Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 31/08/22
With the idiosyncratic and not uncontroversial split-pool, two-stage, 12-team Topklasse group phase behind us, we are into the comparatively familiar territory of the IPL-style top-four finals play-offs, and at the top end of the table at least it’s probably fair to say we’ve got the right four teams contesting them. With Voorburg wrapping up a near-perfect run with two more wins last weekend and HCC’s back-to-back wins taking them clear of the pack in second, we are fortunately and thankfully spared any questions of hypothetical alternate top fours based on win percentage or points carried forward. The universally-loved (at least among TKcricket staff) play-off system has done a fine job of keeping the Championship pool alive into the final weekend, but frontrunners VCC still have to prove themselves at the business end of the season if they’re to take home the silverware. [Note: there are those among us who think of the final four play-offs as the Australian or Page-McIntyre system, since it was developed in Victoria in 1931, more than 75 years before its adoption by the IPL.]
BdJ: A dominant performance through the first two phases has earned Voorburg a double shot at making the final and home advantage when they take on HCC in the preliminary final at Westvliet on Saturday. Their last two showings at home have been dominant, with openers Andre Malan and Musa Ahmad in fine form and most of the top order having runs in the bank. Twin wrist-spinners Shariz Ahmad and Flip Boissevain have come into their own as the season wears on, and the loss of Logan van Beek may not be too keenly felt given VCC’s plentiful stock of seamers. They will nonetheless remember that their only phase 2 defeat came at home and at the hands of HCC, when Felix Bennett’s right arm seam ran through the Voorburg batting. With Tonny Staal, Zac Worden and Boris Gorlee all in the runs of late, and a trial by left arm spin awaiting them if they see off the HCC seamers, the final phase looks far from a coronation for the favourites.
RL: HCC have become more consistent as the finals draw near, and while the title seems to be Voorburg’s to lose, the biggest threat to the outcome many were predicting back in April now appears to come from the Lions. The loss of Van Beek is indeed a blow for Voorburg, but Stef Mulder and Ali Ahmed Qasim have both shown themselves to the able stand-ins, this season as in the past, and with Viv Kingma and Bas de Leede in the side, as well as the option of opening the bowling with Karl Nieuwoudt, the home side have resources aplenty in the field. But then, so do HCC, with Felix Bennett having slotted into the seam attack alongside Hidde Overdijk and Reinier Bijloos, and the left-arm spin combination of Clayton Floyd and Tim Pringle. So the issue may be which top order deals better with these outstanding bowling units, and that could resolve itself into the respective contributions of Malan for Voorburg and Worden for HCC. That said, the visitors have the explosive power of Staal, and if Voorburg don’t get him early he could prove a trump card. All in all, a first semi-final to get the gastric juices flowing!
BdJ: A home defeat in the their final group match against HCC denied Excelsior ‘20 a place in the preliminary final, but they will be on home turf in the eliminator against HBS Craeyenhout come Saturday’s de-facto quarterfinal. The Schiedammers narrowly defended a sub-par 250 at Craeyenhout the weekend before, which should lend them some confidence ahead of Saturday’s game, but bagging topklasse lead-scorer Tayo Walbrugh for a duck again may be too much to hope for. Early wickets have been crucial for any side in containing the Crows’ glass-cannon line-up that, while top-heavy, remains one of the more dangerous in the competition. The departure of Brett Hampton robs the hosts of a measure of lower-order firepower as well as their lead wicket-taker, but pursuing a containment strategy against the likes of Walbrugh, Barresi and possibly Visée is a dubious policy. Excelsior nonetheless have had the better of the back end of the season for a reason, and will back themselves to set the Thurlede faithful cheering again on Saturday.
RL: Excelsior won the title three times in four years between 2016 and 2019 largely by defending low totals, and half-a-dozen of that 2016 outfit will likely be in the side that takes on HBS on Saturday. Heggelman has passed the captaincy to Roel Verhagen, but he remains a key member of the team, opening both batting and bowling, and with 21 wickets at 19.38 he is, along with the departed Hampton, his side’s leading bowler. One of the surprises of last weekend, though, was the emergence of Luuk Kroesen as a dependable spinner alongside Lorenzo Ingram and Umar Baker, while Ingram is still a potential match-winner with both bat and ball. On the other side of the balance sheet, the HBS seam attack of Ryan Klein, leading wicket-taker Ferdi Vink and Gavin Kaplan probably ought to have been more penetrating than it has, although it’s the top of the batting order which has been largely responsible for the Crows’ presence in the top four. Removing Walbrugh early will be key to Excelsior’s hopes; if he gets going, the Excelsior attack may well have a job on their hands.
BdJ’s picks: Voorburg, Excelsior
RL’s picks: Voorburg, Excelsior.