Playoff Phase – Final Preview

Bertus de Jong and Rod Lyall 08/09/22

Whatever your opinion of the format adopted for this bumper Topklasse season, be it right or otherwise, it’s difficult to argue the two finalists have earned their place. Voorburg and HCC have racked up more wins than any other teams over the course of the season, and won through a fiercly competitive play-off stage that both kept the back end of the group phase interesting and produced a set of thrilling fixtures, with all three play-off matches going down to the wire. Likewise two of VCC and HCC’s three encounters this season have been run pretty close, and one suspects the biggest threat to another nail-biter at Westvliet on Saturday is the weather, which may yet prevent or at least postpone the resolution of the season’s two remaining questions. There is a reserve day on Sunday of course, as there is for the relegation play-off between Sparta and Hermes which takes place the same day. It’s that end of the table which provides us with a last bit of controversy this week, on which more below…

BdJ: Although champions-presumptive Voorburg have not looked quite as dominant as some expected, HCC remain the only side to have beaten them in a match that mattered. The replacement of Janneman Malan by his less-fêted brother Andre has seemingly only strengthened the side in Dutch conditions, though the departure of Logan van Beek and Delano Potgieter leaves them looking at least beatable. Malan and Musa Ahmad have proved a productive opening partnership once set, and Bas de Leede a capable marshal of the middle-order when under pressure, especially in company of Sybrand Engelbrecht since the latter’s return from injury. HCC’s success has been built on a combination of Tonny Staal and Zac Worden’s form at the top of the order, together with the left arm spin trio of Tim Pringle, Clayton Floyd and Damien Crowley whose discipline through the middle leaves opposing bats looking for runs against an enviable seam attack, with wickets the usual result. Conversely, VCC’s wicket-taking wrist-spin combo af Shariz Ahmad and Flip Boissevain will be eying up a vulnerable HCC middle-order, while a seam attack spearheaded by Vivian Kingma and Bas de Leede is nothing to sniff at either.

RL: HCC have reached the final the hard way, losing their semi-final at Westvliet last Saturday and then having to withstand a very determined challenge from HBS the following day. To the extent that cricket is a game of character the Lions demonstrated on Sunday that they have it in spades, twice coming back from perilous situations when batting and then holding on in a tense final act to win by the narrowest of margins. Their cause was helped by the addition of Jan-Wieger Overdijk to the attack, his inclusion as a fourth seamer enabling them to maintain the pressure in the middle overs, and in the absence of Van Beek there’s a case for stating that HCC have the better-balanced bowling unit. Still and all, Voorburg can draw on Ali Ahmed Qasim and/or Stef Mulder alongside Kingma and De Leede, and their top order has on the whole been more consistent that their opponents’. The beauty of the play-off system, though, is that the prize goes to the side which performs better on the big occasion, and both sides have plenty of players with the temperament and the experience to step up when it matters. Form says Voorburg, as it has all season, but don’t be surprised if HCC spring a surprise.

BdJ: At the other end of the table Kampong may still complain that they won as many matches and finished with a better net run rate, but it was Sparta 1888 that had to come through the crunch game against Dosti at the back end of the group phase to earn their showdown with Hoofdklasse champions Hermes DVS in the relegation/promotion playoff. Hermes’ long-running battle with Quick Haag for a shot at promotion saw the teams clash no less than five times over the summer, but it was the Schiedammers that won through in the end, bouncing back from defeat in the preliminary final to claim the Hoofdklasse title in emphatic fashion last weekend.

That’s not enough to earn them home advantage however, as owing to a faintly farcical fudge the playoff is to be played on neutral ground, specifically at Excelsior’s home ground of Thurlede. Having long-grassed the question of who was to host the match at the pre-season ALV, the eventual outcome of weeks of needless negotiation was to split the proverbial baby, with first Rood & Wit and then Excelsior being awarded hosting rights for the game. The question then belatedly arose as to who was to be officially the home side in the encounter, which might seem academic but for the fact that the nominal hosts have choice of wicket, and despite (or perhaps because of) Excelsior having turned out some remarkably good turf wickets all season, Sparta were keen to play on their thankfully seldom-used artificial wicket, widely regarded as among the worst in Holland. Inevitably the silliest solution again won out, and the two sides quite literally tossed a coin for it. Sparta won the toss and duly said “we’ll have a mat, thanks”. No doubt my esteemed colleague has plenty to say on this too, and at time of writing I – as the kids say – literally cannot even. So on to the actual teams and such.

