Preview Round 15

Bertus de Jong and Rod Lyall 22/07/2021

With four rounds to go in the League phase of the Topklasse, seven teams remain in at least arithmetic contention for a spot in the playoff phase, with five of those within four points of each other. Even long-standing frontrunner Punjab Rotterdam, despite a nine-point cushion, find themselves theoretically in jeopardy of slipping out of the top two and losing the associated lifeline in the finals phase. Behind them are four clubs all within a single point of one another, all gunning for at least second but none safe from missing out altogether.

BdJ: Two of those four sides will be facing off directly come Sunday when Excelsior ’20 welcome HBS Craeyenhout to Schiedam. HBS sank to defeat against HCC last week, clearly missing the South African duo of Tayo Walbrugh and Ryan Klein whose absence was enforced by circumstances typical of the times. Whether the pair will be cleared to play by Sunday is doubtful, and without them the Crows face a still more daunting challenge at Thurlede. While Julian de Mey has more than justified his promotion up the order this season and Benno Boddendijk has stepped up with the ball of late, it’s hard to see either filling the shoes of HBS’s shrewdly chosen overseas players. Should Toby Visée find some form or the Crows succeed in luring Wes Barresi out of his on-off retirement again the calculation may shift somewhat, but Excelsior are generally favourites at home even against full-strength opposition. A comprehensive win over Dosti admittedly indicates little these days, but the hosts boast an impressive home record and two of the three bats with the highest averages in the league. If they fail to take advantage of HBS’s woes on Sunday they will rightly look at it as a missed opportunity.

RL: The visit to De Diepput was always going to be difficult for HBS without their two overseas stars, but they will have been disappointed at such a comprehensive collapse, albeit against what is probably the sharpest attack in the competition. A trip to Thurlede is an equally forbidding prospect, and the timing of the Covid outbreak could scarcely have been worse for a side facing the toughest back end of the league phase of any of the contenders. Even without Tom Heggelman Excelsior look strong in all departments, the continued progress by Niels Etman giving extra edge to a well-balanced bowling unit. Ingram and Stubbs are, of course, bound to loom large in any opponents’ planning, but if the side around them is short on stars it has plenty of experience by now, three championships in four years between 2016 and 2019 testimony to their combined strength and resilience. If Walbrugh and Klein return it all looks quite different, but without them HBS will have another struggle on their hands.

BdJ: Similarly Voorburg may just sense a chance to close the gap with frontrunners Punjab Rotterdam when they host the current leaders at Westvliet on Sunday. 7th placed VRA handed Punjab only their second defeat of the season last weekend, putting a bit of a dent in their aura of invincibility, and while VCC are still missing their new-ball pair of Logan van Beek and Viv Kingma, Bas de Leede has stepped confidently into the role of pace spearhead in their absence. The batting is perhaps more of a concern, especially as de Leede’s form with the bat of late does not match his showing with the ball, but Karl Nieuwoudt has proved capable of holding the middle order together as well as ensuring skipper De Leede still has options with the ball. Punjab are top of the table for a reason of course, but last week’s defeat suggests they might just be taking their foot off the gas in the final straight.

RL: It’s a test of a winning side’s quality how well they come back from a reverse, and Punjab will doubtless have been engaging in some serious reflection following last Sunday’s defeat. VRA demonstrated the limitations of an attack which has specialised in the slow strangle, while the powerful batting top order looked worrying out of sorts. That said, the tail wagged to some purpose, Suleiman Tariq achieving a career-best score, and it’s hard to believe that a top five of the quality of Punjab’s will average nine runs a head two weeks in a row. Still and all, Voorburg’s reconstructed attack has been pretty effective in recent weeks, Nieuwoudt providing excellent support for De Leede with the new ball, and with Stef Mulder and Aryan Dutt picking up three wickets apiece against Sparta last Sunday they will face the Punjab challenge with a degree of confidence. It is, however, Voorburg’s batting which raises doubts, and unless De Leede, Sybrand Engelbrecht and Aryan Dutt all come off it’s hard to see them making enough runs quickly enough to put the leaders under pressure.

BdJ: Meanwhile VRA realistically need a win in the Amsterdam derby when they take on ACC at the Bos if they are to keep their hopes of a top four finish alive. Last week’s win will bolster their chances, not least as young Vikram Singh seems to have rediscovered his confidence with the bat as well as looking an increasingly serious threat with ball in hand. In the absence of Ben Cooper having Singh back at his buccaneering best will be a major boost for the hosts when they take on their local rivals, who themselves will be riding high after scoring an upset win over VOC at het Loopveld last weekend. It was principally a disciplined bowling effort assisted by a torpid outfield that saw ACC strangle a win out of VOC on Sunday though, tactics which are unlikely to prove as effective at the other end of Kalfjeslaan. The visitors will need someone to stand up with the bat if they are to take points home on Sunday, and weather a somewhat more intimidating seam attack in so doing.

RL: VRA realistically need a win every week from here to the end of the league phase if they are to squeeze into the four, but last Sunday’s ACC performance notwithstanding, this should be one of their easier assignments. Comings and goings in the ACC batting line-up continue to cause them problems, and Sahil Kothari has found it difficult to reproduce the form he showed during a couple of stellar weeks back in May. Their bowlers, too, are likely to find that VRA have more firepower and greater stickability than VOC showed once a couple of wickets had fallen: the more consistent presence of Eric Szwarczynski in the VRA side has made a considerable difference, while Jack Balbirnie has proved to be an extremely valuable acquisition. Youngsters Ashir Abid and Luke Hartsink more than pull their weight in the attack, while it’s hard to remember that Vikram Singh and Shirase Rasool are still only 18. ACC have a youth contingent of their own, but it’s much harder for them to shine without the likes of Borren, Szwarczynski, Gunning and Lees to offer them cover.

BdJ: Second-placed HCC will look to shore up their position when they head to Bermweg to take on Sparta 1888, hoping their hosts’ shock win over VOC three weeks ago was a mere flash in the pan. HCC have looked more like their 2020 selves after a tough start to the season marred mostly by the weather, with five consecutive wins in the bag heading into Sunday’s encounter. A well-rounded pace attack combined with a slow-bowling section featuring this season’s lead wicket-taker Clayton Floyd has helped HCC claw their way back up toward the top of the table, and though most of the top order have had off-days the line-up is deep enough to ensure a degree of resilience, and the return of all-rounder Hidde Overdijk arguably makes HCC the most balanced all-round side in the competition. Conversely Sparta have been dependent on overseas bat Garnett Tarr for consistent runs, and Max Hoornweg for wickets. While Mudassar Bukhari is capable of chipping in on either side of the ledger, few of the rest of the line-up have contributed consistently all season. While their defeat of VOC shows what Sparta are capable of at their best, it would be an eyebrow-raiser if they were to repeat that trick on Sunday.

RL: HCC’s opponents in their last five games have managed 104, 68, 63, 101 and 80, with Floyd, Ollie Klaus, Overdijk and Reiner Bijloos taking 45 wickets between them at an average of under nine. Sparta’s batters, on the other hand, have repeatedly collapsed, and it will take more than Tarr’s technique and temperament if they are to cause such a bowling unit any severe problems. The toss may be crucial here: HCC’s top order has looked much less imposing, falling apart the last time they had to bat first, and Sparta’s best chance of causing another upset may come if they can get into the field and seize the initiative with the ball. But there’s no doubting the quality of batters like Musa Nadeem, Tonny Staal, Boris Gorlee, Damian Crowley and Overdijk, and Hoornweg, Bukhari and Co. will need to be at their very best if they are to keep the Lions’ score within reasonable bounds.

BdJ: Finally VOC Rotterdam will host the thus-far winless Dosti-United at Hazelaarweg, hoping to put last week’s upset loss at ACC behind them. While VOC’s lack of depth has been repeatedly exposed in the absence of Pieter Seelaar, Dirk van Baren and Bobby Hanif, it’s hard to see them hand Dosti their first win in years at Hazelaarweg on Sunday. Max O’Dowd remains in imperious form at the top of the order, and opening partner Scott Edwards is unlikely to repeat last week’s mistake of trying to sweep literally every ball he sees for six over his shoulder. Dosti, as we write every week, have the capability of pulling an upset if they all turn up at once. But then they never do.

