Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 10/06/2022
Last week’s washout has denied us a proper denouement for the first phase of the Topklasse, in Group A at least, though there’s still some jockeying for position to be done before we head into the mid-season break. The teams in Group A already know where they’re headed for Phase 2, though there’s non-perishable points on offer in a couple of this week’s games. In Group B there remains a three-way race between VRA, Excelsior and VOC, one of whom will be headed into a relegation fight, while the clash between Dosti and Salland is functionally an early start to the relegation battle.
BdJ: At the top of the table HBS Craeyenhout will be looking to steal a march on defending champions Punjab Rotterdam when they welcome them the Hague, though on current form one would back the visitors to lead take another two points into the second half of the season. The title-holders rolled the Crows for just 57 when they met at the Zomercomplex earlier in the season, though HBS were notably missing Toby Visée and Gavin Kaplan for that game. Since then Punjab have been strengthened by the arrival of Jonathan Vandiar and fellow South African Rushdi Jappie, and while the eligibility of the latter for Phase 2 may yet be brought into question, he’s expected to take the field Saturday. A win this weekend would see Punjab into the Championship pool on a healthy 6 points, while HBS would have just their 2 points from besting HCC. Conversely a home victory would see all three of the Group A teams take four points through to the second phase.
RL: Punjab have not always looked completely convincing on their way through the first phase, but at their best they are without doubt one of the most explosive units in the competition, and in their hiccupping start against Sparta last week it was evident that Steph Myburgh was absolutely in the mood to launch one of his trademark onslaughts. Craeyenhout can be a cruel place for bowlers, and with Vandiar and Jappie in the side along with the four Zulfiqars and Teja Nidamanuru Punjab have the potential to post a big total, or to chase one down. But the Crows’ Kleins and Vinks spearhead a decent bowling attack, while with Tayo Walbrugh, Kaplan, Visée and Wesley Barresi (assuming the latter both play) they also have a batting line-up capable of inflicting serious damage on Punjab’s bowling. This could well be one of the best games of the season, but then again, it could also turn out to be another anticlimax. Let’s hope it doesn’t.
BdJ: With the weather sealing HCC’s spot in the top three last week their final phase one fixture against ACC is nothing but match practice for both, and even then of dubious utility given the length of the break. Both sides have had an extra week to come back from heavy defeats at the hands of Kampong and Punjab respectively, and though ACC did at least get to have a bat last week they scarcely looked more stable at Utrecht. Thomas Hobson does seem to be warming to his task at the top of the order now, and ACC are arguably looking a better side than when they took HCC to the wire in their last encounter. Nonetheless the hosts are headed to the championship pool for a reason, and if they put out a full strength side on Saturday they will start as favourites to take the ephemeral points on offer.
RL: The fact that this is the only one of the round’s six games which will have no impact on the way the season turns out suggests that perhaps there isn’t so much wrong with the format after all, and even this one could have been significant had things worked out differently last week. As it is, ACC will know that they could be in for a fierce battle to avoid relegation at the back end, and anything they can do now to build team morale and give the youngsters in their side more experience of cricket under pressure is likely to stand them in good stead later on. They faltered after a good start against Kampong last week and may well have regarded the rain as a welcome intervention, and they would benefit from a strong performance here. HCC’s battle will be at the other end of the table, and they too would doubtless like to go into the break in winning form. Winning can and should be a habit, and after their collapse against Kampong the Lions will be keen to avoid slipping on another banana skin here, no matter how irrelevant the points may be.
BdJ: Finally Kampong will have a chance to put some permanent points on the board when they head to Bermweg to take on Sparta 1888. The two teams fought out a dramatic last-ball, last-wicket thriller at Maarschalkerweerd when last they met, with Sparta closing out a narrow win. The arrival of Pite van Biljon has reinforced the Kampong line-up since even if his contributions have been somewhat understated thus far. Either way it’s fair to say Kampong have looked the stronger outfit since, even if Sparta has chosen their wins more wisely.
RL: There are few more important games this Saturday than this one, with the points on offer likely to be crucial when the Relegation Stakes enter the final furlong towards the end of August. Sparta can more than match Kampong’s Van Biljon with their own Samit Gohil, whose contribution since his arrival has given their batting much more substance and their bowling another valuable option. Kampong are entitled to feel more than a little aggrieved that the rain washed away the hard work they had done against ACC, but those 30 overs had again demonstrated that in Kertan Nana, Usman Malik, Alex Roy, Pierre Jacod and Robert van der Harten they have a more than serviceable attack, and if they could neutralise the threat presented by Gohil they would be strongly placed here. On the other side of the balance sheet, in Ahsan Malik and (if he plays) Mudassar Bukhari Sparta have a very effective new-ball attack, which Kampong will need to weather if they are to post a decent total. It promises to be another absorbing battle.
