Preview Round 4

Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 29/04/22

We’re still just two weeks into the 2022 Season, but it’s fair to say that the pre-season favourites on both sides of the draw have already established a degree of dominance, with VCC, Punjab and HBS all three from three and the former especially having stamped their authority on Group B. While it’s still early days, it does look like most of the tension will be in the mid-table(s) for the first phase at least.

Group A

BdJ: Defending champions Punjab Rotterdam will look to consolidate their spot at the top of the Group A table when they take on Sparta 1888 at Bermweg, though having made something of a meal of a two-figure chase against ACC last week they have reason to be wary of a Sparta attack that has begun to find its stride. Belgium international Khalid Ahmadi currently leads the wicket-taking tables in the competition, and together with Mudassar Bukhari and Ahsan Malik Sparta have the makings of a pace attack that could trouble the title-holders. Nonetheless it should be noted that Stephan Myburgh did not bat on Sunday and Punjab’s batting card is stronger than anything the Spartans have yet bowled at, while the Bermweg side’s own batting has looked suspect at best. While another two points for Punjab is not a foregone conclusion, a win for the hosts would be a significant upset.

RL: Nor should we forget Nasratullah Ibrahimkhil when we tally up Sparta’s seam resources, but Punjab have picked up Ashiqullah Said and Safiullah Salarazai over the winter, and the latter in particular has looked like an extremely valuable acquisition. With Suleiman Tariq on the spot as ever and Sohail Bhatti having rejoined the ranks on Sunday, the champions’ seam attack looks even stronger than it was last year, when it consistently kept opposing batting line-ups under the cosh. And notably, Sikander Zulfiqar has barely had a bowl so far. How successful Sparta’s bowlers are likely to be against Punjab’s formidable top six is, of course, another matter, and even with the odd sign of frailty in that department the Rotterdammers appear strong enough to make sure of the points.

BdJ: At the toe-end of the table the still winless ACC welcome the likewise thrice-beaten Kampong to het Loopveld, with both teams needing to break their duck if they’re to keep any realistic hope of avoiding the relegation pool. ACC’s renovated team has looked rather less than the sum of its parts thus far, with their trio of South African signings yet to find any consistency and single digit scores the norm for the rest of the batting. The sole consistent performer thus far has been ACC’s own Mees van Vliet, who has taken three wickets in each of the first three games. Similarly for Kampong it has been young Alex Roy that has stood out with the ball, his seven wickets thus far accounting for more than half their total tally for the season. With Cole Briggs yet to find his feet in the competition Kampong have certainly felt the absence of their headline overseas signing in Pite van Biljon, Ratha Alphonse the only Kampong bat to have passed 100 runs for the season so far. With early signs suggesting both sides might end up in the lower pool for the second phase, they’ll be doubly keen to get points on the board on Saturday given that said points could well stay there all season.

RL: Another four-pointer at the lower end, with Kampong having looked a little more convincing so far than their opponents this week. They gave HBS a run for their money last Saturday, and if they struggled for runs against HCC the following day, it took the combined efforts of Zac Worden and Hidde Overdijk to raise the tempo for the first time in the match. Both sides have produced bits-and-pieces efforts in their first three games, ACC fighting hard in the field to defend impossibly low totals, but they really need their batters to find some consistent form if they are to lift themselves away from the depths of looming relegation. Usman Malik has occupied the crease for long periods for Kampong, but his side’s bowling, Roy apart, has been rather pedestrian, and if ACC are to bat themselves into form they may not get a better opportunity than this throughout the first phase.

BdJ: Of the unbeaten sides, HBS Craeyenhout have looked the most beatable, and in third-placed HCC face their sternest test of the season thus far on Sunday. The HBS batting has been somewhat inconsistent so far in the season despite its enviable depth, bowled out for just 137 at Bermweg last week and needing Ryan Klein to bail them out with the ball. HBS do lead the century count for the season though with both Tayo Walbrugh and Toby Visée both tonning up against ACC and Kampong respectively, and should the Crows’ line-up fire at once they could put the game beyond HCC. Nonetheless this is probably the toughest match of the week to call, with HCC’s new overseas Tim Pringle and Zac Worden both settling in well and Hidde Overdijk in fine form with bat and ball HCC look entirely capable of breaking their hosts’ nascent winning streak.

RL: The move from Saturday is part of the HBS club’s Super Sunday, but as m’colleague observes, HCC undoubtedly have the potential to spoil the party and move level with their hosts. More important, perhaps, with both sides very likely to proceed to the Championship pool, points garnered now could be crucial in the battle for play-off places at the back end of the season. With three half-centuries in as many innings Worden really looks the part, and the comparison between the Australian and HBS’s Walbrugh will be one of many fascinating features of this encounter. HCC certainly have the more balanced attack, although the combination of Ryan and Kyle Klein gives additional cutting edge to the Crows’ line-up, and they bat deeper than their opponents. But the fact that this has been evident reveals a certain fragility in the top order, and all in all HCC probably start as favourites here.

Group B

BdJ: 2021 runners-up Voorburg will be the first team to make the trip out to Deventer to take on newly-promoted Salland, and with Logan van Beek back to strengthen an already intimidating team they’ll be confident of bringing points back. Though Janneman Malan has not looked entirely at home on the rather sluggish early-season Dutch wickets, VCC have had little trouble so far, with Delano Potgieter adjusting quickly and Bas de Leede in fine form with the bat. Salland have had a tough reintroduction to the top flight so far, the form of skipper Victor Lubbers of particular concern, though they showed against VOC that if they can get runs on the board they have a sufficiently disciplined slow bowling attack to choke teams out. With a general reluctance to force the pace with the bat and particularly cautious approach to spin the closest thing to a weakness in the VCC side, Salland may think the match-up rather suits them. Nonetheless the Voorburgers are pre-season favourites for good reason, and an awful lot would have to go right for the hosts if they are to orchestrate an upset.

RL: Salland’s victory over VOC last Saturday was the one big upset of the season to date, but a win against Voorburg would surpass that and then some. Venkat Ganesan has been the Deventer side’s main asset in their initial games, especially against VOC, with Sahir Naqash and Elam Bharathi also making useful contributions. But that’s a long way short of a winning combination, and when one views Voorburg’s assembly of potential match-winners it’s hard to see anything other than a comfortable victory for the group leaders.

BdJ: Third-placed VRA will also be hitting the road for the first time in the season when they head down to Hazelaarweg to take on VOC Rotterdam. Given the winter exodus at Amstelveen, VRA will be fairly pleased to be in the top half of the table, and a win against the struggling VOC could go a long way toward keeping them there. Though Eric Szwarczynski and Ben Cooper have been hard to replace in the batting line-up, unheralded newcomers Eduard Visser and Anish Shah have proved their talents with the new ball, and if Johan Smal turns out as effective with the bat then VRA may suddenly look a surprisingly strong outfit. Conversely VOC continue to look dependent on their trio of internationals, with Max O’Dowd and Scott Edwards forced to adopt a cautious approach at the top of the order owing to the fragility of the rest of the batting, and Pieter Seelaar shouldering more responsibility with the ball than he might like. They remain a tough team to beat at home however, and it’s doubtful whether VRA’s new pair of pacers will find much reward at Hazelaarweg. Rather the visitors will likely look to young slow bowlers Udit Nashier and Aryan Dutt together with the experienced Leon Turmaine to try to replicate Salland’s success.

RL: The traditional rivalry between these two sides has taken on a new dimension this season, with both likely to be in a tough contest for one of two spots in the Championship group. VOC had a nightmare weekend, losing to Salland as well as to Voorburg, while VRA, having been demolished by Excelsior, recovered with a thoroughly convincing victory against bottom-of-the-table Dosti. VOC have suffered further with the knee injury to the dependable Bobby Hanif, and although the advent of Max Hoornweg has compensated to a degree for the loss to Sparta of the experienced Ahsan Malik, the Rotterdammers’ attack looks less than overwhelming. The batting is, of course, always dangerous if O’Dowd or Edwards gets going, but even the contribution of teenager Burhan Niaz has failed to lend conviction to the line-up. VRA’s own frailties were all too evident against Excelsior, but Peter Borren and Jack Balbirnie remain key to the Amsterdam side’s success, and in Vikram Singh and Shirase Rasool they have young talents more than capable of taking on the VOC bowling.

BdJ: Finally Dosti will also be heading south to take on Excelsior ‘20 at Thurlede. The Drieburgers have yet to find their first win of the season despite impressing in patches, and there’s little to suggest that they’ll break their streak on Saturday. Wahid Masood remains the only Dosti bat to have managed a half-century, and while the bowling has looked disciplined they have yet to bowl a team out. Conversely Excelsior are coming off the back of two emphatic wins, having bowled out VRA and then Salland last week for less than 200 runs combined, and lost just four wickets over the entire weekend. Though one might make the case that Excelsior’s batting was found wanting on the one occasion that it’s been genuinely tested, nonetheless bar the arribval of belated reinforcements at Dosti it’s difficult to see them turning over the Schiedammers on their own turf.

RL: In a highly-competitive group every win is vital, not only for the points gained but potentially for net run rate as well, and Excelsior will be looking for a convincing victory over the still-hapless Dosti. Strikingly, no-one has yet posted a fifty for the Schiedammers, Lorenzo Ingram’s 41 against Voorburg their best so far, but Excelsior are, as they have so often been, more than the sum of their parts, and they have unquestionably been boosted by the arrival of Brett Hampton, who proved his worth in the demolition of VRA. In the absence of the promised reinforcements Dosti continue to look out of their depth, even with the battling efforts of Wahid Masood with both bat and ball, and the Drieburgers will be looking for more decisive contributions from Kuldeep Diwan if they are to lift themselves out of their three-year doldrums.

BdJ’s picks: HBS, ACC, Punjab, VRA, VCC, Excelsior

RL’s picks: HCC, Kampong, Punjab, VRA, VCC, Excelsior.