RL: After losing four matches on the trot VOC now have a real fight on their hands to reach the play-offs, and with HBS, Excelsior and HCC lying in wait for the final three weeks this is a crucial opportunity for them, not only to win but to do so in style. That they have the players to achieve that seems clear, but they have been a side in recent weeks that has contrived to be less than the sum of its parts. That that is also true of Dosti is by now axiomatic, and they may still bear the scars of these sides’ encounter in Amsterdam back in May, which was one of the more distasteful – as well as one-sided – experiences of the season. Whether that will spur them into all turning up at once remains to be seen, but to achieve that they would need to neutralise the threat of O’Dowd and Edwards. And that’s a very big ask indeed.


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


Preview Round 14

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 14/07/21

With five rounds of the league phase remaining and a single point separating the teams placed from third to sixth, the battle for top four spots is really heating up. It seems more than probable that every point will matter all the way to the final round, in which context it’s striking that all five matches were completed last weekend despite the weather – the difference between one point and four certainly concentrates minds, and a couple of games which in other circumstances might have been abandoned were (most creditably) played to a finish. This is also the moment at which the Topklasse programme moves from Saturday to Sunday, making room for the group phase of the T20 Cup to get under way on Saturdays.

RL: Sunday’s Eight-pointer of the Week is the meeting between HCC and HBS, currently third and second respectively, at De Diepput. HCC have now won four on the trot, and although three of them have been against sides in the bottom four they do appear to have recovered from their blip earlier in the season. Boris Gorlee’s taking over the captaincy may have been a factor, but the return of allrounder Hidde Overdijk on a regular basis is likely to have been an even greater one. The wicket-taking of Clayton Floyd, who collected his third five-wicket haul in the side’s highly impressive victory over Voorburg last Saturday, is evidently another, although there remain doubts about the solidity of the top order. HBS have also improved as the campaign has gone on, and with Benno Boddendijk emerging as an effective seamer beside Ryan Klein and Ferdi Vink the attack looks better balanced than previously, if the batting remains overly dependent on Tayo Walbrugh and Navjit Singh. This has all the signs of being a very absorbing battle indeed.

BdJ: The Singh and Walbrugh partnership has indeed been indispensible to HBS’ fortunes this season, though Julian de Mey continues to justify his promotion up the order and Tobias Visée remains a menace. Coming up against the HCC attack, which is collectively the most in-form of the league at the moment, will nonetheless prove a stern test for a line up that rather lacks for depth. The HCC batting is likewise something of a vulnerability however, with none of the top order really finding any consistency yet this season. If this is likely to be the most important match of the round it is equally the toughest to call.

RL: Now ten points clear at the top, Punjab Rotterdam will entertain VRA Amsterdam at the Zomercomplex. If not yet mathematically certain of reaching the play-offs Punjab are probably within one win of getting there, and the odds are strongly in favour of their holding on to their table-topping position until the end of the league phase. VRA, on the other hand, are already six points adrift of the chasing pack, and they will know that defeat here would surely extinguish any remaining hope of squeezing into the top four. Beating Punjab on their own patch is, clearly, a daunting assignment, but the Amsterdammers brought their A game to last week’s defeat of Sparta, and if they can repeat that effort they are capable of at least testing a Punjab side which, if it has no obvious weaknesses, is after all mortal. Injuries and other absences have not made VRA’s campaign any easier, but with Quirijn Gunning back and Eric Szwarczynski looking in good nick, this game could be a lot closer than the form book alone suggests.

BdJ: While VRA are now accustomed to slow starts, this season they’ve taken even longer to really settle. Injuries and availability problems certainly haven’t helped, and the loss of Ben Cooper, even if out of form, strips them of a potential match-winner. Punjab meanwhile have match-winners aplenty in their batting line-up and momentum on their side. Their bowling attack too, despite a lack of personnel changes, has looked much stronger than in seasons past, not least due to the increasingly impressive Mubashar Hussain. For VRA time is running out to challenge for a play-off spot however, and they have the talent to capitalise on any complacency.

RL: After losing to HCC at home last week Voorburg will doubtless view their trip to the Bermweg to face Sparta 1888 with some trepidation. Voorburg’s problems of injury and absence have been even more acute than VRA’s, but the questionmarks about their batting don’t only stem from that: from the very start of the season they have had trouble pacing an innings, and the fact that when batting first they have only passed 200 once – and that against ACC’s limited attack – speaks volumes. Sparta, of course, are not without problems of their own, and they will be keen to show that their batting display against VOC was not the swallow which fails to make a summer. Their dependence on Garnett Tarr and Mudassar Bukhari with the bat remains a huge issue, and while their bowling can at its best prove effective, the batting has seldom matched it. For Voorburg, Bas de Leede has been bowling with pace and fire, as his effort defending a low total against HCC again showed, but he will need plenty of support if his side is to maintain its challenge on the run in. That said, three of their remaining fixtures, including this one, are against the bottom three sides, so that at least is a point in their favour.

BdJ: While de Leede has stepped up commendably to lead the attack in lieu of Kingma and van Beek, his form with the bat has been patchy and, especially without van Beek, Voorburg have lacked the batting depth to do without his contributions. Though Mohit Hingorani has done a decent job at the top and Karl Nieuwoudt has grown into his role in the lower middle order, the tail is too long for the VCC top order to play with much freedom. In Bukhari and Max Hoornweg Sparta have the potential to take early wickets and put VCC on the back foot. While the Sparta batting, Tarr and Bukari excepted, has been inconsistently poor, they have shown themselves capable of taking advantage if they get on top of the opposition. A win for the hosts would certainly still be an upset, but it does have the air of plausibility.

RL: VOC Rotterdam, on the other hand, complete their programme with games against HBS, Excelsior and HCC, so they will be keen to extract maximum advantage from their encounters with ACC at Het Loopveld this week and Dosti the following one. Another of the injury-plagued contenders, VOC have lost two of their last three matches, and even a century opening stand between Edwards and O’Dowd wasn’t enough to save them from defeat by Punjab. But they will be enormously encouraged by ACC’s dismal batting performances in the past two weeks, and although the Amsterdammers’ bowlers battled personfully against Excelsior last Saturday their inability to take wickets left them dreadfully exposed to the Ingram/Stubbs onslaught in the final overs. Sahil Kothari has been their one genuine success of the summer, and unless he plays and plays well it’s hard to see VOC heading back south without the points.

BdJ: VOC have indeed struggled in the absence of Pieter Seelaar, it’s difficult to see this ACC side taking advantage of their vulnerability. The Amsterdammers have, perhaps understandably, rather the look of a side treating the 2021 Topklasse as match practice for next season, especially after losing a couple of wickets in pursuit of a sizeable total. Though VOC are still well placed to challenge for a top-four spot, defeat to an ACC side that appears to be playing for pretty much the sake of it would be a humiliating blow to their confidence, if not necesarily their season. Nonetheless it’s not out of the question given the fragility of the Rotterdammers’ batting card from number three down, and unlike their hosts they have a lot to lose.

RL: Trepidation is probably an inadequate word to account for Dosti-United’s feelings as they eye the arrival of Excelsior ‘20’s Ingram and Stubbs at Sportpark Drieburg. The Amsterdam club’s belated withdrawal from the T20 Cup underlines the crisis which the club is facing, having lost 21 Topklasse matches on the trot, and one can only feel the deepest sympathy for Vinoo Tewarie and his men as they struggle week in, week out to keep their heads above water. The cover they have had in the past from a group of outstanding overseas players has been missing for the past couple of seasons as a result of the pandemic, and that has left them dreadfully exposed. Outside the top four and needing every point they can get, Excelsior have no reason to take their foot off the accelerator, and they are likely to be another side taking four crucial points back down the A4 on Saturday afternoon.

