Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 29/07/22
The second phase of the competition could scarcely have got away to a more dramatic start than it did last Sunday, and this week’s match-ups suggest that we could be in for more of the same. We’re at the stage where every game’s result is vital for at least one of the participants, and whatever the limitations of the format it can’t be denied that it has produced lots of excitement – with plenty more in prospect.
RL: The encounter between Excelsior ’20 and HBS Craeyenhout at Thurlede is a case in point: currently level on points but with HBS having the advantage of having played a game fewer, one of these sides is likely to finish second on the table and thus gain a crucial double chance of reaching the championship final on 10 September. HBS survived a roller-coaster ride of a match against VRA last week, Ferdi Vink instrumental in reducing VRA to 83 for eight, only to see them recover to 251 and then take the Crows into the final over of their reply. They were saved by Tayo Walbrugh’s superb not-out century, and they will need him to maintain his form all the way to the end of the season if they are to have a real chance of their first title since 1980. Walbrugh’s knock was matched by Brett Hampton’s for Excelsior, which enabled them to chase down Punjab’s 281, an effort which will have given the Schiedammers great confidence for the run-in. These are two well-matched sides, and we could see one of the most absorbing games of the season, with home advantage perhaps giving Excelsior the edge.
BdJ: The IPL-style final four system does tend to show its worth this time of the season, as teams in the top half jockey for position while those further down retain some hope of sneaking in deeper into the summer. With the difference between second and third arguably greater even than first and second, this encounter will be a true four-pointer. It was the overseas pros that shone with the bat for both sides last weekend, but as m’colleague observes, home advantage is traditionally a substantial factor at Thurlede, not least in neutralising big-hitting bats. What sort of wicket to expect the day after T20 finals day is probably the Crows’ chief worry, though their own absence on Saturday may at least alleviate their chronic availability issues.
RL: Having been unable to defend their 281 against Excelsior, Punjab Rotterdam will again be at home when they face Voorburg, who are four points clear at the top of the table. Last year’s champions could slip out of the top four if they lose here and HCC beat VRA, but they will be encouraged by the fact that the leaders needed a dogged effort from skipper Bas de Leede to get them over the line against HCC last Sunday. On the other hand, Punjab’s top order hasn’t been nearly as imposing this season as it was in 2021: whereas the four Zulfiqars, for example, scored 1497 runs between them last year at a combined average of 35.51, this time they have 545 so far, averaging 20.96. The advent of Vandiar obviously makes a difference, but with the attack looking less settled as well, despite the contribution of Samiullah Salarazai, they will need to raise their game considerably to best a Voorburg side which, while not unbeatable, has proved a class too good for most opponents this season.
BdJ: A lack of form is a common factor in the Rotterdammers’ long batting line up, though on paper one of the league’s most intimidating. Adjusting to playing on turf again after a first phase played almost exclusively on artificial seems to be an issue for bats and bowlers alike, and it’s worth noting Punjab haven’t won on turf since their season opener against Kampong. It will consequently come as a relief that they won’t be playing this game on grass, as with the New Zealand games coming up Westvliet is in perparation mode. Voorburg have also looked surprisingly vulnerable of late, and with the New Zealand series looming both van Beek and de Leede may be on restricted overs. They will likely need the rest of their line-up to provide de Leede with stronger support if they’re to extend their unbeaten streak, and without Janneman Malan and Delano Potgieter they arguably start as underdogs for the first time this season.
RL: Down but not quite out in the battle for a place in the top four, VRA Amsterdam will take on nearest rivals HCC in the Amsterdamse Bos. A win for HCC, essential for them if they are to have a realistic chance of squeezing into the four, would put them four points ahead of Peter Borren’s side as well as giving them a chance of leapfrogging Punjab. The batting of both sides has been highly inconsistent all season, but HCC’s much more experienced attack could well be a trump card, both here and in the remaining four games as they try to keep their chance of a shot at the title alive. VRA began in T20 mode against HBS last week, but once they’d been rescued by Johan Smal and Leon Turmaine’s record-breaking partnership their bowlers did well to keep their side in the game. A win for the Amsterdammers would shake things up considerably, but they will need their top order to buckle down if that’s to be a realistic possibility.
BdJ: Given the winter exodus at the Bos VRA will be happy enough to be safe in the top half of the table, but if they’re to be anything but also-rans for phase two they will need to start winning games quickly. Again home advantage will give them some hope this week, with HCC’s attack out of the habit of bowling on turf, much less the bat-friendly sort of deck that VRA will likely produce. That said the home bowlers will have a tough job bowling at the likes of Zac Worden on grass, as turf-starved pros tend to cash in at Amstelveen.