Round 3 Preview

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 29/04/22

I know I keep going on about this, it’s very early in the campaign, and a couple of upsets on Saturday could make this and everything that follows look nonsensical, but even the first week of a 12-team Topklasse makes the case for an eight-team competition look unanswerable. The gaps in quality are all too obvious, and the opening round at least tended to confirm the sense that this year’s Topklasse might feature a very long tail. It’s also true, of course, that winning twice in a double weekend is a tough ask, so if there are to be any early upsets this weekend might well provide an opportunity.

Group A

RL: As the most competitive of the losing sides on the opening day, ACC may fancy their chances when they visit Het Zomercomplex to take on Punjab Rotterdam. Much is likely to depend on the contributions of Thomas Hobson, Robert Ackermann and Robin Smith, while for the home side there will be for the Zulfiqar brothers the extra incentive of taking on the club where they first made their reputations. With Punjab’s attack bolstered by the arrival of Ashiqullah Said and Samiullah Salarazai they are likely to give even less away with the ball than they did last year and to have a little more penetration into the bargain, while Mubashar Hussain continues to develop as the fourth seamer. So Anis Raza’s men will face a huge challenge, and they will need to be at their very best in all departments if they are to take the points back to Amstelveen.

BdJ: Punjab’s trip to het Loopveld at the back end of last season turned out to be one of their tougher fixtures, managing just 214 runs and for a time looking like they would struggle to defend it, though their last match against ACC on home turf was a comfortable win. The ACC of 2022 are a largely different outfit than that of last season however, welcoming not just the three above-mentioned South Africans but also a fair number of other newcomers, several of whom will likely debut at the weekend. Whether a change of personnel will herald a change in fortunes is hard to anticipate of course, yet there’s certainly a chance the Amsterdammers will spring a surprise on their hosts come Sunday. With Punjab seemingly picking up where they left off last season however, an ACC win would still be just that.

RL: Sparta 1888 will welcome HBS Craeyenhout to the Bermweg, and will likewise need to fire on all cylinders against the well-balanced Crows. The four South Africans in the HBS line-up – Tayo Walbrugh, Gavin Kaplan, and the brothers Ryan and Kyle Klein, although the latter pair are bearers of Dutch passports – make a formidable array, especially when one adds the explosive power of Tobias Visée and the cultured batting skills (and occasional off-spin) of Wesley Barresi. Sparta have undergone some rebuilding during the winter, but on first impression may be looking at relegation avoidance rather than anything more ambitious. But Mudassar Bukhari remains a potential trump card with both bat and ball, and Sparta will be hoping, too, that Ahsan Malik quickly regains some of his old cutting power.

BdJ: In the absence of Bukhari and overseas Samit Gohil last week Sparta altogether outclassed by HCC, and their fixtures this coming weekend don’t look much easier. The depth of HBS batting will be a particular concern for Sparta, whose bowlers collectively managed to pick up just two wickets last week, and with Walbrugh, Visée and Barresi in the line-up containment may prove difficult. Gohil certainly has the pedigree to suggest that he can lend a lot to the Sparta batting, but much will depend on how quickly he adjusts to Dutch conditions, and how much support he gets from the rest of the card.

RL: After two away games Kampong Utrecht can celebrate the return of Topklasse cricket to Maarschalkerweerd, a ground which has been completely transformed since the club was last in the top flight a quarter of a century ago. Their opponents on Sunday are HCC, strong title contenders who are likely to be determined to ensure that the celebrations do not include a home victory. With their outstanding, well-balanced attack and a batting line-up reinforced by the arrival of Zac Worden, the Lions should be capable of casting a shadow over Kampong’s party, but Usman Malik will be hoping that his young team can rise to the occasion and pull off a surprise. The top order showed against Punjab that they are not short of ability, but they will need to develop more productive partnerships if they are to post totals which challenge the likes of HCC.

BdJ: Kampong had a tough reintroduction to top-flight cricket last week, though it’s fair to say the rest of Group A will envy Punjab the chance to play them before the arrival of Pite van Biljon. HCC won’t be so lucky, but on the evidence available should still start as favourites on their first (and for the first phase only) outing on grass this season. While HCC’s locals have traditionally done better on familiar artificial wickets, Pringle and Worden will both likely be looking forward to the trip to Utrecht on Sunday.

Group B

RL: Voorburg complete a double weekend at home by taking on VOC Rotterdam. This is without doubt the match of the round, between two teams who seem among the strongest contenders for a semi-final place in four months’ time. That, of course, is a bold prediction, given how many things can go wrong along the way, but in their different ways both stand out among many of their rivals. One factor may favour the visitors: apart from the arrival of Max Hoornweg from Sparta, VOC have a settled team, whereas with at least four new players joining the Voorburg squad – Janneman Malan, Delano Potgieter, and the brothers Musa and Shariz Ahmad – it may be a little while before everybody has settled into their role. There might, therefore, be an advantage in playing Bas de Leede’s side earlier rather than later, and VOC certainly have the players to capitalise, especially if Voorburg show their accustomed reluctance to take opposing attacks by the scruff of the neck.

BdJ: Given a packed international schedule coming up, VOC will be looking to get as many wins in the bag as feasible before they are deprived of their international contingent, especially as there are significant questions around the Bloodhounds’ bench strength. Taking two points back from Westvliet is a tall order however, especially with VCC also at full strength. Certainly Voorburg took their time with the bat at Thurlede, but whether that is a product of an entrenched habit of caution or more of the loss of early wickets and a modest target is open to question. VOC of course have a formidable (if top-heavy) batting line-up of their own, but whether they have the bowling to hold off VCC either by containment or penetration is the chief concern.

RL: With ACC in the other group the only Amsterdam derbies in this season’s initial phase will be those between VRA and Dosti, who visit the Bos on Sunday. After two barren years Dosti will be hoping for brighter things this time round, especially if they are able to call upon Amitoze Singh and Shivam Sharma as well as Kuldeep Diwan to take some of the heat off their local contingent. But VRA started promisingly against Salland, and with South African paceman Eduard Visser and Dutch international allrounder Aryan Dutt enhancing their squad Peter Borren will be looking to his young side to keep up the pressure on more fancied outfits. Dosti, though, have the potential to pull of an upset here, and if their combination clicks they, too, could be contention to make the cut come mid-June.

BdJ: With reinforcements expected this week, Dosti will perhaps be more optimistic about their third fixture than either of their preceding matches, but VRA showed last week that despite something of a winter exodus they remain a capable outfit. The new generation at the Bos have yet to really establish themselves, but the likes of Vikram Singh, Udit Nashier and Shirase Rasool continue to improve, and with the arrival of Visser and Johan Smal there may even be some tricky selection questions ahead despite the departures of Cooper, Szwarczynski and Gunning. Though precisely who the visitors will be brining with them across the Amstel in not yet known, they will have to be at their best if they’re to take any points back across the water.

RL: After visiting Hazelaarweg on Saturday, Salland will move west to Thurlede on Sunday to take on Excelsior ‘20. The Overijssel outfit are not likely to face many easy opponents in the initial phase, and Excelsior will be as testing a challenge as any, especially on their own turf. Salland, though, are no strangers to grass wickets. Excelsior’s pace attack of Brett Hampton, Niels Etman and Rens van Troost, backed up by Rens Heinsbroek and the spin of Lorenzo Ingram and Umar Baker, is capable of causing problems for most sides, and if the Schiedammers’ batting is not quite as threatening as it once was it’s not (yet) clear that Salland have the bowlers to exploit any weakness. That said, if Victor Lubbers’ men are to put up a decent showing on their first appearance in the Topklasse, this is the kind of game they will need to win.


Excelsior have shown an uncharacteristic vulnerability at home this season, both in their opener against VCC and the week before in a warm-up against HBS, but losses to two pre-season favourites do not necessarily portend defeat at the hands of the newly-promoted Salland, who themselves look below their best. Lubbers himself had a poor day with bat and against VRA, and on the evidence we’ve seen it’s hard to see his side picking up many wins if that proves anything but a blip. Still more concerning was Salland’s generally slapdash fielding, a deficiency which the Deventer side will have to rapidly remedy if they are to be competitive in the top division. With looming international duty for the German contingent likely limit the number of games Salland contest at full strength, early wins are crucial to their survival chances, especially wins that may be carried forward to the second phase.

RL’s picks: Punjab, HBS, HCC, VOC, VRA, Excelsior.

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

Round 2 Preview

Bertus de Jong and Rod Lyall 27/04/22

One sunny round into the 2022 season and a sextet of matches to look at, it’s apparent that some sides have emerged from the winter break rather rustier than others, with only the one match at het Loopveld ever looking like much of a contest. With a double-header coming up after this week’s festivities there’s little time for teams to settle in either, given how rapidly the mid-season split will be upon us.

Group A

BdJ: At the top of the Group A table defending champions Punjab Rotterdam will be heading to de Diepput to take on staying at the Zomercomplex to welcome second-placed HCC, the two teams’ first encounter since Punjab bested HCC at the Zomercomplex in their final group game on their way to the title last season, a match surrounded in no little controversy even by the high standards of the tail end of the 2021 Group Phase. While it is to be hoped that there is no lasting animosity, even if this is no grudge match it nonetheless looks a potential “four pointer” between two of the pre-season favourites. Both sides are coming off convincing wins over Kampong and Sparta respectively, each set up by a century from the top, Stephan Myburgh and Tonny Staal tonning-up for Punjab and HCC respectively. Myburgh’s form will be a boost for a Punjab side doing without overseas this year, especially as the now-local Teja Nidamanuru is apparently not fully fit. If Myburgh’s efforts meant the rest of the batting was not really tested, the bowling looks in good order, Saqib Zulfiqar and Mubashar Hussain the stand-outs last week as Kampong were rolled for 171. Likewise the depth of HCC’s batting remains a question, though newcomer Zac Worden certainly looks an asset in the middle order, and Henrico Venter’s 3-15 led an impressive first outing with the ball. As yet there’s little to choose between the two teams, though home advantage might just have given HCC the edge had this been a home game as originally scheduled, but de Diepput’s unavailability hands that advantage to Punjab.