BdJ: One might make a case that Dosti have suffered somewhat from the decision to dispense with relegation for the past two seasons, and that a stint in the Hoofdklasse might have suited them better, but if nothing else they are to be commended for taking their poor run of results in good humour. Rahil Ahmed has at times looked back to his best at the top of the order and most of Dosti’s games have seen at least one or two commendable individual performances from a diverse selection of the side. They’ve never really looked likely to put together a consistently competitive showing over two innings, however, and even should they do so on Sunday it’s unlikely to be enough without the wickets of Stubbs and Ingram. Both coming off unbeaten centuries against ACC, neither look in the mood to go easy on sub-standard bowling. Though on paper Dosti’s attack boasts genuine wicket-takers in Masood, and Asief Hoseinbaks, and Tewarie himself has a knack for breaking partnerships with his legspin, it’s difficult to see a match-winning performance being assembled by an understrength team that has looked less than the modest sum of its parts.

RL’s picks: HBS, Punjab, Voorburg, VOC, Excelsior.
BdJ’s picks: HBS, Punjab, Voorburg, VOC, Excelsior.

Preview Round 13

Bertus de Jong and Rod Lyall 09/07/2021

With six rounds to go in the League Phase of this season’s Topklasse, under former formats there would be little left to decide besides who joins Punjab in the final and who could still challenge Dosti for the wooden spoon. With relegation off the table this season the lower end of the ordering of table is already just a matter of pride, but the top end is still very much a going concern with six or seven sides still in realistic contention for a place in the playoffs.

BdJ: With an eye on the top four and their nearest rivals, the biggest match of the weekend is without question Voorburg versus HCC at Westvliet. VCC have edged into second place with a win over VRA last weekend, but fifth-placed HCC are just one win behind with a far superior net run rate, and could conceivably swap places with their hosts if they take home four points on Saturday. Their task is not an easy one however. Despite stringing together a three- match winning streak against three teams from the bottom half of the table, their batting was barely tested except against VRA, where it was found wanting, if not quite wanting enough to miss a sub-seventy target. VCC’s attack seems to be operating well enough even without Logan van Beek and Viv Kingma, though their batting too has looked fragile at times. Facing an HCC seam attack collectively averaging about 16 with the ball and lead wicket-taker Clayton Floyd who’s averaging half that, getting runs on the board may prove a challenge.

RL: VRA’s top order looked comfortable enough against Voorburg’s second-string opening attack last Saturday before somebody hit the self-destruct button, but De Leede and Nieuwoudt showed against VOC the week before that that they could cause plenty of problems given the right conditions. HCC’s batting line-up does have strength in depth, but with only a couple of half-century partnerships since the end of May – one of them a big, match-winning stand at VOC between Damian Crowley and Hidde Overdijk after the top order had failed – they have less to how for it than they would like. Overdijk’s presence, though, makes a huge difference to the balance of the side, as Van Beek’s absence does to Voorburg’s. In Sybrand Engelbrecht, by the same token, Voorburg have a middle-order batter with plenty of first-class experience, who has demonstrated his value in recent weeks. HCC’s bowling may well be the difference between the sides, especially if they take a liking to the conditions on Westvliet’s turf pitch.

BdJ: Nine points clear at the top, a win for Punjab Rotterdam across town at VOC could practically guarantee them a place in the playoffs, as well as avenging their only loss thus far. If the Punjab batting looked rather off the boil against Excelsior last week, they may be relishing the chance to have a crack at a depleted VOC attack that was taken apart by the unfancied Sparta last week. With Bobby Hanif out with a knee injury and skipper Pieter Seelaar ever a martyr to his lower back, VOC look as dependent on Pierce Fletcher taking wickets with the new ball as on their opening pair of Max O’Dowd and Scott Edwards making big runs. Both are regular occurrences of course, but have the look of necessary but not sufficient conditions if VOC are to repeat their early upset win over Punjab.

RL: It was, we should remember, Arnav Jain and Siebe van Wingerden who got Punjab in a tangle at the Zomercomplex in May, but one might doubt whether that could repeat itself this time. The Punjab line-up of Myburgh, a quartet of Zulfiqars and Teja Nidamanuru, with Yasir Usman to follow, is enough to test any attack or chase down most totals, but the decisive battle is likely to be the one between O’Dowd and Edwards on the one hand and Punjab’s nagging attack on the other. They did well to neutralise Ingram and Stubbs last week, and will need to be equally effective at least if they are to meet the challenge of VOC’s international openers. The rest of VOC’s batting line-up continues to look vulnerable, but if the Bloodhounds get off to a good start they may be difficult to hold back.

BdJ: Looking to close the gap with the top four, sixth-placed Excelsior ‘20 welcome ACC Amsterdam to Thurlede on Saturday. The Schiedammers put up a decent fight with the ball against Punjab last week, though the batting continues to look reliant on Lorenzo Ingram and Tristan Stubbs. ACC do not look in a position to seriously trouble Excelsior at Thurlede though, having fallen away somewhat after a battling start to the season. The debut of young spinner Zinesh Master gives them some hope for the future, but the Amsterdammers already look to have one eye on next season, seemingly treating their 200-run target against HBS last week as a chance for some time in the middle after the first couple of wickets fell. Bar Sahil Kothari no ACC bat has yet broken 200 runs for the season, and no ACC bowler has reached 10 wickets. It will at the least take the sort of collective performance that ACC have yet to produce to take four points home from Schiedam.

RL: One token of ACC’s problems is their inability to find a settled batting order; Kothari has had five different opening partners in ten matches, and the rest of the top six have been shuffled about as well. Excelsior’s issues are much less complex, effectively amounting to where best to deploy Tim Etman, who has struggled in an opening slot and may be happier batting down the order. For the rest, the Schiedammers’ attack is sharp and the batting reasonably solid, even if they found life difficult against Punjab last week. ACC, though, are a different proposition, and Excelsior may have their eye on their net run rate as well as on the result itself. That, of course, can be a trap, as HCC nearly found out to their cost a couple of weeks ago, but with the mid-table battle as tight as it is, a big win would stand the hosts in great stead for the run in. ACC will be severely tested to deny it to them.

BdJ: After a thoroughly miserable season Sparta 1888 suddenly produced a quite remarkable performance to upset VOC last week, and will hope to repeat the performance against a struggling VRA Amsterdam at the Bos come Saturday. Their had been hints that Sparta were capable of springing something all season, not least the form of Garnett Tarr and Mudassar Bukhari with the bat, and the rest of the line up have put up scores on occasion, notably Iqbal last week and Latif a couple of weeks prior. The latter will miss Saturday’s game due to international obligations with Belgium taking him off to Malta along with Sparta occasional Sherry Butt (and indeed your faithful correspondent), but VRA will no longer be looking at the fixture as easy points, especially given their own struggles. Though Quirijn Gunning’s return means the Amsterdammers can once again field their first-choice new-ball pair, the same isn’t true of their top order. With Ben Cooper injured and Vikram Singh in spotty form VRA’s batting looks dubious at best. Currently languishing on 18 points in 7th place, a loss would effectively put VRA out of contention. Sparta of course are even further from a playoff spot, but may relish the chance of taking their hosts down with them.

RL: Bukhari and Max Hoornweg will no doubt relish the opportunity of bowling at VRA’s top and middle order, although they won’t have forgotten how they were blitzed by Marcus Andrew at the Bermweg after they had reduced the Amsterdam side to 67 for five. Eric Szwarczynski is still a reassuring presence in the middle and Peter Borren a menacing one, but neither Singh nor Shirase Rasool has been having a stellar season (having only played five games, Rasool is barely having a season at all), and VRA’s capacity for sudden collapse has been one of the features of the campaign. Not that Sparta’s foundations have been any sounder, and last week’s cornucopia of runs against VOC, while not exactly coming from nowhere, was at any rate a significant turnaround, triggered by a decent opening partnership for the first time this season. The absence of Mamoon Latif will indeed make some difference, but it’s Bukhari, Tarr and Hoornweg who are crucial to Sparta’s chances, and if they’re at their best it could be Sparta who come out on top.

BdJ: Currently sitting in fourth place, HBS Craeyenhout have a chance to consolidate their position when they take on Dosti-United at Drieburg on Sunday. After a comprehensive victory over ACC in difficult batting conditions, the Crows look as favoured as can be against a Dosti side that has been winless since the times Corona was still a beer served with lime. Dosti skipper Vinoo Tewarie was the only bat to cross five as his side were brushed aside by HCC last week, and though Rahil Ahmed has on occasion been at his flamboyant best at the top of the order there’s been precious little to back him up thus far this summer. Though given their precarious hold on a play-off position HBS can ill afford to take any game lightly, one suspects they may be thinking as much about net run rate as points ahead of this particular fixture.

