Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 22/07/2022
After a prolonged five-week break in deference to the international schedule, the Topklasse returns to action this Sunday. With the field split into championship and relegation pools, six teams will be chasing a top four finish in the upper half of the table, jockeying for position ahead of the finals playoffs, while the bottom six will be looking to secure safety from demotion to the Hoofdklasse by means of a top three finish in the relegation pool.
Each team will play the three teams in their pool from the other side of the draw in home and away fixtures, having carried phase one points through from the matches played against the other teams to have wound up in the same half of the table. Consequently some teams will have earned a considerable head-start for Phase 2 while others, through bad luck or poor results will start with a marked handicap.
BdJ: Of the teams contending for the championship, HBS Craeyenhout will start with four points to their tally, two wins ahead of VRA Amsterdam, who they will welcome to the Hague on Sunday. HBS will also start with a degree of momentum on their side, the top order looking in fine touch during the T20 competition that continued through the break, though exactly which members of said top order will be available come Sunday is not yet clear. VRA will welcome back skipper Peter Borren and opener Vikram Singh from national duty as assistant coach and reserve opener/keeper in Zimbabwe, albeit without any game time between them. They will also be without South African rookie Eddie Visser, who departed after the first half of the season. A trip to Craeyenhout first up is thus a tough assignment for VRA, who can ill afford to drop any points if they’re to claw their way to the top four.
RL: Add to the mix of factors complicating the transition from the first phase to the second the impact of Dutch visa requirements, and things are less straightforward than they might appear. Written off by some before the competition started, VRA have done well to reach the championship play-offs, but they will need to perform more consistently than they have so far (probably to the tune of winning at least five out of six games) to have a realistic chance of reaching the semi-finals. For HBS, Wesley Barresi will doubtless be one of those looking to catch the eyes of the national selectors, and he would particularly relish doing so against his old club. A well-balanced outfit, the Crows will certainly start as favourites, but VRA have the players to cause an upset.
BdJ: Also on four points each are Punjab Rotterdam and Excelsior ‘20, who will meet at the Zomercomplex on Sunday. Punjab rather unexpectedly crashed out of the T20 competition with losses to Rood en Wit and Sparta last week, despite the arrival of Jonathan Vandiar and Rushdi Jappie, but will be further reinforced by the return of Stephan Myburgh and Teja Nidamanuru from national duty. On short format form the Schiedammers look the favourites going in, but Punjab have depth and home advantage on their side, as well as a day off before the match while Excelsior will have a T20 quarter final to deal with.
RL: It’s not only in the T20 cup that Punjab have been slightly underwhelming this year: despite the advent of the admirable Safiullah Salarazai in the attack (leading the way with 20 wickets at the break) they have been a good deal less dominant than they were last season, and opposing sides have not been confronted by a solid phalanx of Zulfiqars as they were on the Rotterdammers’ march to their first title. Tom Heggelman’s side, on the other hand, had to come through a tough three-way battle to reach this point, and the return of Brett Hampton has clearly given them both a renewed cutting edge with the ball and additional hitting power in the middle order. Heggelman himself continues to take wickets, and if openers Tim Etman and Roel Verhagen can give their side a good start against Punjab’s excellent bowling unit this could be a very interesting match indeed.
BdJ: Frontrunners Voorburg CC will have to do without the services of Janneman Malan and Delano Potgieter from now on, but the arrival of Andre Malan and return of the international contingent will nonetheless make them favourites when they arrive at De Diepput to take on HCC. The hosts will doubtless have a point to prove, however, not least Clayton Floyd who will be looking to reassert his place in the national side after being passed over in favour of team-mate Tim Pringle. Similarly VCC opener Musa Nadeem would probably like to send a message to national selectors as much as his former team-mates, conversely if HCC’s Tonny Staal intends to remind the national set-up of his existence and a match against a VCC side featuring a handful of internationals is a fine opportunity. VCC’s own Viv Kingma will also be thinking along similar lines of course, and may well get the chance if the workloads of Van Beek and De Leede are being managed.