RL: With both these sides likely to finish in the top half of their group points earned now are likely to remain a factor all the way through to the end of August, so this is indeed a key match for all concerned. The two attacks are a study in contrast, with Punjab having won last year largely by a policy of containment while HCC tend to go all out to grab early wickets. Spinner Clayton Floyd, last season’s leading wicket-taker, often bowls an over or two up front, and he is joined now by New Zealander Tim Pringle, with Hidde Overdijk, Reinier Bijloos, Olivier Klaus and Venter a menacing seam quartet. On last week’s evidence getting Myburgh early will be crucial, but the Punjab left-hander will have fond memories of De Diepput, where he began his Dutch career. For Punjab, on the other hand, skipper Suleiman Tariq is still rolling out his naggingly accurate ten-over spells, and Samiullah Salarazai, though wicketless on his first outing, gave every indication he will be a real asset in weeks to come. Too close to call, but I’ll go with the champions.

BdJ: Of last week’s losers ACC looked the closest to competitive, while their upcoming opponents Sparta 1888 will likely want to put their opening game behind them. New overseas Thomas Hobson and Robin Smith both impressed with the bat on debut for ACC, but there was little else to celebrate on the batting side with the rest of the top order failing to make double figures. Along with Hobson, newcomer Joseph Reddy also impressed with the ball, as did Mees van Vliet, but ACC will be hoping for a better effort with the bat this weekend to back up the bowlers. The Amsterdam side were admittedly understrength for their first game, with a number of new arrivals such as Eleas Meakhel and Adriaan Verbeek absent as well as regulars Shreyas Potdar and Devanshu Arya. Sparta meanwhile were missing Mudassar Bukhari in their season opener, and unquestionably missed him. A disappointing debut for fellow former international Ahsan Malik is also concerning, as the Capelle side will likely need strong showings from both if they are to survive the season.

RL: It was the batting which caused ACC the greatest headaches last year, and the acquisition of Smith and Hobson will undoubtedly make a significant difference. But realistically both these sides are probably competing for the title of Best of the Rest, and here too, if they both finish in the lower half of their group, the two points on offer on Saturday could prove vital in the relegation stakes at the end of the season. Sparta are in even greater need of reinforcement than their opponents, and overseas Samit Gohil cannot get here soon enough, or the talismanic Bukhari return to the colours. Ahsan Malik would look a very different bowler with his old mate Bukhari at the other end, and while Nasratullah Ibrahimkhil’s effort with the bat in a losing cause was a bonus, Sparta need a lot more solidity in their top order.

BdJ: The final Group A game will see Kampong head over to Craeyenhout to take on HBS, and based on Saturday’s evidence will need to up their game if they are to take any points back to Utrecht. Kampong can take some heart from the contributions of their top order despite the failure of overseas Cole Briggs, but the rapid collapse of the middle order and tail against Punjab suggests a real vulnerability should the top four fail. It is perhaps unfair to judge their bowling too harshly given that they came up against Myburgh in full flight, but there were few positives to take from their first showing on top-flight return either. For HBS Saturday did suggest some worries in the middle order too, but with the Klein brothers coming in at eight and nine with Ferdi Vink behind them the Crows have by a distance the deepest batting line-up in the competition, and a middle order collapse may not mean disaster.

RL: Usman Malik seems likely to need to get through a lot of overs and bat for long periods – as he did against Punjab last week – and he will be another with his eye on Schiphol as Kampong await the return of Pite van Biljon. Facing the champions away first up was a tough reminder for the Villagers of the gap between the Hoofdklasse and the top flight, and the inexperience unquestionably showed. And with Tayo Walbrugh immediately back into the groove he cut for himself in the first half of last season HBS are scarcely less forbidding opposition. But Kampong might take heart from two factors: the slump in the middle of the HBS batting against ACC, and the length of time it took for their bowlers to finish off a spirited response by the Amsterdammers. It’s hard to see anything other than an HBS win here, but if Malik’s men can be more competitive for more of the game they’ll be entitled to see that as an important step towards the more crucial battles to come.

Group B

BdJ: Over in Group B, VRA will welcome Excelsior ‘20 to the Bos. Last year’s bronze-medallists surprised many with a dominant showing against newcomers Salland in their very first outing of the season, while the Schiedammers’ extensive preparations could not prevent a rather tame capitulation against VCC. Despite the pre-season promise of Excelsior’s home-grown bats they were again left relying on Lorenzo Ingram for runs, only Stan van Troost and Joost Kroesen passing 20 against VCC. The bowling likewise looked lacking, despite Rens van Troost and Niels Etman finding early inroads the attack seemed short of penetration. The arrival of Brett Hampton may help in both departments, though it appears even a depleted VRA side may prove a sterner test than anticipated. Their total of 249 last week on a slow wicket and slower outfield was largely down to an excellent century partnership between Jack Balbirnie and skipper Peter Borren, whose continued form will likely be key as a young top order settle in. The comparatively callow bowling attack also impressed, with youngsters Ashir Abid and Udit Nashier both picking up early wickets, newcomer Eduard Visser bowling well without reward and Aryan Dutt picking up a five-fer on debut for his new club. That said one might suggest VRA were at their best last week while Excelsior were well below theirs, and any reversion to the mean could shift the odds in favour of the latter.

RL: As one of the unsurprised I think it’s easy to underestimate this emerging VRA side, which even with the loss of Cooper, Szwarczynski and Gunning has a good balance of cagey experience and youthful enthusiasm. Under Borren’s watchful eye the Amsterdam club are bringing through a talented crop of youngsters, a policy which earned Excelsior national titles a few years ago. Some of the Schiedammers’ youngsters, like Roel Verhagen, Tim Etman and Rens van Troost are now seasoned campaigners, while a new generation, such as Luuk Kroesen, Stan van Troost and Niels Etman are finding their way in the side. With Van Troost junior taking the gloves it was interesting to see Verhagen pressed into the attack against Voorburg (who knew?), but the Excelsior bowling will have much greater edge with Hampton’s presence, and VRA’s top order will face a big test. These sides may well be competing for third place in the group come June, so this too is a big four-pointer.

BdJ: Meanwhile Salland have another long bus ride in store as they head across to Rotterdam to take on VOC, who completed a convincing win over Dosti on Sunday despite looking fairly rusty in the field. The newly-arrived Max Hoornweg was a notable exception in that regard, picking up three wickets on his debut for the Bloodhounds. The addition of Hoornweg will go some way toward easing the pressure on a sometimes overburdened seam attack, while Arnav Jain and Max O’Dowd showed themselves capable of taking on front-line slow-bowling duties as skipper Seelaar takes a back seat. With Scott Edwards’ unbeaten century seeing VOC comfortably home last week VOC’s batting depth is also rather untested, though whether Salland can find a way through the imposing top order on Saturday is of course an open question. For Salland the bowling in fact looks the principle concern. While the batting (with the exception of Pasan Piyaranga) rapidly fell apart in the chase, by then the game had largely been lost. Similarly one suspects that the result on Saturday will depend largely on whether and how quickly Salland can take the top off VOC’s batting line-up.

RL: Like Kampong, Salland faced a stern reality check last week, and will undergo another at the Hazelaarweg on Saturday. VOC’s international trio of O’Dowd, Edwards and Seelaar is enough to give any visiting captain the heebie-jeebies, and with Jain and Hoornweg among the up-and-comers (and Siebe van Wingerden not even getting a game against Dosti), the Rotterdammers have to be among the early favourites for the title. Salland, on the other hand, seem likely to be fighting a battle against relegation, an impression only confirmed by their performance against VRA. They will need their German contingent to produce the goods consistently, but the Topklasse is a demanding environment, and the Deventer side will need to adapt quickly if they are to have any chance of staying up.

BdJ: Finally Dosti head down to Westvliet to take on a full-strength VCC, with Janneman Malan understood to have arrived at Voorburg to bolster an already intimidating line-up. Dosti themselves are also expected to be somewhat strengthened, with Amitoze Singh and Shivam Sharma reportedly on their way to join the Drieburgers; but nonetheless taking on this Voorburg side at Westvliet is likely to be the toughest engagement facing any Topklasse side this season. Bar Wahid Masood’s excellent day with both bat and ball there was little to suggest an impending turnaround in Dosti’s fortunes this season, though the ingredients for a competitive team remain. VCC conversely looked in fine touch against Excelsior, with Bas de Leede carrying on his fine form with the bat and newcomer Delano Potgieter proving his worth with the ball. With the addition of Malan at the top of the order the Voorburgers look arguably the strongest side that the competition has seen in its 132-year history, and anything but a VCC victory would be the upset of the round.

RL: One might cavil about the historical point (the 2001 VRA outfit for one, with Craig Cumming, Shane Thomson and Chris Pringle, would, I reckon, have given this Voorburg side a run for their money), but the quality assembled at Westvliet is indeed formidable, and even a reinforced Dosti seems likely to struggle. That said, Voorburg’s batting does have a reputation for making haste slowly, and while they weren’t under much scoreboard pressure against Excelsior they only just got the tempo right in the end. And if Singh and Sharma are indeed about to join their compatriot Kuldeep Diwan at Dosti, then the side will have a very different timbre, with a lot of pressure off the likes of Vinoo Tewarie, Rahil Ahmed, Mahesh Hans, Asief Hoseinbaks and the always-admirable Wahid Masood. Whether even that would be enough to overcome Voorburg if they play anywhere near their capability is, however, debatable.

BdJ’s picks: HCC, ACC, HBS, VRA, VOC, VCC.

RL’s picks: Punjab, ACC, HBS, VRA, VOC, VCC.