RL: What the man said. With a couple of exceptions Dosti have fluctuated between dire and abject this season, and you have to think that their run of failures, especially with the bat, can only be having a corrosive effect on Vinoo Tewarie’s side. Even the players who look of genuinely Topklasse quality – Tewarie himself, Ahmed, Mahesh Hans, Waheed Masood and Asief Hoseinbaks – are clearly finding it near-impossible to carry on the fight against overwhelming odds, and with Tayo Walbrugh, Ryan Klein, Navjit Singh and Co. coming to call the prospects again seem bleak. Winning the toss here would present Hobson’s choice to either captain: should Ferdi Vink, for example, try to emulate HCC’s brief encounter last week, or let his batters loose? Nothing’s a given in cricket, but for Dosti to be competitive in this case would require a massive effort of will as well as skill.


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

Round 11 Preview

Bertus de Jong and Rod Lyall 25/06/2021

With the half way stage of the league phase behind us and the play-off phase on the horizon, jockeying for position on the Topklasse table is beginning to take a rather more urgent tone, especially for the teams hovering around the mid-table.

BdJ: Saturday’s match between VRA and HCC at the Bos would be an unexceptional mid-table fixture were it not for the introduction of play-offs this season. As it is both sides will be hard put to recover from a defeat if they’re to keep their top-four hopes alive. The hosts’ injury troubles continue to accumulate, with Quirijn Gunning still sidelined with a side strain and now Ben Cooper out with a thumb fracture. The VRA number three sat out Thursday’s Pro-Series fixture watching HCC’s Musa Nadeem construct a most impressive unbeaten match-winning century for the Hurricanes, and if the HCC opener can carry his form into the weekend VRA will have cause to worry.

RL: Matches such as this are indeed poster children for a play-off system, with both sides having plenty at stake in the knowledge that a place in the top four keeps their championship hopes alive. Whether HCC are really title contenders – their grievances over rained-off matches apart — depends on their winning matches like this, and doing so convincingly. Even without Damian Crowley they were much too strong for ACC last week, and VRA’s young attack and Borren-dependent batting line-up may struggle against the visitors’ strengths in both departments. That said, the Lions’ top order has shown signs of brittleness when put under pressure, and if Borren’s boys can step up to the mark this could be a lot closer than one might initially suppose.

BdJ: Meanwhile Voorburg will be looking to break back into the top four when they take on second-placed VOC at home at Westvliet, but will still be missing the new ball pairing of Logan van Beek and Vivian Kingma that had done so much to get them toward the top of the table early in the season. While the hosts still have plenty of bowling talent, it’s not unreasonable to ask where the wickets of VOC’s internationals are likely to come from, especially given the form of O’Dowd and skipper Pieter Seelaar, who hit 94 in the regional 50-over match on Thursday. Conversely the VCC batting has looked comparatively fragile in recent weeks, and over-reliant on Sybrandt Engelbrecht all season. VOC’s ranks will likely be thinned somewhat by injury however, with Seelaar himself in doubt owing to recurring back trouble, while Tim de Kok missed the pro-series games this week owing to concussion worries and Bobby Hanif is reportedly also ruled out due to knee trouble. Currently in fifth place, a loss need not end VCC’s ambitions, but the blow of three consecutive defeats to their confidence may be tough to bounce back from. Catching VOC understrength may just be the luck they need to get their season back on track.

RL: They certainly had luck going their way when the sides met back in early May, rain after a good Voorburg start leaving VOC a near-impossible DLS target. Over the piece though, and despite a couple of wobbles with the bat, VOC have looked a much more complete unit, and Edwards and O’Dowd remain a menacing presence at the top of the order. Should they go early the game would have a quite different complexion, especially if De Kok and Seelaar are missing, although Arnav Jain has been emerging as a key allrounder, valuable in the middle order as well as fulfilling an important role in VOC’s varied attack. The same applies to Voorburg’s Aryan Dutt, but even he and Engelbrecht cannot entirely cover their side’s stop-start batting form. With 126 runs at 18.00 and just three wickets so far Bas de Leede has perhaps been finding the burden of captaincy weighing too heavily upon his shoulders, and this would be the ideal moment for him to step up with the kind of performance of which he is undoubtedly capable.

BdJ: Title-holders Excelsior ‘20 have an opportunity to consolidate their claim on a berth in the play-offs when they welcome Sparta 1888 to Thurlede. Back on home turf and coming off a convincing win at VCC last week, the Schiedammers will be confident of adding four points to their tally against Sparta, who have struggled both with bat and ball all season. While overseas Garnett Tarr has been in fine form since his arrival he has received precious little support, the poor form of Sparta’s Belgian contingent a particular worry both for Sparta and for Belgium, who travel to Malta next week without the benefit of their planned Dutch warm-up tour. The cancellation also denied Latif, Raza and Butt the chance to play themselves into a bit of form ahead of Saturdays game, leaving the Sparta batting card looking thin indeed. Excelsior meanwhile have a solid line-up built around the middle order core of Ingram and Stubbs, and with Niels Etman in fine rhythm with the ball too they look to be hitting their stride.

RL: Excelsior will have not have forgotten the frustration of these sides’ encounter at the Bermweg back in My, when they reduced Sparta to 86 for six and were chasing a DLS target of 73, only to have the umpires declare the ground unfit and take the players off. Now fourth and just six points ahead of HCC in seventh spot, they will be doubly keen to pouch the points ahead of next week’s tough match against Punjab. Dropping Tim Etman, who has been struggling against the new ball, down the order and bringing in Luuk Kroesen to open worked like a charm last week, though admittedly the Schiedammers chasing a low total. As for Sparta, there’s a limit to how much Garnett Tarr and Mudassar Bukhari can be expected to do to dig them out of trouble, valiant as Tarr’s lone-hand century was against HBS last Saturday. Max Hoornweg remains a threat with the new ball, however, and he and Bukhari at their best could cause the Excelsior batting line-up some problems.

BdJ: Table-toppers Punjab Rotterdam will be heading to Craeyenhout to take on third-placed HBS hoping to put some distance between themselves and the pack. The Crows have accumulated an impressive record of wins thus far without ever looking entirely convincing, their place in the top four owing much to the imperious form of lead scorer Tayo Walbrugh. But with Julian de Mey and Navjit Singh in decent touch with the bat, Toby Visée at the top and perhaps even Wesley Barresi tempted out of retirement if last week is any indication, they’ll be happy enough with their batting. The bowling is perhaps more of a concern, especially given the strength and depth of the Punjab batting line-up, which racked up 375 against Dosti last weekend even without a substantial score for Stephan Myburgh. The match has the look of a potential high-scoring hitting contest, though as I recall I said something similar last season and look how that turned out …

RL: The absence of Saqib Zulfiqar has made surprisingly little difference to Punjab, who thoroughly deserve their place at the head of the table. Their nagging attack, perhaps somewhat underestimated as a factor in their success – they did, after all, bowl a full-strength VOC out for 136 – will face another of their tougher assignments in HBS on Craeyenhout’s artificial outfield, and neither should the potential contribution of Ryan Klein in cutting through the visitors’ top order be left out of account. This first-vs-third clash is, indeed, a mouth-watering prospect, and if the Crows may be slightly surprised to find themselves so well placed their performances so far, with Walbrugh the batting phenomenon of the season, thoroughly justify that position. High scoring or not, this game is undoubtedly an eight-pointer.