RL: Salland brought their A-team to Sparta last week and produced their best performance of the season, and will doubtless be hoping to repeat that effort when they take on Kampong Utrecht at Het Schootsveld. Salland won the corresponding fixture last year, when both these promoted sides were in the Hoofdklasse, but a great deal of water has flowed under the bridge since then. The Deventer club has found it difficult to put out a consistent eleven and has already fielded 22 different players, but when their full contingent of German internationals is available they are genuinely competitive at this level. Kampong have a more stable set-up, but they needed a remarkable comeback – and a dramatic collapse by their opponents – to overcome Dosti last Sunday, and they know that every match is vital now if they are to work their way out of the relegation danger zone. Spinners Pierre Jacod and Tushar Sharma served them well against Dosti, while the success of Stijn Bakker with the bat was some compensation for the departure of Pite van Biljon. It may all depend on which Salland side actually takes the field.
BdJ: The late-breaking news this week is that Kampong have astutely arranged a replacement for va Biljon, the latter’s unfortunate illness (from which we wish him a swift recovery) opening a spot for the otherwise unoccupied Tom Cooper to return to Topklasse action (much to the chagrin of VRA, with the vagaries of the Competitieregelement barring him from turning out for his old club). Given how the new format has treated Kampong few could begrudge them of course, except perhaps Salland, who have done well to keep themselves out of the relegation zone thus far but even at the top of the lower table are still far from safe. The two encounters between Salland and Kampong could yet prove decisive in determining who escapes a relegation battle, with VOC and ACC favoured to take a top three spot on form if not current standings.
RL: After a rather surprising home defeat at the hands of ACC, VOC Rotterdam will again be at home this Sunday, when their opponents will be Sparta 1888, smarting from their nine-wicket hammering by Salland. VOC should have enough resources to stay well clear of the danger zone, but a convincing victory over Sparta here would certainly enable them to breathe a little easier. For the Capelle side the manner of their demolition by Salland will be a source of real concern, and they will be hoping that Samit Gohil will be able to make a much more substantial contribution at the Hazelaarweg, given the crucial role he plays in their all-too-vulnerable batting line-up. But quite apart from their three Dutch internationals, VOC have the all-round skills of Matt Smit, Burhan Niaz and the experienced Jelte Schoonheim to call on, while Sparta remain very dependent on Gohil, Mudassar Bukhari and Ahsan Malik.
BdJ: Fair to say that VOC’s current position in ninth evidences a remarkable under-performance for a side that would have hoped to be competing at the other end of the table, the Rotterdammers’ over-reliance on a handful of players for runs and general lack of threat with the ball telling against them. A loss to Sparta, who have not been close to their best this season either, does not look entirely out of the question. Whether last week’s defeat will be enough to concentrate minds at Hazelaarweg given the distractions of T20 both international and domestic is a key question, but the Bloodhounds can ill afford to sink deeper into trouble.
RL: Having battled their way into a strong position against Kampong last Sunday Dosti Amsterdam threw it all away, and if they are not yet mathematically certain of relegation it’s very hard to see them escaping the hole they have dug for themselves. Losing is a habit as much as winning is, and it will take a massive effort from them if they are to break their duck by defeating ACC at Sportpark Drieburg. ACC’s victory over VOC gives them a distinct edge in the race to finish in the top three of the relegation pool, but they will need to avoid all potential banana skins to keep it that way, and although even the presence of Amitoze Singh and Kuldeep Diwan has proved insufficient to end Dosti’s winlessness, the visitors will want to stay sharp here, perhaps even steering their NRR into positive territory.
BdJ: The writing does appear to be on the wall for Dosti’s run in the top flight, having benefitted from two seasons without relegation their losing streak looks set to finally tell against them if they can’t break it this weekend. It’s worth noting though that they’re only two wins and a little luck away from a potential jailbreak, and with three games to come against their two nearest relegation rivals their fate is at least partly in their own hands. ACC’s overseas together with Mees van Vliet have kept them afloat thus far this season, but there’s still a lot of cricket to play this season and defeat at the hands of a long-losing Dosti would look rather like blood in the water.
RL’s picks: Excelsior, Punjab, HCC, Kampong, VOC, ACC.
BdJ’s picks: Excelsior, Punjab, VRA, Kampong, VOC, ACC