Round 1 Preview

Bertus de Jong 22/04/22

With a new format, two new teams and an influx of new players, the 2022 Topklasse seems almost an entirely different competition to the 2021 edition, and certainly doesn’t make the job of the prognosticator any easier. Nevertheless

Group A

Defending Champions Punjab Rotterdam start their season against newcomers Kampong CC, and as number one seed facing off against the notionally lowest-ranked team in the competition ought to provide us with out easiest prediction. The two teams have seen a fair bit of each other in pre-season, twice facing off in the group phase of the recent ECN T10 competition at Berweg before meeting in the final, and while Punjab claimed two wins from three and took home the title Kampong gave a fine account of themselves, with Sherry Butt and Usman Malik especially impressing. Kampong will also be strengthened by the addition of overseas Cole Briggs and Pite van Biljon, while word is Punjab’s Teja Nidamanuru has picked up a preseason injury and may be sidelined for Saturday. Conversely Stephan Myburgh, who was lamentably absent for the T10 slogathon, is expected to return for the title-holders. While Punjab have not added any significant signings for the coming season, their dominance in 2021 suggests they’ve little need for them even in a strengthened field. Kampong’s appreciably bolstered outfit may yet spring a surprise, but coming up against the champions away first up is certainly something of a baptism of fire.

Likewise something of an unknown quantity for 2022, ACC will be fielding a number of new faces when they take on HBS at het Loopveld. Most notably of course are the trio of South Africans brought in to bolster the side – Batting all-rounder Thomas Hobson along with keeper-bat Robin Smith and his Amanzimtoti clubmate Robert Ackerman – but ACC have also attracted a number of drift-ins for the season, such as young Afghan bat Elias Meakhel and Englishmen Zachary Mitchell and Chris Gregory. How quickly the newcomers at het Loopveld adjust to local conditions will be key to ACC’s fortunes, and they face a stern test first-up. HBS have brought in Gavin Kaplan as player-coach to further strengthen a batting card that already boasts the dangerous Toby Visée, Tayo Walbrugh and (for at least one more season) former national team keeper Wesley Barresi. Former Netherlands under-19s all-rounder Kyle Klein joins his elder brother Ryan in HBS black for 2022. The latter has looked in particularly fine form in pre-season. ACC’s newcomers will have to find their feet quickly if they are to are to avoid being picked apart by the Crows in their season opener.

After a disappointing 2021 season, Sparta 1888 have looked to fill in some gaps in the off-season, though their acquisitions are less eye-catching than some in the League they look a somewhat more balanced side than last year as they prepare to face HCC in their opening match. Former international Ahsan Malik comes over from VOC in a swap with seamer Max Hoornweg, while Sandeep Sardha also returns to Berweg. While the Spartans’ pre-season has not promised much, failing to make finals day in their home ECN-series, they were largely understrength and notably without overseas signings Rikus Allen and Samit Gohil. Their opponents have been strengthened by the arrival of overseas Tim Pringle, Zac Worden, and fomer Zimbabwe youth international Patient Charumbira though the new arrivals didn’t made much of an impression in pre-season Chicking T20 cup at VCC this week, HCC nonetheless start as favourites, with the core of the side that topped the 2020 table intact.

Group B

Across the other side of the draw last year’s runners-up Voorburg CC head to Schiedam to take on Excelsior ‘20 at Thurlede. The hosts have the good fortune of catching VCC early in the season, with headline-grabbing signing Janneman Malan yet to arrive and Dutch international Logan van Beek also delayed by wedding plans abroad. Yet VCC have plenty of depth this season, with skipper Bas de Leede looking in fine touch both at the ECN tourney at Cappelle and at the aforementioned ChicKing Cup, while new opening bat Musa Nadeem (over from HCC) also has runs under his belt. Nonetheless Excelsior may sense an opportunity to steal a march on the pre-season favourites, with both firm fixture Lorenzo Ingram and the prodigal Brett Hampton both ready to take the field. Excelsior’s home-grown array of Etmans, van Troosts and Kroesens have also put up a decent showing in the lead-in to the season with the Schiedammers winning two of their three prep matches without the aid of their overseas.

Arguably the biggest game of the round will be contested by two of the least-fancied teams at Amsterdamse Bos, where a threadbare VRA will welcome the newly-promoted Salland CC. With expectations for both sides carefully moderated for the season, both will be expecting to carry any points from Saturday’s encounter through to lower division in the second phase. For Salland their first top-flight game in over a quarter century is one they have been targetting, assured of a full complement of German internationals and with a fair bit of match practice behind them they will be disappointed to take less than two points back East. They find their hosts in a rather dubious state, not only deprived of three key players in Ben Cooper, Eric Szwarczynski and Quirijn Gunning, but also electing to do without any warm-up matches whatsoever. While in seasons past VRA have generally started poorly despite intensive preparation, it is questionable whether taking the opposite approach will necessarily produce better results. Youngsters Vikram Singh and Aryan Dutt do have the benefit of a preparatory ODI Super League tour to New Zealand of course, which may stand them in good stead when the serious business of the season begins Saturday.

A similar approach to preparation has seemingly been taken by Dosti United and VOC Rotterdam, who will belatedly contest the final match of the round on Sunday, owing to traditional field-availability issues at Drieburg. VOC’s trio of Netherlands internationals Max O’Dowd, Scot Edwards and Oranje skipper Pieter Seelaar have also had the benefit of a tour to New Zealand to hone their skills of course, but will find a sterner test awaiting them at Drieburg than last time round, when the appalling weather was their chief nemesis. Dosti have again secured the services of Kuldeep Diwan and Amitoze Singh for the coming season, and by no means look like the pushovers they’ve been for the past two seasons.

BdJ’s tips: Punjab, HBS, HCC, Excelsior, Salland, VOC.

Group B Preview

Bertus de Jong 15/04/22

While the rather drastic Topklasse restructure that sees the competition expanded to 12 teams and then split into two groups for the first phase of the competition has rather divided opinion, it’s probably too early to say whether there are any clear winners or losers from the introduction of the one-off 2022 format. The easing of global travel restrictions and consequent influx of overseas players for the coming summer will naturally reshuffle the relative strengths of the teams, especially as clubs have not all availed themselves of the reopened borders to the same extent, yet whether by luck or judgement the two pools seem to have come out comparatively well-balanced.

2021 runners-up Voorburg CC have made by a distance the most eye-catching signings for the coming season, with South Africa international Janneman Malan added to the VCC roster for the first phase of the competition, and Malan’s elder brother Andre replacing him for the back end of the summer. North West Dragons seam all-rounder Delano Potgieter will also feature for the first half of the season, strengthening a pace attack that also boasts the returning Logan van Beek and fellow Netherlands internationals Vivian Kingma and Bas de Leede, as well as Ali Qasim Ahmed and the veteran Stef Mulder.

VCC will hope de Leede’s pre-season form with the bat continues, the skipper likely to shoulder more responsibility in the middle order in the absence of the injured Sybrand Engelbrecht and Aryan Dutt, who has moved to VRA. In addition to the South African trio, brothers Musa and Shariz Ahmed will also be turning out for VCC this season, occasional Netherlands opening bat Musa coming from HCC and national under 19s spinner Shariz arriving from Groen & Wit. The latter will join legspinner Philippe Boissevain in the slow-bowling section, and with the unheralded but dependable Mohit Hingorani behind the sticks there’s few obvious weaknesses in the Voorburg side.

VCC’s chief concern will likely be the demands placed on their Dutch internationals by Oranje’s hectic summer schedule, but if they can keep something close to a full strength team on the park through the season they look like strong contenders to take the title.

Conversely 2021 bronze-medallists VRA have seen a number of departures and retirements over the winter, with Dutch international Ben Cooper taking early retirement and the stalwart Eric Szwarczynski also hanging up his boots. Pace spearhead Quirijn Gunning will also be unavailable, having cycled off in the general direction of Australia, while promising young spinner Luke Hartsink is also understood to have stepped back from the game. With plans to bring the iconic Nepali pace duo Sompal Kami and Karan KC to the Bos having fallen through at the last minute, the Amsterdammers are left looking rather bereft of star power and generally threadbare.

They will look to the ever-improving Vikram Singh to both deliver on his promise at the top of the order and shoulder more responsibility with the ball, likely opening the bowler with southpaw Ashir Abid. The arrival of Singh’s fellow Dutch-international Aryan Dutt from VCC will go some way to shoring up both the batting and bowling, With Jack Balbirnie and veteran gloveman Mitch Lees both enjoying solid but unspectacular seasons last year, much will depend on evergreen skipper Peter Borren’s form with the bat, the former national captain also likely to play a holding role with the ball through the middle overs.

Offspinner Leon Turmaine will lend some experience in the slow-bowling department, but VRA will be relying to a great extent youth be it local youngsters such as Udit Nashier, Debrup Dasgupta and Shirase Rasool or two new arrivals – untested South African rookies Johan Smal and Eduard Visser the club’s only overseas acquisitions for the season. All told the venerable Amsterdam club looks to be heading toward something of a transitional phase, and without any high-profile pros will likely be happy enough merely to survive in the top flight another year.

Similarly VOC Rotterdam will be doing without any big-name overseas for the coming season, with sometime VCC-er Matt Smith the Rotterdammer’s only major foreign signing. Sparta quick Max Hoornweg has also come across from Capelle, but with former Netherlands seamer Ahsan Malik going the other way and all-rounder Dirk van Baren bowing out, the pace attack remains reliant on Pierce Fletcher and the veteran Jelte Schoonheim. While Netherlands skipper Pieter Seelaar remains a force with both bat and ball, his workload will have to be carefully managed given a demanding schedule and a dodgy back, likely asking more of young fingerspinners Arnav Jain and Siebe van Wingerden.

Van Baren’s retirement, coupled with Corey Rutgers again resolving to demote himself from the first team, also leaves the batting looking rather top-heavy. Though in Dutch internationals Max O’Dowd and Scott Edwards VOC have an enviable opening pair, the middle order looks comparatively fragile and Tim de Kok may be asked to rein in his naturally aggressive tendencies at three. While the quality of VOC’s Dutch internationals means a top three finish in the first phase is well within reach, should they fail to make the cut they may struggle at the business end of the season, given their limited depth and the Netherlands’ intense international schedule.

Excelsior ‘20 Schiedam have had a rather lean couple of years since taking the title in 2019, twice finishing in the lower half of the table. They’ll be looking to improve on that showing at least, though they will have to do without their most valuable player from last season, as the prolific Tristan Stubbs won’t be returning to Thurlede this season. In his place comes a familiar face in the form of Northern Districts’ seam all-rounder Brett Hampton who returns to the club after a decade’s absence. He joins Schiedam stalwart Lorenzo Ingram to make up a formidable overseas duo that will likely be key to the 2019 champion’s fortunes both with bat and ball.