BdJ: At the other end of the table Dosti-United are still looking for their first win since a more innocent age, though they’ll be waiting at least until Sunday when they take on ACC at Drieburg on their now traditional 24-hour delay. Fair to say that their 204-run loss to Punjab does not augur well, nor indeed do any of their other results thus far. While ACC are unlikely to subject the Dosti bowling to the same sort of sustained assault that Punjab did, and again much of the Dosti top order got starts last week, one suspects the demoralising effects of such a drubbing will be felt even by a side as irrepressibly optimistic as Dosti’s. If they are able to bounce back though this may be their best hope of finally getting points on the board against an ACC side that suffered an almost equally comprehensive defeat away at HCC last week. Knocked over for 104 and managing just a single wicket in the HCC reply, ACC continue to look fragile when Sahil Kothari fails at the top of the order. Though other bats have got a score or two Kothari remains the only one to have passed 200 for the season, while no ACC bowler has yet got to double figures in terms of wickets. Neither side look likely to challenge for a top-four place this season, but there will be plenty of pride on the line at least at the “other, other” Amsterdam derby.

RL: Sooner or later, one feels, the bits-and-pieces efforts of Vinoo Tewarie’s side will come together in an ice-breaking performance, and there are not going to be many opportunities this season which are better than this one. A rain-affected victory over HBS apart, ACC have not been able to replicate last year’s better-than-expected achievements, and while Kothari has been impressive on occasion and Ammar Zaidi has provided solidity in the middle order, overall the batting has struggled for runs, leaving the bowlers with too much to do. For Dosti, the return of Rahil Ahmed has undoubtedly strengthened the batting, and in Waheed Masood, Asief Hoseinbaks, Mahesh Hans and Sami Naseri they have an attack which, that 375 notwithstanding, is capable of causing problems for opposing batters. If they can overcome the trauma of the Zomercomplex (which does sound a bit like a psychiatric condition), Dosti could spring a surprise here.


BdJ’s picks: HCC, VOC, Excelsior, Punjab, ACC
RL’s picks: HCC, VOC, Excelsior, Punjab, Dosti.

Preview Round 10

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 17/06/21

So we begin the long run-in to the finishing line this weekend with just three points separating third-placed Voorburg and VRA in sixth spot, and the battle for top four berths about to heat up. Nor should we forget that a top-two position gives teams a double chance of reaching the final, and the chasing pack will be looking out for any sign of a stumble from the current occupants, Punjab and VOC.

RL: Match of the Day looks like being at Westvliet, where Voorburg, currently third, will entertain Excelsior ’20 Schiedam. Both sides lost last Saturday, and really need to make up for that in this classic eight-pointer. Excelsior won their opening-day encounter at Thurlede, and with Tristan Stubbs now thoroughly established in the side and Lorenzo Ingram back in great form with the bat in last week’s defeat at VRA, they will be hoping to repeat that success against a Voorburg side which got itself into a winning position against HBS and then saw the game torn from their grasp. But the Schiedammers’ attack, so potent against HCC and VOC in recent weeks, was much less effective on the VRA turf, and will need to exploit the evident limitations in Voorburg’s batting if they are to take the points. The home side’s great strength, of course, has been their bowling, but in the continued absence of Logan van Beek their supporters will have their fingers crossed that Viv Kingma is fit to resume.
BdJ: VCC certainly missed their new-ball pair last week, and they’re likely to miss them again come Saturday. Van Beek of course remains in England for now, while if Kingma does play he’s unlikely to be bowling his full quota. Van Beek’s absence was also felt with the bat against HBS, when Engelbrecht was left looking in vain for support from the lower order. While Excelsior’s attack is generally less threatening away from home, it is no less capable than the HBS bowling line-up that ran through VCC last week, while the Schiedammer’s batting, especially with Ingram and Stubbs in such form, is arguably more intimidating, and certainly more resilient than that of HBS. The current champions sank to a narrow defeat against VRA in large part due to their own sloppiness in the field however, and while VCC may not be at full strength Excelsior will have to up their game if they are to stand a real chance of defending their title.

RL: As the second half gets under way VRA Amsterdam are showing signs that their traditional slow start is now altogether behind them, the resilience they revealed in squeezing the win against Excelsior last week perhaps a turning point. They will need those qualities again on Saturday, when they take on second-placed VOC Rotterdam in the Amsterdamse Bos. They owed much of their victory over Excelsior to the Amsterdamse Boss himself, former national captain Peter Borren, who missed out on back-to-back centuries by the narrowest of margins and then took the new ball in the absence of Quirijn Gunning, but Eric Szwarczynski’s half-century was also an encouraging feature of the batting. VOC, of course, have shown themselves to be serious championship contenders, with plenty of support for their international Big Three, but they were taken all the way by HCC last week, and it took another major innings from Max O’Dowd to seem them home. This clash between two sides with a long-standing rivalry should be one for the connoisseur.
BdJ: Though VRA do indeed look to have gotten past their traditional early season malaise, the injury and availability problems that have hampered their campaign thus far persist. Szwarczynski’s impressive return looks likely to be more of a mid-season cameo given the niggle he picked up during the same game, while Gunning remains sidelined and Shirase Rasool also looks likely to miss Saturday’s encounter, as is young offie Luke Hartsink. Gunning’s absence especially is likely to be telling given that failure to remove VOC’s top order early usually spells disaster, while the loss of Szwarczynski further weakens a top order bereft of form. VRA do have an enviable bench strength to call on however, with a handful of youth players already having a fair bit of senior experience, while the arrival of Jack Balbirnie has done a fair bit to shore up the batting while also providing ten overs of at generally adequate leg spin. While VOC’s top order, and O’Dowd in particular, are in imposing form, the middle order has been less reliable and the tail longer than the Rotterdammers would like. The question is likely to be whether the hosts have the bowling to expose these vulnerabilities.

RL: Three successive defeats, following a run of misfortune with the weather, have left HCC in mid-table, just ahead of this week’s opponents ACC, but the Lions are only five points adrift of VRA in sixth place, and a really strong series of performances could see them back in contention for a top four spot. To achieve this they will need their top order to return to the sort of form they showed at the start of the season: Damian Crowley and Hidde Overdijk did a great job in digging them out of trouble against VOC last week, but the disturbing bit is that they had to do so from a position of 11 for four. But ACC’s attack, Mees van Vliet apart, lacks that sort of cutting edge, and the Hagenaars will be odds-on favourites to repeat their opening-day victory at De Diepput on Saturday. Their bowling is varied, and looks all the better for the return of Overdijk, and unless Sahil Kothari can produce another of his specials, the ACC batting seems unlikely to make enough runs quickly enough to upset the home side.
BdJ: ACC’s young side has performed creditable thus far without ever threatening the top of the table. Their lack of reliable match-winners, Kothari apart, has generally seen them repeatedly sliding to honorable defeat. The loss of Charles McInerney has only compounded the issue, though the Amsterdammers may feel they’ve a solid base of a team to build on they look set to remain also-rans for 2021. They’ve every chance of picking up a win over an HCC side that’s looked much less assured as the season has worn on, though the strength of the HCC middle order does mean that the lately patchy form of Staal, Ahmed and Gorlee is something of a second-order concern. More of a worry is a seam attack that has looked serviceable for the most part but vulnerable on batting-friendly wickets, and generally looked a bowler light in the absence of the only occasionally-available Overdijk.

RL: Dosti United Amsterdam’s batting continues to improve, but the bottom side will need to improve markedly in all departments if they are to have a serious chance against leaders Punjab Rotterdam at the Zomercomplex. It will be a big plus if Rahil Ahmed and Mahesh Hans are able to establish themselves as a reliable opening partnership, and Arief Hoseinbaks will have gained great confidence from his maiden Topklasse half-century last week. But Punjab are currently top of the heap for good reason, and the way they dismissed the challenge of ACC last Saturday does not bode well for Vinoo Tewarie’s men. Featuring four quality seamers with the emergence of Mubashar Hussain, and with Irfan ul Haq filling in for Saqib Zulfiqar, the Rotterdammers have a very solid attack, and although Dosti caused some panic among the Punjab top order when the sides met back at the start of the season, a lot of water has flowed through the sluis since then, and with Stephan Myburgh a merciless destroyer of average bowling, the Upset of All Upsets does not appear to be on the cards.
BdJ: Punjab’s stumbling chase in their opening match against Dosti has, in retrospect, increasingly looked like nothing more than a first-game wobble. It’s also worth remembering that despite the inroads Dosti made into the Rotterdammers’ top order their was plenty of batting still to come when the winning runs were struck. While several Dosti players have produced decent spells or scores this season none have done so reliably, and going up against the table toppers they will need the sort of team performance they’ve not produced in years now if they’re to find their first win since 2019.