Hermes’ chief stength through the season has been their seam attack, ably led by skipper Sebastiaan Braat, with youngsters Travis Ackermann and Roy Numair both bagging 30 wickets across formats over the season. All-rounder Sahil Kothari, formerly of ACC, has also proved a shrewd acquisition. The comparative frailty of the batting will be their chief concern as they head to Cappelle Thurlede, though with Sparta’s Mudassar Bukhari understood to have been planning to retire following the Dosti match they may have one less all-round threat to worry about. Bukhari has taken something of a back seat to Ahsan Malik and Belgium international Khalid Ahmadi with the ball this season, though given Samit Gohil’s departure Sparta are left with serious batting concerns of their own. All told could go either way, but safe to say that the credibility of the game as a serious pursuit in the Netherlands is the real loser.

RL: There are, in fact, clear historical precedents for a one-off promotion/relegation play-off being played on a neutral ground. Otherwise, should the home advantage be accorded to the side trying to retain their top-flight status, or to their challengers? It’s a question which has a particular bite when there are such marked differences between the venues concerned; it’s not just a matter of who tosses the coin and who calls.

As for the playing surface, it is surely understandable that a club who play all their home games on an artificial surface should prefer to play on such a surface for such a deciding match, while a club who play on turf at home should wish to play on turf. How, then, to resolve the issue? For the Bond to make such a decision on its own account would pretty certainly give rise to an objection from whichever side felt itself to be disadvantaged, and therefore a preliminary coin-toss seems, to this observer at least, to be the least-worst solution.

Underlying all this, however, there are much more fundamental issues: the near-pathological fear of relegation and an equal determination to gain promotion by whatever means available got us into this mess in the first place, the one-year twelve-team Topklasse an honest attempt to square the circle and give everybody what they wanted in the unique circumstances of the pandemic. The last question most clubs ask is what is in the best interests of Dutch cricket as a whole, and to be frank, the way in which the KNCB has attempted to find its way out of a genuine dilemma comes nowhere near the top of my list of factors compromising ‘the credibility of the game as a serious pursuit in the Netherlands’. But that’s an argument for another day.

As for the match itself, there at least we are in agreement: it’s very hard to predict which way it will go, especially given the likely intervention of the weather gods. Hermes lost only two matches during the regular Hoofdklasse season, their South African overseas Travis Ackerman averaging 32.60 with the bat and 10.44 with the ball, and although they had a bad day at the office in their semi-final against Quick, they have the all-round strength to test Sparta to the full. The acquisitions of Kothari from ACC and Numair from Kampong have been significant, but one should not underestimate the importance to the side of the long-serving former international Nick Statham, of skipper Braat, or of the home-grown brothers Ralph and Olivier Elenbaas. For Sparta, the contributions of Malik, Bukhari and Ahmadi are likely to be vital, but it was a remarkable innings by Ali Raza which got them into this play-off, while a valuable and too-often neglected contribution with the ball has come from skipper Joost Martijn Snoep.

BdJ’s picks: Rain, Absurdity, Voorburg, Sparta
RL’s picks: Voorburg, Hermes.


Finals Play-offs Round 2 Preview

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 03/09/2022

One reasonable conclusion from Saturday’s games is that the round-robin phases saw the four best teams into the finals, and the result was two matches which see-sawed all day and produced two outstanding semi-finals. Let’s hope that Sunday’s preliminary final and next week’s grand final are able to live up to the standard set today.

RL: One obvious difference between Saturday and Sunday is that while both semi-finals were played on turf pitches, the game between HCC and HBS Craeyenhout will take place on the former’s artificial track surrounded by a bijou outfield. On the basis that lightning doesn’t strike in the same place four times it seems unlikely that the visitors’ Tayo Walbrugh will go for a fourth successive duck, but apart from him, Gavin Kaplan and Wesley Barresi, the Crows do not appear to have the depth of batting to take on a HCC attack which had Voorburg in early trouble and held on pretty well at the back end. But by the same token, once Tonny Staal and Zac Worden had gone HCC’s batting failed against the Voorburg bowling, although one might reasonably doubt whether the Crows’ bowling can sustain the same levels of pressure as the championship favourites. Home advantage suggests a HCC win, but it would only take a couple of heroic performances from HBS to turn that calculation on its head.