For the rest the line-up looks both familiar and familial, with the Excelsior youth production line ensuring a steady supply of van Troosts, Etmans and Kroesens. To challenge for a top three spot Excelsior will need their home-grown players to provide rather more in the way of runs than in seasons past – keeper-opener Roel Verhagen the only local bat to have managed more than 250 runs across the last two seasons. Pre-season showings against ACC and Punjab have promised some improvement in that regard, but Excelsior’s principle strength remains their disciplined bowling attack, while none of Niels Etman, Rens van Troost, Tom Heggelman or Klaas Roelfsema bowl express pace, the Shciedam seam section is notoriously difficult to get away, while in the spin section Ingram remains a stand-out and Umar Baker has thrived at Thurlede since making the move from VOC.

With a solid pre-season behind them and enjoying the good fortune of playing their first match against VCC before the cavalry arrives for Voorburg, Excelsior look set to get their season started on the right foot, but in a significantly stronger field they will need to recapture their winning ways in quick time if they are not to end up in the wrong half of the table again.

2021 Hoodfklasse champions Salland CC will be making what is technically their debut in the top-flight this season, the Deventer-based outfit now independent from the venerable multi-sport club Koninklijke UD that last contested the top division in 2000. Yet like their predecessors, the team is dominated by scions of the Lubbers family, with all-rounder Victor captaining the side and his brother Reinder leading the seam attack, while Curtis and Desmond Lubbers also occasionally feature in the first team, and indeed patriarch Steven Lubbers made a brief first-team return at the recent ECN T10 tournament at Capelle.

In recent years Salland have also established a strong German connection, with numerous members of the German national team featuring in their successful Hoofdklasse campaign. There has been something of a changing of the guard in that respect, with Hamid Wardak and Vijay Chikkannaiah heading back to Germany for the 2022 season, but left-arm spinner Elam Barathi and seam all-rounder Sahir Naqash will be joined by the national captain Venkat Ghanisan and finger-spinner Ghulam Ahmadi for the upcoming Topklasse season.

While the German contingent are at least in part responsible for the club’s promotion to the top flight, their potential international commitments may well leave Salland short of players when the German national team are in action. While with the likes of Lubber, Gul Nasir and Gijs van Molen they don’t lack for depth in the seam bowling department, the batting is a different question, especially as overseas signing Justin Gilliland may not be available for the whole season. Should Salland manage to pick up some early wins while at full strength a top three finish in the first phase would secure their place in the top-flight for another year, with potentially three teams facing relegation this season an immediate return to the Hoofdklasse is far from out of the question either.

Since their 2015 title run, Amsterdammers Dosti-United have been in something of a slump, recording just a single win over the last two seasons and at times struggling to get 11 men on the field. Yet while the Drieburgers are keeping their cards close to their chest ahead of the 2022 season, rumour has it that after two years of belt-tightening they are once again prepared to dip into the war chest. The rumoured return of sometime South Africa international Stiaan van Zyl has been the principle subject of gossip, but one that appears to have proved unfounded. Kings XI all-rounder Shivam Sharma is another name that has been floating around, along with Punjab’s Amitoze Singh.

The addition of a handful of overseas could potentially transform Dosti from top-flight whipping boys to title-contenders at a stroke, with the local core of the side having had to step up in the interim and despite the run of results looking arguably the stronger for it. Skipper Vinoo Tewarie had an intermittently impressive season despite missing out on his side’s sole victory, and likewise Rahil Ahmed showed occasional flashes of the form that once earned him a brief career in Orange. Spin all-rounder Mahesh Hans has similarly grown into his senior role in the side, while pace spearhead Wahid Masood also bowled consistently better than his figures might suggest. With the Hoseinbaks brothers rounding out the side Dosti have never looked more than two or three players short of a decent team, and with a few judicious acquisitions could well emerge from two woeful seasons as dark-horse contenders.

Group A preview

Rod Lyall 12/04/22

For the first time in its 132-year history the Dutch top flight men’s competition will be played in two groups this season, and the teams’ first target will be to finish in the top three of their pool, thus giving themselves a crack at the Topklasse title in the second phase.

At first glance it looked as if Group A might be distinctly the weaker of the two, but with a returning influx of overseas players after the pandemic-induced drought of the past two years and some significant transfers it may prove a tougher challenge than first thought.

2021 champions, Punjab Rotterdam, have made the bold decision to do without any overseas imports, and will largely stay with their winning combination from last season.

With the four Zulfiqar brothers at the top of their order, along with (now former) international opener Steph Myburgh and all-rounder Teja Nidamanuru, they have plenty of power with the bat; whether Myburgh is regularly available remains to be seen, but Punjab fans will be hoping he can reproduce the scintillating form with which he bowed out of the international arena in New Zealand a couple of weeks ago.

The parsimonious seam attack of skipper Suleiman Tariq, Sohail Bhatti, Sikander Zulfiqar and Mubashar Hussain, now joined by Belgian-based, former VOC player Ashiqullah Said, is likely to further trouble opposing batting sides, and with the spin options of Nidamanuru, Saqib Zulfiqar, Irfan ul Haq and possibly the veteran Muhammad Hafeez, Punjab will again be a tough proposition, especially on their bijou ground at Rotterdam’s Zomercomplex.

After last season ended controversially with claims and counterclaims of racist behaviour, HCC will be keen to make a fresh new start, and although they have lost opener Musa Nadeem Ahmad to Voorburg they have compensated for this by acquiring two overseas players, New Zealander Tim Pringle and Australian Zac Worden.

Left-armer Pringle is the son of former New Zealand international Chris, who played for HCC and then for one season with VRA between 1996 and 2001, taking 264 wickets at an average of 11.27, and the Diepput club will be extremely happy if Tim is able to come anywhere close to that kind of effort.

Worden is coming off the back of a successful season opening the batting for his Tea Tree Gully club in the South Australian first grade and was recently selected for the state’s second team; he will slot into the space vacated by Ahmad, and should add solidity to a line-up which showed a tendency to fragility last year, despite the presence of Boris Gorlee, now a Dutch international, Tonny Staal and Damian Crowley.

On the other hand, HCC’s pace attack of Hidde Overdijk, Reinier Bijloos and Olivier Klaus is as menacing as any in the competition, and Clayton Floyd, last year’s leading wicket-taker with 37 wickets at a miserly 7.32, will have benefited from his experience with the Dutch national side over the winter.

Consistently there or thereabouts in recent seasons without ever hitting the heights, HBS Craeyenhout have, like Punjab, opted for the mixture as before.

They will welcome back South African Tayo Walbrugh, who had an outstanding start to last season and finished with 780 runs at an average of 65.00, and Dutch passport holder Ryan Klein, whose sharp pace earned him a place in Ryan Campbell’s national squad this winter; he will be joined by younger brother Kyle, who has already played for the Dutch under-19 side, and the squad will be under the guidance of another South African, Gavin Kaplan, who is part of the coaching team at Gary Kirsten’s academy.

For the rest, HBS will have the experience of skipper Ferdi Vink and mercurial opener Tobias Visée, while they will be hoping that former international star batter (and occasional deadly off-spinner) Wesley Barresi will be more regularly available than the six games he played last season.

They will also be looking for further progress from their emerging talents: allrounders Navjit Singh and Julian de Mey, seamer Benno Boddendijk, and young keeper Martijn Scholte. All told, HBS should certainly be in the mix for one of those top three places.

Among the dark horses of Group A will be promoted side Kampong Utrecht, returning to the top flight after a 24-year absence.

They have signed Auckland wicketkeeper-batter Cole Briggs, who will join South African Pite van Biljon, who enjoyed two successful seasons with the Utrecht club in 2011-12 and who has since played in ten T20Is for South Africa.

Led by the evergreen Usman Malik, the Kampong squad is not short of youthful talent, with under-19 international off-spinner Pierre Jacod, seamer Kertan Nana, the leading wicket-taker in the Hoofklasse last year with 19 at 9.26, and opener Alex Roy all likely to relish the opportunity to move up a level.

There is plenty of experience, too, with seamer Sean Trouw, Shivdutt Singh Jhala, Vikram Chaturvedi, Sandeep Abhyankar, Ratha Alphonse, Saurabh Zalpuri and Robert van der Harten all likely to play a part; with Briggs and Van Biljon to spearhead the side, it would be rash opponents who took Kampong for granted.

By contrast with the stability elsewhere there has been something of a revolving door at the Bermweg, where Sparta 1888 have seen several departures, the most notable of them the transfer of young quick Max Hoornweg to VOC; he has, however, metaphorically passed former international Ahsan Malik somewhere on the A20 as the latter will be appearing in Sparta colours this year.

Another absentee will be last season’s overseas player, Garnett Tarr, who will be with Scottish club Kelburne. He will be replaced by 31-year-old Tripura and former Gujarat batter Samit Gohil, who once made 359 not out for Gujarat in a quarter-final of the Ranji Trophy.

Other acquisitions at the Bermweg include the returning Sandeep Sardha and Belgium pace man Khalid Ahmadi, while Mudassar Bukhari is likely to again be the mainstay of the side with both bat and ball.

Prithviraj Balwantsingh played some useful knocks last year in a team which was generally short of runs, and the Capelle club will be hoping for a better season for the always-dangerous Ali Raza; on the bowling side, Bukhari, Malik and Ahmadi will have the support of fellow-seamers Joost Martijn Snoep and Nasratullah Ibrahimkhil.

If Sparta is to make a serious challenge for a top three spot it will, one suspects, be the bowlers who get them there.

Change is also the order of the day at ACC, another side who found runs hard to come by in 2021.

They will be strengthened by the advent of three South Africans: 27-year-old Limpopo opener Thomas Hobson and two players from Durban’s Amanzimtoti club, Robin Smith, who has experience with Llandudno in Wales and Langley in Cheshire and who was recently selected for the KwaZulu-Natal Coastal side, and Rob Ackerman.