RL: The first sign of Sparta 1888’s troubles this season came at Craeyenhout on the opening day, when they crumbled to 102 all out and lost by nine wickets to HBS. Having managed – just – to post their first win against Dosti last Saturday, they will be hoping to reverse that result when HBS come to Sportpark Bermweg this week, but the truth is that between two sides who largely rely on a handful of key players, the visitors appear to hold the stronger hand. Overseas players Ryan Klein and Tayo Walbrugh are both potential match-winners for HBS, with Navjit Singh in a support role with both bat and ball, and while Tobias Visée has been quiet lately, he is like the volcano which becomes more likely to erupt the longer it goes without doing so. Against this, Sparta have the evergreen Mudassar Bukhari and the batting talent, yet to be fully realised, of overseas Garnett Tarr. But what applies to Visée goes also, if in smaller measure, for Ali Raza, and Max Hoornweg showed against Dosti that he can rip through sides when the mood is upon him. This is likely to be a good bit closer than the sides’ first meeting in May, but I would expect the outcome ultimately to be the same.
BdJ: The lack of runs from Sparta’s Belgian contingent has arguably been the Cappelle side’s most serious issue this season, and indeed may be a source of concern for their coach ahead of their first international fixtures of the summer against Malta next month. With Raza, Latif and Butt all averaging single figures thus far Sparta have been almost entirely reliant on Bukhari and Tarr for top-order runs, while Bukhari’s uncharacteristic lack of penetration with the ball this season has left their attack looking somewhat pedestrian. Though Klein and Walbrugh have been equally crucial to the Crows’ handful of wins this season the rest of the side has generally done a better job of supporting them. Coming off victory over the much-fancied (if under-stregth) VCC last week, it’s fair to say that HBS have the bigger win under their belt and momentum very much on their side.

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

Round 9 Preview

Bertus de Jong and Rod Lyall 11/06/2021

With the international Summer such as it was largely behind us (at least in as far as confirmed fixtures are concerned) attention returns to the serious business of the season. The league phase of the Topklasse approaches the half way point, and the table was just beginning to take shape before being thrown into confusion and then immediately settling down again. With the briefly-mooted idea of replaying washed-out games from May now dismissed again, there’s ten rounds left to go before the play-off phase, and six or seven teams still in with a decent shot at making the top four.

BdJ: Seventh-placed HCC’s hopes took a double blow over the past week however, when they were handed their second defeat of the season by new table-toppers Punjab before the decision to bin the idea of replays meant they would be stuck with three points from their three washed-out games.They head to Hazelaarweg looking to get their season back on track when they take on third-placed VOC Rotterdam, who slipped down from pole position last weekend when a weakened side slumped to defeat against Excelsior. Their international contingent will be back of course, and in the batting especially will benefit. The bowling looked decent enough even last week, with stand-in skipper Pierce Fletcher looking especially threatening, and Ramdas Upadhyaya also producing an impressive if brief spell of 2 for 3 in 2 overs. With young spinner and 2021 lead wicket-taker Siebe van Wingerden looking increasingly assured and Dirk van Baren stepping up with the bat, a full strength VOC at home looks a daunting outfit indeed. HCC will welcome back Musa Nadeem from international duty, but otherwise the side will likely look much the same as the one that lost to Punjab. In Clayton Floyd and Damien Crowley they have a serviceable spin attack to take to Hazelaarweg, and both Nadeem and Boris Gorlee have been in decent nick. The seam attack has rather lacked for penetration however and the rest of the batting has been in patchy form. As last year’s winners HCC don’t really warrant the label of underdogs, but you wouldn’t call them favourites either.

RL: HCC do indeed need to turn their season around again, following defeats by Excelsior and Punjab if they are to sustain their challenge for a top four place, and ultimately the championship. They have a good enough side on paper, but titles are won on the field, and a VOC smarting from last week’s defeat at Thurlede are scarcely ideal opponents for a team looking to avoid three losses on the trot. The Lions’ attack looks more threatening with Hidde Overdijk in it, and he, Reinier Bijloos and Ollie Klaus made Punjab work hard for their runs. But the return of O’Dowd, Edwards and Seelaar makes VOC a strong unit in all departments, and if they play to anything like their capacity it’s hard to see HCC returning to De Diepput with the points.

BdJ: Having claimed the top spot last week, Punjab Rotterdam have a chance to consolidate their position when they welcome ACC Amsterdam to the Zomercomplex on Saturday. ACC recorded their second win of the season against table-tailenders Sparta, and notably did so without any game-changing contribution from Sahil Kothari. Zaidi with the bat and Van Vliet with the ball were the stand-outs last week, while most every member of the side has a spell or a score to be proud of this season. They’ll need several players to fire at once to upset Punjab however, with Stephan Myburgh coming off a career-best effort in orange and Asad Zulfiqar stepping up with the bat in his absence. Punjab’s batting looks formidable, there’s little in the way of dead weight in the bowling either.

RL: One question is whether Saqib Zulfiqar will be fit to return to the Punjab side, having missed the last ODI against Ireland through injury, but Irfan ul Haq did well enough as his replacement against HCC to calm any worries the Rotterdammers might have on that front. In other respects, Punjab fully justify their current top spot: a nagging four-man seam attack which has the knack of taking wickets at just the right moment, the spin of Teja Nidamanuru, and one of the most powerful batting line-ups in the competition. But ACC just keep on punching above their weight, and if Kothari comes off and the rest of the batting gives him decent support, we could be in for a better contest than the teams’ relative positions on the table might suggest.

BdJ: If rumours are to be believed, VRA Amsterdam have prepared an honest-to-goodness grass wicket to honour the arrival of reigning champions Excelsior ‘20 Schiedam on Saturday. It’s unclear whether this aberration from the hosts is a tactical ploy, but it is worth noting that Excelsior generally don’t deal well with natural pitches other than their own, having won only once on somebody else’s turf in the last four seasons. Whether VRA have the bowling to take advantage of any such weakness is another question of course, having looked a seamer light even before Quirijn Gunning’s injury. The sunshine itself may also eat into the batting with a number of the host’s top order reportedly away to enjoy the weather elsewhere this weekend, though the return even of an out-of-form Ben Cooper will worry the visitors if the wicket is the sort that suits him. The Schiedammers certainly have form on their side, however, with the bowling clinically dismantling (an admittedly understrength) VOC last week, and of course Tristan Stubbs averaging a faintly ridiculous 231 with the bat in his debut season.

RL: Even without any absentees the VRA top order is a serious worry: the first five wickets have produced 100 runs just once this season, and that was against a Dosti side which in all fairness has been less than overwhelming for much of the campaign. As against that, the middle order has produced a couple of remarkable recoveries, not least the effort by Peter Borren and Mitch Lees at Craeyenhout last week. No Borren-led side can be written off, and Tom Heggelman will be well aware of his attack’s need to keep going all the way if they are dismiss VRA for a modest total. The Excelsior top order has exhibited a certain brittleness of its own in recent weeks, but Lorenzo Ingram is certainly due a score, and Borren’s men will not relish the prospect, having suffered at the hands of Tayo Walbrugh last time out, of Stubbs coming in at five.

BdJ: Meanwhile HBS Craeyenhout will get a run-out on grass as well for only the second time this season when they take on Voorburg at Westvliet. HBS will welcome back Tobias Visée from a weekend of sideline surfing and doubtless the destructive keeper-bat will relish the prospect of getting back on the field, especially one likely more suited to his style of play than the one he was sat next to at Kampong. That is just as well for the Crows, whose batting had looked a little reliant on Navjit Singh and Tayo Walbrugh, though given the latter’s form there’s clearly worse bats to rely on. The bowling is more of a concern, as with the exceptions of Ryan Klein and Julian de Mey the HBS attack has looked underwhelming thus far. VCC will be back at full strength with the return of their sizeable delegation to Utrecht; although the internationals weren’t needed last week against Dosti Voorburg will be glad to have an in-form seam attack when they face HBS. With all hands back on deck VCC do look the more balanced of the sides, but will need to find a way to remove or neutralise Walbrugh if they’re to bag four more points.