BdJ: Though HBS came out of today’s quarter final (which is what I shall continue to call this fixture despite it’s baffling official designation as a semi-final) with a win, while HCC fell short against VCC, the same middle order fragility which coast HCC was evident in the Crows batting too, as it has been for much of the season. While both sides have the firepower at the top to put up big scores, HCC have the advantage of an abundance of left arm spin to call on through the middle overs. If the HCC seamers can take early wickets as they did today, the Crows will likely struggle to recover. Should the HBS top order come off, however, HCC have shown themselves vulnerable to collapse under even moderate scoreboard pressure. Though HCC’s line-up looks less top-heavy than that of HBS on paper, a string of single-digit scores on today’s card speaks to a potential vulnerability, and simple momentum should not be entirely discounted either. HCC’s bowling alone still makes them clear favourites ahead of the game, but HBS have every chance of bagging an upset here if they bat with discipline and show the same tenacity in the field that got them the win today. Bit of a punt it may be, but for the sake of keeping things interesting I’m picking the Crows to come out on top.

RL’s pick: HCC

BdJ’s pick: HBS

Finals Play-offs Round 1 Preview

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.

Round 5 Phase 2 Preview 2

Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 24/08/20

It’s the turn of the top six this Saturday, as the postponed Championship Pool matches from last Sunday are played the day before the final round of matches. Leaders Voorburg can afford to relax, but for everyone else there are burning issues to be settled: even bottom-placed VRA can squeeze into the top four with a brace of wins, while for the other four sides, level on points, two crucial matches will determine who gets a double crack at the grand final along with Voorburg and who misses out on a play-off place altogether. It could scarcely be a more thrilling climax to a unique Topklasse season.

BdJ: It remains a tough road to the top four for VRA and given their disadvantage in terms of points average and net run rate a win against HCC on Saturday looks necessary but perhaps not sufficient condition for a place in the play-offs. Word is HCC only reluctantly went along with the rescheduling, doubtless in part because VRA would otherwise miss two key players in Vikram Singh and Aryan Dutt, and potentially even skipper Peter Borren, while of HCC only Tim Pringle was currently in conclave with the national side. HCC being able to muster a full team for back to back fixtures this weekend is not a sure thing either, though by then VRA will be without the services of Johan Smal. The availability uncertainty makes prognosticating a tough task, but it seems as though HCC are the more worried of the two.

RL: One question is how quickly Pringle recovers from the toe injury he sustained in the second ODI against Pakistan, which may have contributed to his missing the final match of the series. That apart, HCC have the more balanced and experienced of the two attacks, although the key figure in their victory over Voorburg last time out was the least experienced of the lot, Felix Bennett. Neither side has performed consistently this season, but VRA have been particularly mercurial, and much will depend on whether they bring their A-game to De Diepput. Borren’s century against HBS was outstanding, and if he can repeat that form the Amsterdammers will have a real chance of extending their title challenge into the final game of the second round robin.

BdJ: Similarly Excelsior ‘20 will play HBS Craeyenhout a week late only under protest, with HBS originally implying they’d be willing to do without Ryan Klein and play this week only for Wesley Barresi to receive a surprise call-up. With Toby Visée in semi-retirement and Gavin Kaplan understood to be unavailable, the prospect of missing both Klein and Barresi too seemed a bit much for the Crows, who belatedly requested to move the match, to the Schiedammers’ evident irritation. The move does rather speak to HBS’s reliance on the quartet this season, with home-grown talents such as Ferdi Vink and Julien de Mey having a comparatively quiet 2022, the latter’s impressive rearguard stand at VRA notwithstanding. Excelsior too have gotten good value from Ingram and Hampton of course, but the local core of the side has generally offered more support. Walbrugh’s imperious form with the bat probably makes HBS marginal favourites at home, but it will likely take more than a solo effort to claim the points come next weekend.