The Amsterdammers will be delighted at the return of Charles McInerney from injury, and will be hoping that their South African trio will create greater space for the development of their crop of promising youngsters, such as seamers Aryan Kumar and Mees van Vliet, batter Shreyas Potdar, and 16-year-old spinner Zinesh Master, who had a sensational debut last season, taking five for 30 against Dosti on his first Topklasse outing.

With Anis Raza, Devanshu Arya and Chris Knoll all lending solidity to the side ACC will be hoping to hold their own in what promises to be a very tight competition, but they will do extremely well to make the cut at the beginning of June.

Preview Finals Weekend

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 03/09/21

The KNCB’s scriptwriters were back in top form last weekend, as after all the hassle of the previous two weeks actual cricket became the headline once more, and Punjab hauled themselves out of a seemingly hopeless situation to claim the first grand final spot and home advantage for the season’s climax this Sunday. First, though, Voorburg and VRA Amsterdam will have to play off on Saturday to decide who their opponents will be.

RL: Having come so close to victory last Sunday, only to see it torn from their grasp by an innings of rare character and accomplishment, Voorburg will need to discover resources of character of their own as they try to achieve a rematch with Punjab. That they have resources of ability, especially in the bowling department, is beyond question, although the sharpness of the attack was effectively blunted towards the latter stages of last week’s encounter. Still and all, Viv Kingma and Logan van Beek, backed up by Bas de Leede and Aryan Dutt, did well against the might of Punjab’s top order, and VRA’s rather more fragile batting will need to be at its very best to cope with that threat. If we assume that the Amsterdammers will be at full strength for this one – and if not now, when? – then a top six of Vikram Singh; Zamaan Khan, Shirase Rasool or Luke Scully; Ben Cooper; Eric Szwarczynski; Peter Borren; and Jack Balbirnie is, on paper at least, the equal of any in the competitition. Lack of consistency has, of course, been one of the hallmarks of their season, but they are no strangers to the big occasion, and there are few in Dutch domestic cricket bigger than this. Setting a decent tempo has been the bugbear of Voorburg’s batting this year, but they showed last week, mainly through the efforts of De Leede, Sybrand Engelbrecht and Van Beek, that even a slowish start need not be terminal if the side has wickets in hand. Engelbrecht is Voorburg’s leading run-scorer and only centurion, and getting him early might well be crucial for VRA’s chances. New-ball pairing Quirijn Gunning and Ashir Abid may lack the menace of Van Beek and Kingma but they have claimed early wickets often enough, and with seamers Singh and Borren and spinners Leon Turmaine, Udit Nashier and Balbirnie available to take over VRA’s bowling resources are far from negligible.

BdJ: It’s fair to say that VCC’s attack is better suited to their own conditions than the Zomercomplex, where pace on the ball is ever a risky strategy. Against Punjab the wet conditions didn’t help either as lateral movement didn’t last and the visitors weren’t willing to risk deploying Boissevain’s legspin given how tough it was to keep the ball dry. In retrospect that may have been a mistake, and one suspects it’s not one that will be repeated. Voorburg’s traditionally slow starts with the bat are arguably a sign of a lack of faith in their lower middle order, preferring to build a platform for the likes of Engelbrecht, Dutt and van Beek to launch from rather than going hard from the start, and it’s a strategy that has largely worked for them, thanks in part to the strength of their bowling. Against a line-up with the potential hitting power of VRA it’s perhaps not the soundest approach however, and risks the hosts underexploiting VRA’s bowling woes. Though the visitors’ persistent availability issues are unlikely to be a factor for a semi-final, the improbably numerous injuries that have plagued them through the season persist. With Quirijn Gunning, Udit Nashier and Luke Hartsink all less than fully fit, even if VRA can field their first-choice attack it will be somewhat under-strength. What VRA do have, however, is momentum. A six-game winning streak heading into this fixture will lend the visitors a degree of confidence that their hosts, having seen a place in the final slip away last week, may struggle to match.

RL: And then the winners will proceed to the Zomercomplex on Sunday to take on Punjab. Leaders after the round-robin phase, the Rotterdammers have shown in recent weeks both that they are far from invincible and that they fight all the way to the final delivery. They will undoubtedly miss injured allrounder Teja Nidamanuru whoever their opponents may be, and in view of the way Irfan ul Haq stepped up last week when Nidamanuru was forced to leave the field and the faltering of the top order it may be that his absence will be felt especially keenly when the side bats. The depth of Punjab’s resources has been tested less than any other side in the competition: they’ve used only 13 players all season. But with Steph Myburgh and the four Zulfiqars in the line-up they remain a powerful unit, and the bowlers, if a little short of cutting edge, make up for that with discipline and an evident loathing of giving runs away. It has all the makings of a really cracking denouement.

BdJ: After such a dominant early season, Punjab’s entry into the final lacked a certain pomp for sure, though it indeed illustrated a degree of resilience that they’ve not had to call upon much. As much as the Zulfiqar-heavy middle order, the obduracy of the Punjab tail has been a somewhat un-remarked strength of the table-topping Rotterdammers. That may again come into play regardless of who they face in the final, especially if VRA’s rickety bowling attack is called upon to play two days in succession. That said, should the Amsterdammers get through to the final they arguably have a better shot at spoiling Punjab’s party. The ability to bring in pinch-hitters such as Marcus Andrew and Shirase Rasool whose style of play is well-suited to Punjab’s artificial wicket and short boundaries makes them better able to at least partially negate the hosts’ home advatage. It’s worth noting that since Sieb van Wingerden’s six-for saw VOC roll Punjab in their own back yard back in May, VRA are the only visiting side to have taken points home from the Zomercomplex. Conversely, VCC have now lost there twice. It’s hard to argue that either would be favourites over a Punjab side that, despite their late wobbles, has consistently looked the strongest in the competition, but one suspects that the Rotterdammers themselves will be rooting for Voorburg tomorrow.

RL’s picks: Voorburg, Punjab.
BdJ’s picks: VRA, VRA.

Round 18 Preview

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 12/08/21

For some at least, the final set of round-robin matches has morphed into the first of the play-offs, with – at the time of writing – two places in the top four up for grabs. Within that elite circle, too, second spot with its double chance of a berth in the final is yet to be finally decided, so three of this week’s matches have the greatest possible significance for the championship. The scriptwriters of the KNCB must be pretty happy with their work.

RL: Still with a chance of claiming second if they win and Voorburg lose, HCC, currently third, are at home to VOC Rotterdam, clinging on to fourth on net run rate. These sides’ previous encounter, at the Hazelaarweg on 12 June, was a ding-dong battle in which HCC recovered from a Pierce Fletcher-induced 11 for four to reach 237 for eight, only to see the game taken away from them by Max O’Dowd and Pieter Seelaar. The Lions fought back through Clayton Floyd’s late five-for, but he’s likely to be missing this week after sustaining a hand injury against Punjab last Sunday. That has a big impact on the balance of the attack, but HCC’s four seamers remain a potent force, albeit one which will need to cope with the threat represented by O’Dowd and Scott Edwards. On the other side of the balance sheet, the visitors’ bowling unit will be fully tested by their hosts’ talented, if somewhat hit-or-miss, batting line-up. And they’ll go into this game knowing that in one of the many scenarios, they’ll be doing it all again in next week’s semi-final.

BdJ: One of two games of the round, this. Likely a must-win for VOC, and potentially also for HCC, depending on results elsewhere. Had it rained a little harder or longer last week HCC might have already secured their spot in the playoffs, ironically by means of a washout much like those that plagued their early season. Fair to say the weather has been relentlessly unkind to last year’s table-toppers on way or another, and notwithstanding any potential contest of Sunday’s result, it currently looks like they’ll have to get it done themselves. They have the pace attack to do so, with VOC still vulnerable to an early decapitation strike, but the loss of league lead wicket-taker Clayton Floyd means they may struggle to contain the VOC top order if they can’t find wickets early. Conversely, Seelaar’s return strengthens VOC both in the middle order and the middle overs. Though home advantage at least makes HCC marginal favourites on paper, they will have to overcome the frustrations of the past week and a fired-up full strength VOC to cement their progression to the playoffs.

RL: Denied their last chance of reaching the play-offs by the freakish weather last Sunday, Excelsior ‘20 can play the role of spoilers this week by beating VRA Amsterdam at Thurlede. The Amsterdammers’ sequence of five wins on the trot has carried them from a fairly distant seventh to the brink of the top four, and they will know that victory here will carry them over the loser of HCC-VOC and into the play-offs. The return of Ben Cooper has come in the nick of time for them, while Excelsior have clearly been weakened by the departure of Tristan Stubbs. On the other hand, the Schiedammers always look a better side with Tom Heggelman in it, and it was striking to see him coming in at four against VOC last week. If VRA can put out their strongest eleven – which is far from being a given – they must start as favourites even at Thurlede, and with a crack at the championship on the line, it’s a fair bet that there will be a three-line whip in operation in the Amsterdamse Bos.

BdJ: Hard to say whether a three line whip will mean much to VRA’s herd of cats, even those of them still physically capable of taking the field. That said, VRA will likely be fielding something not all too far off a first-choice side come Sunday, and anyway have not seemed unduly reliant on any one or two players in the way that Excelsior’s fortunes have depended on Ingram and Stubbs, bar arguably skipper Peter Borren’s leadership. Ingram of course remains capable of winning games almost single handed and his team mates generally offer better support at home than they do away. Heading to Thurlede needing a win is not a situation any team wants to find themselves in, but VRA would have taken it five weeks ago and will be making the trip with momentum on their side.

RL: HBS Craeyenhout could still squeeze into fourth spot, but they would need both VOC and VRA to lose, as well as pulling off a home win against a resurgent Voorburg. They will have been buoyed by Wesley Barresi’s 81 against VRA last Sunday, but Tayo Walbrugh has not been the force he was since he tested positive for Covid, and the Crows will be hoping that he chooses this moment to reassert himself. Voorburg’s total demolition of Dosti doesn’t in itself prove very much, but Logan van Beek and Viv Kingma looked pretty sharp with the new ball, and with Bas de Leede and Stef Mulder to follow, not to mention Aryan Dutt’s options of seam and spin, they can be relied upon to give the HBS top order a hard time. Ryan Klein certainly has the capability to respond in kind, and if the rest of the Crows’ seam attack is a little less menacing, the spinners have the potential to cause some problems for a Voorburg line-up which has been steady rather than all-powerful. This one is, as the psephologists say, too close to call.