RL: HBS’s win last week took them into what some people still think of as the left-hand side of the table, just one spot outside the top four. They’re only one win behind Excelsior and two behind the rest of their rivals, but they will know that they can’t afford to lose too many encounters like this one if they are to keep within striking distance of a play-off place, and Voorburg at Westvliet is a tough proposition indeed. The home side will no doubt have spent quite a bit of time thinking about how to deal with Visée, who is a known quantity, and Walbrugh, who isn’t, and Van Beek and Kingma’s performances against Ireland confirm that they are a fearsome proposition, even on a pitch which may offer them less than Maarschalkerweerd. Voorburg’s batting isn’t quite up to the exceptionally high standard of the attack, but with Bas de Leede, Sybrandt Engelbrecht, Aryan Dutt and perhaps the returning Tom de Grooth it remains a force to be reckoned with.

BdJ: Finally in what already looks like a dress rehearsal for the dress rehearsal that is the non-relegation play-off, one or other of Sparta 1888 and Dosti-United will likely find their first win of the season when they meet at Bermweg. While the advent of Garnett Tarr has bolstered the Sparta batting somewhat and the veteran Mudassar Bukhari has been in fine form with the willow, the rest of Sparta’s batting has thus far failed to deliver. In the bowling department only Max Hoornweg has seen consistent success this season, with even Bukhari looking rather off the boil by his standards. Nonetheless the Capellenaars will be solid favourites at home against Dosti, who were categorically beaten at home last week by a VCC side missing half its first choice eleven. Though Dosti have looked competitive in phases and individual players have impressed at times, their next win still looks a long way off from here.

RL: My understanding is that the wooden spoon will be handed out after the round robin phase, with the lower-ranked clubs now spared a play-off phase, and barring a miraculous turnaround one of these two sides will be the recipient. While Dosti’s bowling has at times been up to the demands of the Topklasse, Waheed Masood, Asief Hoseinbaks, Sami Naseri and hard-pressed skipper Vinoo Tewarie turning in serviceable spells on occasion, the batting has looked hopelessly out of its depth, and even the return of Rahil Ahmed hasn’t produced the much-needed stability at the top of the innings. Sparta’s attack, spearheaded by Bukhari and Max Hoornweg, is unlikely to offer them much relief, while Tarr, Ali Raza and the rest of the home side’s batting may relish the opportunity to gather some runs and open up a gap to bottom place into the bargain.


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

RL’s picks: VOC, Punjab, Excelsior, VCC, Sparta.

Preview Round 8

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong  04/06/21

There are two rounds to go to the halfway mark, and there are still six teams in with a shout of claiming the Topklasse title, especially now that it has been decided to replay the ten matches which were initially abandoned because of the ferocious May weather. VOC are, of course, very definite front-runners, their only defeat so far in part the result of a tough DLS target, but if any one of the chasing pack is able to put together a sustained winning run it could become extremely interesting, not least because there are four play-off spots on offer. We should brace ourselves for a lot of eight-pointers! Meanwhile, this weekend’s games will be without players from the national squad, hopefully secure in their Super League bubble, which will impact four of the five matches to a greater or lesser extent.

RL: One eight-pointer where the effects of the Super League are likely to be felt most acutely is the clash between Excelsior ‘20, currently fourth on the table, and VOC Rotterdam at Thurlede. The Schiedammers will be hoping for a repeat of last week’s effort, when their bowlers ran through HCC’s much-praised batting line-up, and it will do their prospect no harm that VOC will be without Max O’Dowd, Scott Edwards, and captain Pieter Seelaar. Others will therefore need to step up, since the leaders will basically be back to where they were last season when the first two were trapped in the Southern Hemisphere and Seelaar was out through injury. Corey Rutgers played a key role then, but the intervening year has seen the further development of Arnav Jain and Siebe van Wingerden, not to mention the return of Pierce Fletcher. Even at full strength, though, VOC would be hard pressed by an Excelsior side in which Tristan Stubbs is in fine form with the bat and the attack combines nagging seam with effective spin.
BdJ: Excelsior fans occasionally express some exasperation that none of their title-winning side ever seem to warrant consideration for a national call-up, but such complaints are likely to be rather muted on Saturday when they have a chance to derail a weakened VOC’s own title campaign. Ryan Campbell might rather have Tristan Stubbs in the bubble that on the field at the weekend, but the Thurlede faithful will be happy to see him in yellow, even if only on their screens rather than from the sidelines. With the Stubbs-Ingram middle-order engine ticking along and both Gijs Kroesen and Umar Baker proving wicket-taking threats in an Excelsior attack more celebrated for discipline that penetration a trip to Thurlede looks more daunting than ever. Van Wingerden’s place at the top of the wicket-taking table is a testament to his development and ability, but he is limited to ten overs and in the absence of VOC’s international contingent Excelsior can afford to see just him off. Thoug the Rotterdammers’ younger and fringe players have done well thus far it’s difficult to see them besting Excelsior away with the senior’s absent.

RL: The absences will be a little more evenly distributed at De Diepput, where HCC will be without their new international Musa Nadeem Ahmad when they entertain a Punjab Rotterdam side which will be without Stef Myburgh and Saqib Zulfiqar. HCC obviously need to bounce back after last week’s defeat, and will be helped by the fact that skipper Tonny Staal was omitted from the Super League squad. It will be especially interesting to see how their attack deals with a Punjab top order which still features three Zulfiqars and Teja Nidamanuru, while Punjab’s disciplined attack will need to be at its best against Staal and Co. De Diepput’s short square boundaries are an encouragement to the big hitters and a potential nightmare for the spinners, and this, too, is a match which could have a big influence on the eventual look of the table.
BdJ: Though both of last season’s top two sides have been affected by the Ireland series, it’s probably fair to say that HCC would have benched Nadeem in exchange for Punjab losing Myburgh and Saqib Zulfiqar for Saturday’s game if given the option. The expected return of Hidde Overdijk will further bolster the hosts confidence ahead of what could indeed prove a crucial enocounter.

RL: HBS Craeyenhout and VRA Amsterdam will each be without a big hitter when they meet at Craeyenhout: Tobias Visée for the home side, and Ben Cooper for the visitors. The latter are, on paper at least, better equipped to cope with the loss, and their batting showed signs of running into form as they posted 300 against Dosti last week; the innings of Vikram Singh and Shirase Rasool will have been especially gratifying to skipper Peter Borren. For HBS, Tayo Walbrugh with the bat and Ryan Klein with the ball will be even more important than usual, although Navjit Singh has been in good form in recent weeks, and Julian de Mey is a real threat to opposing batters. A win for VRA would confirm their standing as play-off contenders, while HBS need the points to bridge the gap from the lower reaches of the table to the chasing pack.
BdJ: While VRA will doubtless be glad of Visée’s absence when they arrive at Craeyenhout, it is new overseas Tayo Walbrugh that currently leads the runscoring for the Crows, and indeed the entire league. While Cooper would have been a potentially game-changing presence on HBS’ samll ground one suspects that the player VRA will miss most come saturday will be turning out for the opposition. The Amsterdammers may yet have cause to regret the failure of pre-season talks with Ryan Klein on the day, while there is sufficient depth in batting that Cooper’s absence does not unduly upset the balance of the VRA side, they look like they’ve been missing an extra quality seamer all season and with Quirijn Gunning still sidelined it’s hard to see where wickets are coming from for VRA.