BdJ: Of the three teams whose Phase 2 destination is not yet known, VRA are best placed. A win away at Voorburg should seal their top three spot for sure, but enjoying a significant net run rate advantage over both VOC and Excelsior they need only avoid a three-figure defeat to be sure of finishing at least third. Add to that of course the fact that it’s not in VCC’s interests to inflict a particularly heavy defeat on VRA given the option, as they would presumably prefer to minimise the chances of VOC getting through if they can. Such byzantine strategising aside however, both teams will at least want to win. Nobody’s managed to best the pre-season favourites in their own back yard as yet, and with Janneman Malan finding some form at the top the VCC line-up looks improbably imposing. Nonetheless an under-strength VRA did look like they might have managed an upset had they got a few more runs on the board last time round. Certainly the visitors will be motivated with a phase 2 slot and points for the taking, and if VCC are to be bested at Westvliet this season VRA have as good a chance as any.
RL: Since Voorburg are likely to be joined by VRA in the Championship pool, the only sane option for the group leaders is to make sure they take the points from this encounter through with them, and to do whatever they can to protect their NRR advantage. Equally, two points here would stand VRA in extremely good stead in the latter half of the competition, putting them in a good position for mounting a title challenge later on. The Spirit of Cricket should therefore be under no threat from manipulation of the result, since both sides have every incentive to go hard and achieve the best outcome they can. Voorburg’s strengths in all departments are obvious enough, while VRA’s rather more mercurial efforts leave open the question of whether they will fire on all cylinders in this potential crucial encounter. If Vikram Singh takes into this game the form he displayed against the West Indies pace attack the home side’s quick men could be in for a hard time, while Peter Borren’s ability to flay opposing bowlers has scarcely diminished with the years. Voorburg will certainly start as favourites, but as m’colleague observes, it would be unwise to rule out another upset.
BdJ: Unquestionably the game of the round, Excelsior versus VOC at Thurlede will likely prove a straight knock-out. Both teams missed out on a chance to solidify their claim on a top three spot last week, and barring a blow-out at Westvliet the loser on Saturday will be headed to the lower half for Phase 2. Excelsior were looking in good shape with the bat against Dosti before the rain came down, and while VOC didn’t get on the park at all against VRA it was notable that the prodigal Corey Rutgers had been recalled for the day. Fair to expect that in what is undeniably a crunch game the Bloodhounds will do their utmost to get their best XI on the field come Saturday, though even at full strength it’s hard to call them favourites at Thurlede.
RL: In what shapes to be virtually an early Elimination Final, this tussle between two sharply contrasting teams is another to whet the appetite. With their three Dutch international stars it may seem surprising, even absurd, that VOC’s chances of challenging for the title should be on the line here, but the inconsistent form of the rest of the side is at least partly responsible, while Excelsior, without any current members of the Dutch side but with an experienced, canny captain in Tom Heggelman, two valuable overseas players in Lorenzo Ingram and Brett Hampton, and a very effective supporting cast, have thoroughly deserved their mid-table spot in the group without ever looking like title contenders. Apart from their Big Three VOC have a potential match-winner in young Belgian international Burhan Niaz, while the veteran Jelte Schoonheim, Tim de Kok and Arnav Jain have all made valuable contributions along the way. There may, however, be a question about the cutting power of the Bloodhounds’ attack, their outstanding effort against Voorburg notwithstanding, and if Tim Etman and Roel Verhagen can continue here where they left off against Dosti, Excelsior may be able to take full advantage.
BdJ: Finally in what is a certain four-pointer Salland welcome the still-winless Dosti to Deventer with both teams looking to bank points ahead of the coming relegation scrap. Neither side has looked at all convincing thus far, with the absence of overseas players telling against them for much of the season. Dosti can now call upon the services of both Kuldeep Diwan and Amitoze Singh, while Salland have at times struggled to get 11 men on the field. The participation of the venerable Steven Lubbers again last week is of course a fine thing for nostalgics and statisticians, but does rather underline the team’s troubles. Nonetheless home advantage is not to be underestimated in this case, with most of the Dosti side unfamiliar with conditions in Deventer and indeed the lengthy travel time involved.
RL: Germany’s international commitments have been a significant disruptive fact in Salland’s season, and there will have been a bittersweet tinge to Venkat Ganesan’s winning of a Player of the Match award at the international tri-series in Krefeld which will keep him and his team-mates out of the Deventer side for this very important game. Both they and Dosti seem certain to be battling against relegation come August, and with Singh and Diwan strengthening the Amsterdammers they will have a more than decent chance of at last breaking their sequence of defeats with victory at Het Schootsveld. Their hosts plugged away manfully against the might of Voorburg last week before the rain intervened, and they will no doubt be a different proposition on their own turf, but nevertheless Dosti must fancy their chances.
BdJ’s picks: Punjab, HCC, Kampong, VCC, Excelsior, Salland.
RL’s picks: Punjab, HCC, Kampong, VCC, Excelsior, Dosti.