BdJ: With, Visée, Walbrugh and now an in-form Barresi in the line-up the HBS top order looks almost as intimidating as that of 2018/19, though the VCC arguably boast the attack best-suited to neutralising that threat. On the other side of the equation, neither HBS’ bowling nor VCC’s batting has looked particularly threatening this season, the Crows over-reliant on Ryan Klein for wickets while the VCC top order has been more obdurate than explosive thus far. Should HBS bat first the match might well be decided early one way or the other, and either way one suspects that’ll be the innings that draws the most eyeballs. If HBS’ batting against VCC’s attack is a box-office match-up, the converse promises to be more block-fest than blockbuster.

RL: Assured of top spot going into the play-offs, Punjab Rotterdam travel to Amstelveen to take on ACC. For those members of the side named Zulfiqar it’s a return to their roots, since Het Loopveld is where they learned their cricket and where, at the age of fifteen, triplets Sikander, Saqib and Asad made their Topklasse debut. A great deal has happened since then, and ACC have had a tough season while the Zulfiqars’ adopted club is riding high. But Anis Raza’s men will have been encouraged by the way they earned their win against Sparta last Sunday, and they have shown in the past that they can make ‘t Loopveld a testing place to visit. Punjab’s top order, on the other hand, have demonstrated often enough that when fours are at a premium there’s always the aerial route, and with Steph Myburgh in vintage form and an attack which is adept at making opponents work hard for every run, they will be keen to go into the play-offs in winning mood.

BdJ: Though for Punjab this fixture is arguably little more than a warm-up for the playoffs, one suspects they will relish a trip to het Loopveld as a chance to build momentum going into the season’s decisive phase. While other sides have struggled to pace their innings in the face of ACC’s nagging attack and sluggish outfield, the Zulfiqars naturally all know how to score on their old ground and neither Myburgh nor Nidamanuru need necessarily be troubled by the length of the grass. Punjab’s attack is also well suited to take advatage of conditions, while ACC themselves have a habit of going into their shell in the face of disciplined bowling, especially if they lose a few early. That said, are not above losing concentration and rapid wickets in the face of weaker sides, as they showed against Dosti early in the season. While it’s hard to see ACC winning this one might just imagine Punjab contriving to lose.

RL: The season ends for Dosti Amsterdam and Sparta 1888 – though probably not soon enough for either – with a foot-of-the-table encounter at Sportpark Drieburg. When these sides met at the Bermweg back in June it turned out to be a real nail-biter, with Dosti failing by just three runs to chase down Sparta’s total of 217. Sparta have won only once since, while their hosts on Sunday have extended their losing run to 25 matches, or 28 if No Results are included. A win for either here would clearly be a morale-booster, and especially for a Dosti side which has battled gamely on occasions, even when manifestly out-classed. Sparta have more potential match-winners, not least Ali Raza who played his one substantial innings of the season last week, but if Dosti can muster a final team effort they could just pull off that elusive win.

BdJ: Though in the absence of any threat of relegation there will be little but pride on the line at Drieburg, one suspects Sparta will be keen to avoid a place in the history books as the club that broke Dosti’s record winless streak by becoming the first team to lose to the former Topklasse champions in over two years. Yet for Dosti one suspects signing off with a win may go some way toward holding the side together over the winter, given the toll two winless season must take even on Dosti’s seemingly inexaustible morale. On paper there’s every chance of the points-drought at Drieburg ending on Sunday. Mahesh Hans, Vinoo Tewarie and Rahil Ahmed have all put up solid scores on occasion through the season, and Sparta’s attack looking somewhat pedestrian, especially in the absence of Mudassar t-Bukhari. Bar Asief Hoseinbaks, though, the hosts lack reliable wicket-takers and have struggled to find 50 overs of even adequate Topklasse-level bowling. Removing Garnett Tarr in reasonably quick time looks like a necessary (if not necessarily sufficient) condition for a Dosti victory, an outcome which for once looks merely improbable rather than implausible.

RL’s picks: HCC, VRA, Voorburg, Punjab, Sparta.
BdJ’s picks: VOC, VRA, VCC, Punjab, Sparta

Round 17 Preview

Bertus de Jong and Rod Lyall 07/08/2021

As the league phase of the Topklasse heads into the final straight, there’s still three top-four slots left undecided, with Punjab are assured of a spot in the playoffs, while HCC and VCC are just one win or some helpful neutral results away, while four more teams are still in at least arithmetic contention. HCC and Voorburg are effectively guaranteed a place if they win or tie either of their remaining games, fourth-placed VOC will be looking to hold off challengers HBS and VRA, while one particular string of results might still see Excelsior sneak into the top four.

BdJ: First-placed Punjab Rotterdam assured of a place in the play-offs and nearest rivals HCC are vulnerable only should they lose both their remaining matches and VOC win both of theirs, but both will looking up rather than down at this point. Topping the table will confer more than just bragging rights this year as the top two finishers effectively gain a lifeline in the playoff phase and the first-placed side initial home advantage. Seeing off HCC would guarantee Punjab pole position in the next phase, but the Rotterdammers have been looking a little wobbly of late, losing two of their last three matches. Their obliteration of Sparta last week was of course a reminder of how the Punjab batting can take a game away if they get on top, but the HCC attack has consistently proved the most effective in the league, and if their batting lacks the explosive power of their opponents, it has the advantage of strength in depth.

RL: It’s certainly true that no attack in the competition – with the possible exception of a full-strength Voorburg – is better fitted to trouble Punjab’s powerful batting line-up than HCC’s, although it was evident last week that it is a good deal less devastating without Hidde Overdijk. The Lions’ batting has, in a sense, been the victim of the bowlers’ success, chasing low totals in T20 mode doing nothing for the building of an innings. But they will be hoping that Tonny Staal’s half-century last Sunday, his first since the opening day of the season, betokens a timely return to form in advance of the business end of competition, while Damian Crowley’s unbeaten 93 confirms how important he is in the middle order. Punjab’s containing bowlers have stood the side in good stead throughout the campaign, but the mouth-watering aspect of this game is the contest between the Topklasse’s most destructive attack and its finest top order.

BdJ: While the top-table clash at the Zomercomplex may be the week’s most eye-catching fixture, the clash between VRA Amsterdam and HBS Craeyenhout is arguably more consequential. With both teams currently outside the top four the fixture is effectively a knock-out, or at least will likely prove such in retrospect. VRA’s principal difficulty all season has just been getting 11 fit men on the field, with an improbable string of illnesses, absences and injuries leading to some surprise call-ups (and indeed recalls) over the course of the summer. The return of Eric Szwarczynski and Ben Cooper will do much to shore up the batting however, while Leon Turmaine’s form with the ball means young Luke Hartsink’s season-ending bike accident need not be season-ending for his team-mates too. HBS have had their own availability issues of course, though with both Walbrugh and Klein back in the side and Toby Visée finding some form they look close to full strength for Sunday. That said it’s a testament to VRA’s depth that they’ve managed to compete at all this season, and though HBS doubtless have the two biggest names on the field the home side looked the more balanced of the two likely elevens on Sunday.

RL: This, too, is a fascinating encounter. Having Szwarczynski and Cooper back in the side will give VRA a huge boost at a crucial moment, while the Crows have on the whole been a more settled unit. They will be smarting after last week’s loss to VOC, the more so for having had such a stellar start, and the prospect of bowling to Singh, Cooper, Szwarczynski and Borren after the mauling they received from O’Dowd and Rutgers will be less than enthralling. On the other hand, Tayo Walbrugh may well relish the idea of batting on the Bos’s turf – always assuming that the overnight rain which is again on the cards doesn’t make life unduly difficult. The two attacks, too, make an interesting comparison: Gunning and Abid have looked sharp with the new ball for VRA, with Singh and Borren providing seam back-up and Turmaine (and the unhappily absent Hartsink) the spin option, while Klein and Ferdi Vink have been the leading edge of a four-man seam attack with Sander Geenevasen and the steadily-improving Benno Boddendijk, with the spin coming from Julian de Mey, Navjit Singh and, on occasion, Wesley Barresi.

BdJ: While last week’s defeat at HCC has taken Excelsior’s fate out of their own hands, they aren’t quite out of it yet. Should VRA take the points at the Bos on Sunday then the Schiedammers could enter the final round in contention, but first they need to dislodge VOC Rotterdam from their current spot in fourth, a tough ask away at Hazelaarweg. Though the Bloodhounds have been rather over-reliant on openers Scott Edwards and Max O’Dowd for runs this season, the return of a rejuvenated Corey Rutgers, unburdened of his Belgian responsibilities, has lent a degree of solidity to the middle order. Conversely the loss of Tristan Stubbs has been keenly felt at Excelsior, whose youthful side will have to do more to support the evergreen Lorenzo Ingram if they are to upset VOC on their own turf.

RL: The return of Tom Heggelman from holiday will give Excelsior a welcome boost, as the return of Pieter Seelaar from injury did VOC last week. Both sides will have been disappointed by the contributions of some of their home-grown batters in the course of the season, but the trump card for VOC has been the contribution of their two Dutch international openers, who have between them produced 1336 runs, or more than half of the side’s runs from the bat. Heggelman’s men will need to figure out a way to get both of them early if they are to prevail, and then hope that a couple of their batters are able to share substantial partnerships with Ingram. That will involve dealing with a VOC attack which has on the whole been more effective than the top order, with Pierce Fletcher providing the cutting edge and Siebe van Wingerden one of the most improved players of the campaign.

BdJ: At Westvliet Voorburgwill look at a home fixture against Dosti-United as a golden opportunity to break into the top two ahead of the final round. With Logan van Beek and Vivian Kingma back and bowling the VCC attack is back to full strength, and though the batting has looked brittle when genuinely tested it would be remarkable if it were to be so on Sunday. Though Dosti still have the capability of springing an upset, it would be a brave man to bet against them extending their record-breaking losing streak at Westvliet this week.