RL: Voorburg have carried pretty much all before them so far, and remain firm favourites to take their first title since 2002. Whatever adjustments they have to make to the composition of their eleven are unlikely to cause any appreciable weakening, although they will no doubt miss Potgieter’s all-round contribution. HCC, on the other hand, arguably under-performed in the first phase, and have the potential to match their visitors with both bat and ball. Alongside the established seamers Reinier Bijloos, Hidde Overdijk and Ollie Klaus, Henrico Venter has added a fourth seam option, while in Floyd and Pringle they have outstanding, and contrasting, left-arm spinners. The batting may be more of an issue, though here too they have plenty of firepower, and it will be fascinating to see how they deal with Voorburg’s almost wholly international attack. With De Diepput’s diminutive dimensions square this could prove a spectacular encounter.
BdJ: Down in the relegation scrap Kampong CC will be looking to set right the injustices dealt them by the vagaries of the format when they take on the winless Dosti at Utrecht. Having seen most of their points evaporate at the phase-change, Kampong face an uphill battle if they are to secure their top-flight survival. Dosti are in a still-worse position, though one more of their own making. Both sides scored a surprise win during the T20 competition, Dosti besting VRA and Kampong downing VCC in low-scoring games, but neither will have a quarter-final to distract them from the business at hand at the weekend.
RL: Down but not yet irrevocably out, Dosti were showing faint signs of a resurgence before the break, and will have been heartened by that T20 victory over VRA. But Kampong will be driven by the knowledge that however rough the hand they may have been dealt by the format, it is their results against weaker sides which have landed them where they are, and that beating their weaker rivals is the key to their escaping the automatic relegation zone, and of at the very least earning a play-off against the Hoofdklasse champions. If they play to their potential they could do better than that, but it will need to start with a strong performance here. In Alex Roy, Saurabh Zalpuri, Pierre Jacod and Robert van der Harten they have home-grown talent which has proved itself entirely able to prosper at this level, and they should get this phase off to a winning start.
BdJ: Salland CC are in the enviable position of having taken all six of their points through from Phase 1, but can ill afford to rest on their laurels. Current form suggests they will have a tough time adding any more points to that tally, certainly away against Sparta 1888 on Sunday, against whom they lost heavily in both their T20 encounters. While Sparta’s season has not gone as hoped, Salland have at times struggled to even get 11 men on the field, especially when their German contingent is unavailable. A win at Bermweg would put them two wins clear of potential relegation, but would certainly be the upset of the week.
RL: Salland’s cause has been helped by the fact that the hapless Dosti were in their first-phase pool, and that VOC, whom they beat in one of the upsets of the season, failed to make it into the championship pool. Their current standing is undoubtedly somewhat flattering, and it’s hard to disagree with m’colleague’s assessment that they are likely to start as underdogs, not only here, but throughout the rest of the programme. Sparta, of course, have had problems of their own, and although they looked a much better side after the arrival of Samit Gohil, they remain very dependent on the performances of the talismanic Mudassar Bukhari and his fellow former international Ahsan Malik.
BdJ: A trifle tougher to call will be VOC Rotterdam’s phase 2 opener against ACC, to be played at Hazelaarweg as VOC get their home games out of the way so the preparations can begin in time for the Pakistan series. At least some if not all of ACC’s South African trio of Hobson, Smith and Ackermann are understood to be sticking around for Phase 2, but VOC will also be at close to full strength as Edwards and O’Dowd slot back in at the top, while Pieter Seelaar has been easing his way back into the game during the T20 competition. Whether all three will play both their T20 quarter final on Saturday and the following day against ACC is not guaranteed, but on home turf the Bloodhounds are likely favourites either way.
RL: VOC start the second phase in an enviable position, only their stumble against Salland costing them a perfect record. They look to be far and away the strongest side in their pool, and it will be interesting to see how they approach the rest of their fixtures. They have the opportunity to use them creatively, and it would be good to see young Siebe van Wingarden, for example, who has bowled only 29 overs so far, given greater responsibility with the ball. ACC’s own youth contingent has begun to flourish under the protective cover of their overseas players, with both Shreyas Potdar with the bat and Mees van Vliet with the ball beginning to come into their own. ACC are capable of springing a surprise here, but VOC are more likely to emerge with the points.
BdJ’s picks: HBS, Punjab, VCC, Kampong, Sparta, VOC.
RL’s picks: HBS, Excelsior, VCC, Kampong, Sparta, VOC.