RL: The encounter between these sides at Thurlede having been rained off with Excelsior in a fairly strong position at 175 for five, Roel Verhagen’s team will be keen to finish the job this time, especially since defeat here could put them at a real disadvantage in their battle to stay in the top four. The only one of the top six without any representative in the current national side, Excelsior have held their position by being more than the sum of their parts, helped of course by significant contributions with both bat and ball from Ingram and Hampton. Defeat by Punjab was clearly a major setback, but if Niels Etman and Tom Heggelman can get amongst the HBS top order early (and in particular if they can find a way of removing the always-threatening Walbrugh), they could have a real chance.

BdJ: Despite being secure in the top-spot already, Voorburg likewise have elected to wait on the return of their internationals before taking on Punjab. With the brothers Ahmad, Bas de Leede, Logan van Beek and Viv Kingma all on national duty that’s perhaps understandable, though only four of the five return to VCC as van Beek’s call-up for New Zealand A’s tour of India sees him miss the rest of the season. Still there’s no doubt every team but Punjab will be happy with the decision to postpone. That’s not to say the frontrunner’s victory is assured of course. Jonathan Vandiar has been in excellent touch and Punjab’s batting depth remains enviable. Nonetheless Voorburg are top of the table for a reason, and the very fact that they’re insisting on postponing the fixture suggests they’ve no intention of sliding to a second defeat this season.

RL: Released from the pressures of the national side’s busy programme, Voorburg’s bevy of Dutch representatives can focus on bringing the championship trophy to Westvliet for the first time – they were still playing at the old Duivesteijn ground when they took the title back in 2002 – and they are likely to prove a handful for the defending champions on Saturday. After losing four on the trot, including a 10-wicket defeat at the hands of Voorburg, Punjab came back in style with their 112-run win against Excelsior last time out, and they will need to raise their game still further if they are to reclaim a place in the top four this weekend. Vandiar’s tally of 476 runs in four innings is truly remarkable, and if he can further extend that run Voorburg could have a fight on their hands. But the home side’s overall strength seems likely to tell in the end.

BdJ’s picks: VRA, HBS, VCC.
RL’s picks: HCC, Excelsior, VCC.

Phase 2: Round 4 Preview

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 12/08/22

Three rounds to go, and although Voorburg’s position at the top of the championship pool is now impregnable, all the other issues remain at least theoretically unresolved. Four points separate second-placed HBS from sixth-placed VRA, while in the relegation pool, likely as it is that the two automatic relegation places and one headed for a play-off against the Hoofdklasse champions will feature the three sides currently at the foot of the table, even that is not yet 100% certain. Some of those questions are very likely to be settled this weekend, when because of the impending Super League series against Pakistan five of the six matches have been moved to Saturday.

RL: HCC squeezed into the four by beating Excelsior ’20 last week, but whether they will stay there will depend initially on whether they can overcome Voorburg at Westvliet on Saturday. Tonny Staal’s aggressive century was the foundation of last Sunday’s success, but the Lions will have been pleased to see Zac Worden amongst the runs again, and their attack did all that could have been asked of them in the face of Lorenzo Ingram’s defiant onslaught. Voorburg, on the other hand, have gone on winning despite not quite firing on all cylinders, Andre Malan fitting seamlessly into the side after the departure of his brother Janneman, and will take a superlative performance from HCC to claim the two points they need to consolidate their claim to a place in the final play-offs. There will be plenty of talent, home-grown and imported, on display on both sides, and having made a very good fist of defending a low total at De Diepput a month ago the Lions perhaps have as good a chance of anyone of slowing Voorburg’s march towards the title.

BdJ: While Voorburg have cemented their status as favourites against all comers this season, it’s worth noting that they do lack a left-hand bat of Ingram’s quality in the middle order. Should the visitors manage to get rid of Musa Nadeem early, expect Clayton Floyd and Tim Pringle to have an easier time controlling the middle overs at Westvliet on Saturday. For VCC, already assured of the top spot, it might be tempting to treat the match as a warm-up for the Pakistan series that almost half the team will likely be involved in, nonetheless on current for it would be a brave prediction to back HCC to take points here.