RL: Currently at a net run rate disadvantage to HCC, with whom they are level on points, Voorburg will want to take full advantage of their meeting with Dosti ahead of next week’s tough final assignment against HBS. The Amsterdammers’ bits-and-pieces side, shorn of the protection of a battery of overseas players, has looked hopelessly outclassed all season, a few brief periods of competitiveness aside, and Bas de Leede’s men will start as unbackable favourites. The return of Van Beek from England and Kingma from the physiotherapist’s table gives them a much more formidable look, well as their replacements have performed, and while they have largely failed to dominate with the bat it seems improbable that Asief Hoseinbaks, Mahesh Hans and Co. will be able to contain them for long.

BdJ: Finally Sparta 1888 and ACC will contest what would have been a crucial game were relegation on the cards this season, though as it is they will be playing purely for pride at Bermweg. Both teams have plenty of that of course, as well as a couple of wins under their belt, both most recently against VOC. Sparta have looked abject since losing the combative Mudassar Bukhari however, sinking to heavy defeats to VCC and Punjab. ACC looked equally poor last week against VCC however, and have developed a habit of just looking to bat time if they lose a couple of early wickets. Should Sparta be able to make early inroads into the ACC line-up, something they’ve shown themselves capable of even without Bukhari, they may just be able to get on top of the Amsterdammers and give the home fans some thing to cheer for in their final home game of the season.

RL: These sides have displayed contrasting styles of awfulness with the bat in recent games, Sparta collapsing dramatically from almost any position – which is to say, whether Garnett Tarr and Bukhari make runs or not – and ACC limping along at not much more than two runs an over. Should Bukhari return this week it will give the home side a much-needed boost, but with their Belgian contingent proving a big disappointment and the rest of the side, with the notable exception of paceman Max Hoornweg, performing fitfully at best, a win here would provide scant consolation as the club looks towards next season. ACC, on the other hand, do have a handful of promising youth players, but the club’s decision to go without any overseas this year has left them very, very exposed, and the senior members of the side have been unable to provide the cover or support they need.


Bertus de Jong’s picks: HCC, VRA, VOC, Voorburg, Sparta
Rod Lyall’s picks: Punjab, VRA, VOC, Voorburg, Sparta.

Preview Round 16

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 30/07/21

Three rounds to go, and still seven teams in the hunt for a place in the top four. The weather may have done its best to ruin a season which was always going to be a difficult one, but the outcome is one of the most exciting contests in a very long time – helped, of course, by the reintroduction of the play-off system. With seven points (less than two matches) separating second from seventh there is little room for any mis-steps, and only the most sure-footed will be contesting the semi-finals towards the end of August.

RL: The undoubted Eight-pointer of the Day pits HBS (currently fourth) against VOC Rotterdam (fifth) at Craeyenhout. Buoyed by the return of Tayo Walbrugh and Ryan Klein and the presence of Wesley Barresi, the Crows had a good win over Excelsior last week, and they will need to carry that form into another clash with a key rival. Victory here would enable VOC to leapfrog over their opponents and back into the four, and with Excelsior and HCC yet to play they have one of the tougher assignments in the final weeks. They, too, were boosted by the return of Bobby Hanif from injury, but the batting remains a worry once Max O’Dowd and Scott Edwards have returned to the side-line. They disposed of Dosti efficiently enough last Sunday, but Pieter Seelaar’s absence leaves a massive gap in both batting and bowling, and in this Aesopic contest between the Crows and the Bloodhounds it’s the men in black who seem more likely to come out on top.

BdJ: Word is the Dutch skipper may yet be seen again in VOC colours this season, perhaps even as early as Sunday. Certainly his return would go some way toward steadying a shaky middle order even if he doesn’t bowl his full quota. Even so it’s hard to look past Walbrugh and Klein’s form thus far this season, combined with the fact that VOC haven’t won a game against a side that wasn’t Dosti in the last five rounds.

RL: One can imagine that a lot of people in Schiedam are cursing the South African Warriors for not having started their pre-season training a week later, but as it is Excelsior ‘20 (sixth) will go into their match against HCC (second) at De Diepput without Tristan Stubbs. The Lions’ ruthless demolition of Sparta has made the statistics we quoted last week even more striking: over their last six matches HCC’s attack has now taken 60 wickets at an average cost of 8.15 runs per wicket. Excelsior, even without Stubbs, are likely to put up more resistance than Sparta, but even so they will need to be at their absolute best to cope with the threat of Overdijk, Bijloos, Klaus and Floyd. HCC have won all those six matches by bowling first and skittling their opponents, so winning the toss and attempting to put the home side’s top order under pressure might well be Excelsior’s best option. That said, the last time HCC batted first they recovered from 11 for four to post 237 for eight, so there’s no question but that they bat in depth.

BdJ: Excelsior’s strangle and chase strategy generally comes off best on home turf, and it’s worth noting that Stubbs’ departure also weakens their slow bowling attack somewhat. His absence thus puts even more on the shoulders of Lorenzo Ingram. Together with Umar Baker, who’s had a rather inconspicuous season thus far. With their last two games pitting them against fellow potential top-four contenders VOC and VRA, the Schiedammers route to the play-offs is far from easy. HCC could in principle afford to drop points this week, though they will likely have their sights on a top two slot at this stage. A home encounter with a weakened Excelsior will look to the Lions like a fine opportunity to stake that claim.

RL: Leaders Punjab Rotterdam, smarting from their defeat by Voorburg last Sunday, will entertain Sparta 1888, whose collapse against HCC was spectacular even by their standards. They were, of course, missing Mudassar Bukhari as well as their Belgian contingent, which left them ill-fitted to face the onslaught of the HCC attack. Punjab’s bowling is a different proposition, exponents of line and length rather than out-and-out cutting power, but they will also test their visitors’ resolution, albeit in a different way. Then there’s the home side’s top and middle order: they may have been out of sorts in recent weeks, but on their own patch, where they seem to have measured to the last millimeter the distance to every corner of the boundary, they can take a visiting attack to pieces in double-quick time if they’re in the mood. It’s hard to know at this stage what Sparta’s side will look like this week, but they will all need to come to the party if they’re not to see Punjab reverse their losing run.

BdJ: If one defeat is a hiccough and a second is a stumble, then heaven knows how mixed up that metaphor will get should Punjab be forced to call housekeeping on Sunday. The loss of Bukhari leaves a significant hole in both the batting and bowling for Sparta,  and on the face of it the match looks like a fine chance for the table leaders to get back to their winning ways as they look to build some momentum going into the play-offs. Conversely, though dropping out of the top four altogether is no longer a risk for the Rotterdammers, the prospect of taking a losing streak into the bottom half of the draw is not one they will relish.

RL: If HBS-VOC is the Eight-pointer of the Day, Voorburg’s visit to ‘t Loopveld to take on ACC is perhaps the Banana Skin of the Round. VOC discovered to their cost a fortnight ago that a trip to Amstelveen can be far from straightforward, and on a ground where runs can be at a premium Voorburg’s problems with pacing an innings could well be magnified. On the other hand, their attack has stepped up impressively, with Sajjad Kamal and Stef Mulder outstanding in last week’s win over Punjab, and they will seek to impose themselves on an ACC line-up which has been struggling for runs. With Dosti their next opponents Voorburg will be keen to consolidate their top four spot before they face HBS in the final round, while their hosts have nothing except honour to play for. That, though, should be incentive enough, and the younger component of their side have reputations to establish in advance of what is likely to be a much tougher campaign next season.

BdJ: Though ACC’s ambitions likely did not extend much further than team-building and development this season, the flip side of that is that for much of their young side this season is effectively an audition for a regular first team spot in 2022, when the Amsterdammers are expected to bring in some bigger guns. At home they have occasionally proved a handful when they get runs on the board, aided by the turgid outfield at het Loopveld and, at least early in the season, a remarkably disciplined approach to fielding. That discipline has slipped somewhat in recent weeks but, as VOC showed, timing a chase remains a tricky proposition as indeed does scoring rapid risk free-runs at any point with attempted acceleration usually resulting in wickets falling. Such considerations are not enough to make VCC underdogs by any stretch, but putting together a win at het Loopveld remains a different sort of challenge to the one the met at home against Punjab last week.

RL: Every match day is High Noon for VRA Amsterdam now, given that they are six points outside the four in seventh spot, and they need not only to win all their remaining games but to see the other results go their way. Even if all goes well they may need to improve their NRR considerably as well, and they will no doubt view their visit to Sportpark Drieburg to take on Dosti Amsterdam in that light. They posted 302 for six when the sides met in the Bos at the end of May, and Dosti’s fortunes have if anything declined further since then. VRA’s line-up has tended to vary from week to week, but Luke Scully and Jack Balbirnie have added significantly to their batting resources, compensating for the absence of Ben Cooper and the variable availability of Eric Szwarczynski, while the attack benefits from the continued development of Ashir Abid and Luke Hartink. It’s hard to know what remains to be said about Dosti, except that the end of the league phase probably can’t come quickly enough for Vinoo Tewarie and his embattled outfit.

BdJ: VRA’s improbable procession of injuries has continued unabated meanwhile, with Hartsink reportedly out for the rest of the season with a fractured wrist, Cooper still recovering, and Udit Nashier out with a shoulder complaint it’s not even clear that they will have 11 men on Sunday. Still two wins short of a top four slot they can’t afford any slip-ups, and losing to Dosti would certainly be an emphatic way to end their play-off hopes. Given the state of Dosti at the moment it’s likely that any side VRA cobble together will start as favourites of course, but no Topklasse team has ever been due a win more than Vinoo Tewarie’s side, and given the season-ending consequences of defeat for VRA this match would be my pick for the round’s pre-eminent banana skin.

RL’s picks: HBS, HCC, Punjab, Voorburg, VRA.
BdJ’s picks: HBS, HCC, Punjab, Voorburg, VRA.