Dosti have becoming the perennial whipping-boys of the competition, but they do have the talent to spring a surprise, and with the encouragement of last week’s performance they may be able to ensure that Excelsior don’t have things all their own way.
BdJ: Time is rather running out for Dosti to arrest their slide toward relegation, but their last two fixtures offer a chance to significantly bolster their position. A win against Excelsior would put a serious dent in the Schiedammer’s hopes of a top three finish, and thus provide Dosti with two points they could well take with them into phase two. On paper the Schiedammers are of course comfortable favourites against a Dosti team that has seemingly forgotten how to win, even if most of the side has put in an individual performance or two this season. That said it will be Excelsior’s first outing on a mat in a while, and with plenty of weather about DLS could always throw up some surprising scenarios.
RL: After three home games on the trot Salland hit the road again, with a journey to Westvliet to face Voorburg. Already sure of their place in the Championship pool and one win away from finishing in top spot in the group, Bas de Leede’s side slipped up for the first time this season against VOC last Saturday, but it would be a major earthquake if they were to lose to a Salland outfit which has struggled to field a consistent eleven and which has largely been off the pace even at full strength. With the West Indies series behind them Voorburg’s bevy of internationals – De Leede himself, Logan van Beek, Viv Kingma, Philippe Boissevain and the brothers Musa and Shariz Ahmad – will be able to focus fully on the task in hand, and it will take a huge effort from the Deventer side to take the leaders and title favourites the full distance.
BdJ: High as it might register on the Richter scale, a hypothetical Salland victory over Voorburg at Westvliet is perhaps best compared to an earthquake on the moon – which is to say both extremely unlikely and entirely inconsequential. VCC’s international seamers are unlikely to play much of a role in the game with the England series looming of course, and indeed Kingma may not play at all given he’s struggling with an apparent side-strain. Nonetheless Voorburg’s stacked line-up will likely prove more than enough to see off a struggling Salland side which even at full strength has managed only two wins thus far, and will probably be more concerned about their upcoming four-pointer against Dosti in the final round of the first phase.
RL’s picks: HCC, Punjab, Kampong, VRA, Excelsior, Voorburg.
BdJ’s picks: HCC, Punjab, Kampong, VOC, Excelsior, Voorburg.
This article has been edited to reflect the fact that there is not in fact a reserve day on Sunday 12th for weather-affected matches.