RL: Having both lost last week, Excelsior ‘20 and Punjab Rotterdam will be in urgent need of a victory when they meet at Thurlede on Saturday. This is particularly true of the visitors, who have now failed to defend totals of 281, 312 and 316 since the start of the competition’s second phase. This suggests that while their batting looks a lot more substantial since the arrival of Jonathan Vandiar, who has made 372 runs in his last three visits to the crease, their bowling has fallen upon seriously hard times, claiming only 12 wickets in those three matches and conceding four centuries. Excelsior’s form has been more variable, and they were unfortunate to have seen their match against HBS abandoned a fortnight ago when they were in a fairly strong position. Two wins from their last three games would guarantee them a place in the finals, and they will be keen to improve their advantage over Punjab with a good win here. Home advantage and the presence of Brett Hampton work in their favour, but they will need to find a way round Vandiar’s menace.

BdJ: One has to question just how much of Punjab’s apparent struggles with the ball and fluency with the bat is entirely attributable to the form of their bats or bowlers, rather than the Zomercomplex’s flat mat, rapid outfield and diminutive dimensions. This will be their first outing away from home in the second phase, and fair to say if they rack up 300+ on Saturday they’ll have little reason to worry. Also worth noting they were missing both Myburgh and Salarazai last week. That said it’s never an advantage to play away at Thurlede, and despite racking up runs at home the Punjab line-up has looked less than the sum of its parts all season.

RL: VRA Amsterdam had one of their better days against Punjab last week, and they will need to replicate that this Saturday when they face HBS Craeyenhout in the Bos. Vikram Singh’s first big innings of the season was a massive plus, his partnership with John Smal the basis of their remarkable run chase, but the top order remains vulnerable, and the HBS attack is strong enough to take advantage of that. And then there’s Tayo Walbrugh, who is clearly capable of taking the game away from any opponents and almost spearheaded a win against Voorburg last Saturday. A key factor with both bat and ball, though, could be Wesley Barresi, no stranger to the Bos or to VRA, who is likely to relish the opportunity to ensure the points against his old team-mates. It would take a disastrous end to the second phase to deny HBS a place in the finals, while defeat here would almost certainly put paid to VRA’s already slim chances.

BdJ: Whatever VRA’s top-order worries, one suspects their chief concern come Saturday will be their lack of a genuine strike bowler and the Crows’ intimidating batting card. With conditions expected to favour the bat, their will be few in the VRA line up losing sleep over the HBS seam attack, whereas the home bowlers may well be lying awake at night. If the weather holds up and the pitch is as flat as expected then a run-fest may be looming, and if the biggest hitters are to take it one would expect an HBS win. The toss at the Bos could well prove crucial, but the Crows will start as favourites on paper.

RL: ACC’s victory over Salland opened up clear blue water between themselves and the three sides below them, and they will improve their position greatly if they are able to defeat VOC Rotterdam at Het Loopveld on Saturday. Last week’s game was a typical lower-table, low-scoring encounter, Thomas Hobson and Mees van Vliet having settled the issue as ACC defended a less-than-overwhelming 177, but VOC are likely to present greater problems with the bat. The Rotterdammers’ bowling, however, is less threatening, and it took an incisive spell from Jelte Schoonheim for them to overcome Kampong’s best start of the season. ACC’s mix of imported experience and home-grown talent has turned them into a better side this year, but it’s nevertheless likely that VOC will have too many guns, and will take the points back to Hazelaarweg.

BdJ: A win for ACC would in fact guarantee their survival in the top-flight, as despite the downgrading of points-average it remains the first tie-breaker. 10 points is thus sufficient for them to be sure of finishing ahead of Sparta, Kampong and Dosti in the final reckoning. For the same reason, VOC’s current tally of 10 points is not sufficient to guarantee safety. The Rotterdammers still need either one more win themselves or another defeat for Kampong to breathe easy. Certainly they wouldn’t want to end up in a position where their final match against the latter becomes a relegation-playoff-playoff. Even without Scott Edwards the Bloodhounds made light work of Kampong last week, and while a rather slapdash season has put them in the wrong half of the table, they seem to have woken up to the fact that at least one more Topklasse match warrants their undivided attention. It may not be this one however, with the Pakistan series looming and Pieter Seelaar again sidelined, VOC could be left sweating for another week.

RL: Having broken their duck against Sparta, Dosti Amsterdam will be keen to show that that was no flash in the pan when they take on Kampong Utrecht at Sportpark Drieburg, also on Saturday, and incidentally maintain their minimal hopes of escaping one of the two automatic relegation spots, a positively Houdini-esque operation. They could thank Amitoze Singh and Waheed Masood for that victory, but the whole side has been looking more competitive in recent weeks, and they will provide a real test for Kampong, a much better outfit than their current situation suggests but one which is worrying prone to middle-order collapses. They now need to win all of their remaining games if they are to have any chance of escaping the relegation zone, as Dosti do if they are to scramble out of the bottom two. The loser of this game, therefore, will sink even deeper into the doldrums, while the winner will go into the last two rounds with a lot to play for.

BdJ: I choose to believe in Dosti.

RL: Things go from bad to worse for Sparta 1888, who have failed to reach three figures in each of their last three attempts, and they will be under real relegation pressure as they undertake the tricky journey to Het Schootsveld on Sunday to take on Salland Deventer. Salland have done just about enough to ensure they stay up, while it would take a real reversal of form for Sparta to scramble into the top three of the relegation pool. Even the combined talents of Samit Gohil, Mudassar Bukhari and Ahsan Malik have been enough to make Sparta competitive since the competition resumed, while Salland’s German contingent have taken them to victories over Sparta and Kampong. On the assumption that they will again be present on Sunday, this looks like a probable home win.

BdJ: At this stage the best Sparta can realistically hope for is to earn a play-off against the Hoofdklasse champions to stay up, but their thumping at Drieburg last week (and that at the hands of a team that last won a game against anyone else back when Corona was still just a mexican beer) may have served as something of a wake-up call. Whether Sparta are already resigned to relegation is something of an open question, and their chances will depend as much on how much belief they can muster after a long bus ride as the fickle availability of their opponents’ roster. Like VOC, Salland need only one win or a little luck to be safe from here. Form suggests they should find it on Sunday, but Sparta have more to play for.

RL’s picks: Voorburg, Excelsior, HBS, VOC, Kampong, Salland.

BdJ’s picks: Voorburg, Punjab, HBS, ACC, Dosti, Sparta.

Phase 2: Round 2 Preview

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

Phase 2: Round 1 preview

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.

Round 10 Preview

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.

Group A

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.

Group B

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.

Round 9 Preview

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.

Group A

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.

Group B

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.

Round 7 Preview

Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 24/05/22

With the traditional Ascension Day round upon us on Thursday the first phase of the Topklasse is accelerating toward a conclusion, and by this time next week at least some, conceivably even all of the contenders for the championship group will be known. For those teams in the lower halves of their respective tables, especially those in Group A, time for a comeback is rapidly running out.

Group A

BdJ: For Kampong, who face second-placed HBS Craeyenhout at Maarschalkerweerd on Thursday, practically every match is must-win from here if they’re to avoid the relegation pool. Realistically though, the outcome of the match will probably be of little consequence given the likelihood of the two teams ending up in different pools for the second phase. Kampong pulled off a remarkable upset win over the previously unbeaten Punjab last week which is likewise unlikely to matter much, perhaps suggesting that they rather enjoy playing with little on the line. Notably they bagged the points without any significant contribution from the newly-arrived Pite van Biljon, though one expects it won’t be long before he makes his presence felt. For HBS the fixture is principally a chance to take the pressure off somewhat for the rest of the first phase, as they’re unlikely to take any points won on Thursday through. Despite the heist Kampong pulled on Punjab the Crows remain firm favourites for this one, with Barresi and Walbrugh looking in good touch and Kaplan back (though unneeded last week) the potential return of the ever-busy Toby Visée would be a luxury they would welcome, but not necessarily require.

RL: Kampong have taken a while to settle to their task, but last week’s victory over Punjab showed that they are not as out of their depth at Topklasse level as might at one stage have appeared. With Van Biljon joining Cole Briggs in the batting line-up and the attack, spearheaded by Alex Roy and Usman Malik, an increasingly effective unit, the Utrecht side may be capable of springing more surprises from here on in. But HBS, off-days excepted, are a tough proposition for anybody, and they way they bounced back from their Zomercomplex debacle indicates an impressive toughness. One plus point for Kampong is home advantage: Maarschalkerweerd has proved a tricky venue for batting sides, and Malik’s side have shown themselves thoroughly capable of exploiting it. HBS are indeed favourites, but this game might be closer than the sides’ records so far suggest.

BdJ: Of greater probable consequence is the clash at De Diepput between third-placed HCC and current leaders Punjab Rotterdam, who could both seal their place in the top three this week. HCC’s emphatic win over Sparta last week took them two wins clear in third, and they may sense a chance to both solidify their position and bag crucial second-phase points against a Punjab side whose air of invincibility has comprehensively blown away. Nonetheless the Rotterdammers are defending champions for a reason, and though their batting failed them last week the bowling remains more formidable than what HCC faced last week, especially with the addition of Samiullah Salarazai, who lends the Punjab attack a cutting edge it had arguably lacked, and whether it will be enough to counter the in-form Tim Pringle may prove the key question come Thursday in what looks to be the headline match this round.

RL: HCC’s attack now looks back to full effectiveness, and they will undoubtedly fancy their chances against a Punjab side which had until last week continued winning despite performing distinctly below their best. But Kampong’s cause was greatly helped by the early removal of Steph Myburgh, and unless HCC are able to repeat that trick they could find themselves doing some serious leather-chasing. The Lions have proved adept at making the most of what DLS calls ‘resource’: they were all out off the last ball of their innings against ACC, but not before they had put on 260, and with Clayton Floyd coming in at seven and Yash Patel at eight they bat as deep as anyone in the competition. With Suleiman Tariq bowling as well as ever and Salarazai a real acquisition, Punjab’s bowling is pretty effective as well, and if the group has seemingly split early into a top and bottom three, that is compensated by the fact that the top three are very evenly balanced.

BdJ: Meanwhile in the Last Chance Saloon ACC will head to Bermweg to face Sparta 1888 with both sides looking in the first instance for probable second phase points to stave off relegation, with an outside chance of kicking off a late surge to the top-three should neutral results permit. Sparta scraped to a two-wicket win in a low-scoring dogfight at Het Loopveld earlier in the season and ACC will be keen to level the score on Thursday, though neither side can take much heart from current form. The arrival of Samit Gohil has gone some way toward shoring up the Sparta batting in the meantime, but the rest of the line-up has been desperately short of form. That said, a home outing against an ACC attack that has looked rather toothless last week might be just what the Spartan batting needs. It seems unlikely that they’ll be able to roll a rather more settled ACC batting line-up for as little this time round, so if Gohil can’t find support somewhere, or goes cheaply himself, even an underrated Sparta attack led by canny ex-internationals Malik and Bukhari will struggle to deliver two points with the ball, especially if Bukhari plays as a specialist bat as he did last week.

RL: The bottom three in Group A are fairly evenly matched as well, and with relegation likely to be extremely keenly contested these are crucial points for both teams. If ACC can weather the initial onslaught from Malik and whoever his new-ball partner is they have shown themselves capable of making a decent total, while Sparta’s problem is, as m’colleague observes, finding reliable partners for Gohil. ACC’s youngsters, after several seasons of having to fend for themselves, now have the support of a quintet of more experienced hands, and the likes of Shreyas Potdar and Mees van Vliet are showing signs of coming into their own. This will doubtless stand them in good stead as the season progresses, but their more immediate concern will be to pick up two points which the winners are very likely to carry with them all the way to September. The Last Chance Saloon is also the Too Close To Call division, and this is definitely one which could go either way.

Group A

BdJ: Over in Group A it’s all a bit tighter in the middle, and there’s every chance that  Excelsior ‘20 versus VRA at Thurlede could determine who ends up on which side of the cut-off when the music stops in June. Excelsior did a number on the VRA batting in their first encounter this season, with prodigal overseas Brett Hampton taking four wickets as the Amsterdammers collapsed to 57 all-out, but the Schiedammers’ recent results don’t inspire as much confidence. Both sides showed some fight against champions-presumptive VCC over the last couple of weeks, but VRA are coming off thumping Salland last week while Excelsior are still recovering from a shellacking at the hands of VOC. On paper the hosts remain favourites however, with VRA lacking the top-tier overseas reinforcement that Excelsior have in Ingram and Hampton, and the homegrown core of the Schiedam side is rather more seasoned that VRA’s array of recent youth graduates.

RL: With three teams currently fighting over two places in the Championship pool this game is doubly key: depending on other results the loser here could be the one to miss out, while if both go through and VOC are the ones to finish in the relegation pool, then the two points from a win here could be vital in the season’s closing stages. It was Ashir Abid who was instrumental in VRA’s demolition of Salland last week, but he will no doubt face greater and more determined resistance in Tom Heggelman and Co. Similarly, the Excelsior attack, in which skipper Heggelman led from the front against Voorburg, will present more of a challenge to a VRA batting line-up whose form has been (sometimes literally) hit and miss. Their profiles may differ but these sides look more evenly matched than the result in the Bos suggested, and in Peter Borren and Heggelman they have the two most seasoned captains in the competition.   

BdJ: The principal draw for the encounter between Salland and VOC at Deventer is the potential disaster that defeat would mean for the visitors. A second loss to the unfancied Salland would not only put VOC on track for the relegation pool, but would also potentially leave them profoundly short of points when they got there, should Salland likewise fail to make the cut. For Salland two points on Thursday would not only buy them some insulation against relegation, it could put them in contention for the still greater security of a top-three spot. An ignominious drubbing at the hands of VRA last week may not be the best preparation, but given the number of first-choice players absent need not have unduly dented their confidence as they look to knock over VOC for a second time. They will also have noted the vulnerability of VOC’s attack to a bat willing to tee-off with abandon, having had plenty of time to watch Kuldeep Diwan’s fireworks on Saturday. So long as VOC can put Edwards, O’Dowd and Seelaar on the field they will remain heavy favourites of course, but if you had to pick an upset this week (which for once I don’t) you could do worse than this match.

RL: What the man said. It’s hard to see VOC stumbling over this particular hurdle a second time, especially with Arnav Jain and Tim de Kok now running into form with the bat, although the contributions of Max O’Dowd, Scott Edwards and Pieter Seelaar remain fundamental to their prospects of making it into the Championship pool. Salland have had real continuity issues, having used no fewer than 21 players in six games, with only skipper Victor Lubbers, keeper and opening batter Piyaranga Ottachchige, Akhil Gopinath and Hashim Khan having been ever-present. They really need the presence of Venkat Ganesan and his German team-mates; as last week’s disaster demonstrated, they are a long way short of Topklasse standard when they are missing. VOC seem pretty certain to have too many guns for their Deventer hosts, even if the latter gain some reinforcements. 

BdJ: Finally in what seems certain to be the least consequential match of the round, the unbeaten Voorburg travel to Drieburg to take on the winless Dosti Amsterdam.  Given that, barring some implausible turn of events, VCC are guaranteed to make the top three and Dosti guaranteed to end up in the relegation pool, this Thursday’s game is effectively little more than a friendly. In that respect it would of course be entirely in-character for the luckless Dosti to go ahead and win it. As unlikely as such an outcome remains (which is to say, very) it is not quite so hard to imagine as it might have been last week, before we witness Kuldeep Diwan’s assault on the VOC bowling and two of VCC’s South African pros bag first ball ducks on Saturday. It’s also worth noting that VCC have not had to play on an artificial wicket yet this season, and that Amitoze Singh has belatedly arrived to bolster the Dosti ranks. All this of course has to be weighed against the obvious fact that Voorburg have a much stronger team in all respects, which often proves decisive in such encounters.

RL: And again. Voorburg may not always have been 100% convincing, but then, they have seldom needed to be. They may drop points before the season’s end, but it’s not likely to be on Thursday against a Dosti side which has consistently struggled to do itself justice. The addition of Amitoze may make some difference and skipper Mahesh Hans will be fervently hoping that Diwan’s knock last week wasn’t a flash in the pan, but it will take more than a repeat of that effort if the Amsterdammers are to mount a serious threat to a Voorburg side which is, one way or another, carrying all before it.     

BdJ’s tips: HBS, Punjab, ACC, Excelsior, VOC, Voorburg.

RL’s tips: HBS,HCC, ACC, VRA, VOC, Voorburg.