RL: Anchored at the foot of the table, Sparta 1888 travel to Het Loopveld to take on an ACC side which has bursts of success let down by longer periods of its opposite. The Amsterdam bowlers did well to put Voorburg under early pressure last Saturday, but then saw a fine partnership undo their good work, and the batting again failed, admittedly against the best attack in the competition. Sparta’s batting has been even worse, only passing 150 once – and that against Voorburg. Garnett Tarr may be finding that too much responsibility rests on his shoulders, but if he can produce a substantial innings against ACC, Sparta could have a chance of posting their first win of the season. ACC’s own batting is heavily dependent on the unheralded Sahil Kothari, but their bowling unit has plenty of variety, and if they can make early inroads into the Sparta line-up they should have enough to claim the points.
BdJ: Well I must take issue with m’colleague’s description of Kothari as “unheralded” given that I’ve been carrying his colours all season in these pages, but I’m inclined to agree he may be the difference again on Saturday. Though most of the ACC top order have put up a score or two this season Kothari is the only ACCer in the top ten of the aggregates. That’s one more than Starta boats though, and while Tarr and Bukhari have done themselves some credit thus far the rest of the Sparta line-up has yet to contibute significantly. Bukhari too could be a game-changer with the ball in a matchwhere one feels a solo performance could be the difference, but for so long as Sparta’s Belgian contingent are off the boil the Amsterdammers are favourites heading in.

RL: Even more depleted than VOC, Voorburg will head north to Drieburg on Sunday without captain Bas de Leede, Viv Kingma, Logan van Beek and Philippe Boissevain. That shortens the odds on a Dosti United victory considerably, but Voorburg’s win against ACC last Saturday owed more to Sybrandt Engelbecht and Aryan Dutt than it did to the international stars, and the home side will need to continue their improvement of the past couple of weeks if they are to capitalise on their visitors’ absences. The return of Rahil Ahmed has strengthened their batting, and with Waheed Masood and Asief Hoseinbaks performing well with the ball, Vinoo Tewarie’s wickets with his leg-breaks are a significant bonus.
BdJ: If Dosti are to spring an upset this season, then surely this is the time. With Voorburg missing their internationals and both Vinoo Tewarie and Rahil Ahmed both in form Dosti would have been eying up this game already, but with Anees Davids reportedly back this week they should be gunning for their first win since 2019. Voorburg nonetheless have decent bench stregth, and oveseas Sybrand Engelbrecht looks to be hitting his stride, though away at Drieburg they look vulnerable to a Dosti outfir that has looked by turns hapless and hopeless but not yet looked like rolling over.

RL’s picks: Excelsior, Punjab, VRA, ACC, Voorburg.
BdJ’s picks: Excelsior, Punjab, HBS, ACC, Dosti.

Preview Round 7

Bertus de Jong and Rod Lyall 28/05/2021

After a rain-sodden first month, the weather seems set to finally clear this week in time for the seventh round of Topklasse matches, along with one straggler from round four. With every side having seen at least one wash-out (but some more than others) the Topklasse’s new points system awarding just one point apeice for a no result has proved controversial at best, and doubtless some overdue sunnshine would be welcomed by all.

BdJ: For Dosti-United, among the worst affected by the weather with three washouts already, their early ground-availability issues may prove a blessing for either themselves or HBS Craeyenhout as it resulted in their round 4 match being pushed back to this weekend. It will take some bouncing-back for Dosti to claim their first earned points however, coming off a 140-run drubbing at the hands of VOC last week. Though the Dosti attack has looked in reasonable shape this season when not bowling to Max O’Dowd, the Crows boast similarly destructive bats in the form of Toby Visée and Tayo Walburgh, and the Dosti batting has been little short of dire thus far this season. Anything but four points from their trip to Drieburg will be another disappointing return for HBS.

RL: Another Dosti win, the last one now a distant memory, seems increasingly unlikely, although it has to be said that Waheed Masood, Asief Hoseinbaks and Sami Naseri stuck to their task gamely for nearly half the overs last Monday before Cyclone Max started demolishing everything in its path. The long-term effects of such a drubbing can be severe, and the worry is that they can be cumulative. It’s not in anybody’s interests for one team to be so outclassed on a regular basis, and we must hope, for the sake of the Topklasse as a whole, that Vinoo Tewarie can find a way of hauling his side back into fighting knick. Whether they can raise their game against HBS on Sunday may depend a lot on what happens in the Amsterdamse Bos the day before, a point we shall consider in a moment.

BdJ: Before they deal with unfinished Round 4 business, however, HBS will have to face current leaders VOC Rotterdam at Hazelaarweg. VOC’s recent matches have all been washouts or routes, and though HBS are likely to prove a sterner test it’s fair to say the hosts have momentum on their side. O’Dowd has been in imperious form after a slow start to the season, though the lower order has looked a little shaky on the occasions they’ve been called upon. The same is less true of HBS, though Visée and Walbrugh remain the greatest threat, and the emergence of young Siebe van Wingerden as a wicket-taking spinner may give the HBS middle order cause for concren if VOC can manage to take the top off the order early.

RL: HBS have frequently looked a bowler short this season, and they will clearly need all guns firing if they are to get the better of a rampant VOC. A key factor for them in the field will be Ryan Klein, who has had something of a stop-and-start campaign so far (but then, who hasn’t?) but who certainly has the capacity to rip through batting sides. The challenge of VOC’s top order should be enough to bring out his best form, and if the Hazelaarweg pitch turns out to be anything like the one used for the Scotland matches conditions may work in his favour. The Rotterdammers relied entirely on spin in their demolition of Dosti on Monday, but Pierce Fletcher and Bobby Hanif will no doubt have more work to do this week, even if Van Wingerden, currently the competition’s leading wicket-taker, may ultimately prove to be the trump card.

BdJ: Dosti’s prior engagement will be with VRA Amsterdam at the Amsterdamse Bos for what will be VRA’s first home game of the season. That’s assuming of course that VRA, which some may still remember as a turf wicket club, manage to get a pitch ready this week. VRA picked up their second win of the season in rather scratchy fashion last week, surviving another middle order collapse to see off ACC at het Loopveld after Ben Cooper had put them in a commanding position, but it’s fair to say that the batting still looks unreliable at best. That’s a deal better than Dosti’s batting has been of course, but if Dosti are able to get their act together before VRA do they may just have a shot at an upset.

RL: Whether Dosti’s attack could withstand an O’Dowd-like onslaught from Cooper, Peter Borren – or for that matter, Marcus Andrew – is as legitimate a question as how a dispirited batting line-up could cope with the seam of Quirijn Gunning, Ashir Abid, Vikram Singh and Borren and the spin of Leon Turmaine and Luke Hartsink. VRA’s early-season poor form, while not unprecedented, has been something of a puzzle, given that even considering the rebuilding process they are in the middle of and the youth policy which underpins it, they should be much higher in the table than their current sixth spot. Should Dosti bowl first they could have a decent chance of keeping VRA’s total within bounds; batting first, they would need to find the resources to build a couple of substantial partnerships, something which has eluded them so far.

BdJ: Meanwhile third placed HCC head to Thurlede looking to preserve their unbeaten record when they take on Excelsior ‘20, last year’s table-toppers facing off against the official defending champions. The HCC top order made extremely short work of a retrospective DLS target of 88 against Sparta last week, though they can expect the going to be tougher in Schiedam. Excelsior were twice frustrated by the weather last week and their last match was a heavy defeat at the hands of Punjab, but with the return of skipper Tom Heggelman they are back to full strength, and back on home turf for the first time since their opening win against VCC. With Musa Nadeem in selector’s eye-catching form at the top of the order, Boris Gorlee also in the runs and a solid middle order combined with a disciplined bowling unit HCC have the ingredients for success at Thurlede, but nonetheless Excelsior are never truly underdogs at home.

RL: This unquestionably has the makings of the Match of the Round, even if HCC carry more momentum into it than Excelsior. Both sides have been among the most affected by the dreadful May weather, and the Schiedammers have also been affected by Heggelman’s absence. The poor initial form of opener Tim Etman hasn’t helped, but they do have the enormous value of their two overseas players, Lorenzo Ingram and Tristan Stubbs, in their middle order and as their ‘spin twins’. Neither was especially effective against HBS on Monday, but they could be a different proposition at Thurlede, and HCC revealed against Voorburg a couple of weeks back that their usually-dominant batting line-up can be put under pressure by quality bowling. They bat in depth, though, as that Voorburg game also illustrated, and the Excelsior attack will need to be at its best to tame them.

BdJ: While the much-fancied Voorburg CC went down to their second defeat of the season against Punjab on Monday, the lifting of bowling-load restrictions on their international attack makes them strong favourites at home against ACC come Saturday. With Viv Kingma, Logan van Beek and likely Bas de Leede all back bowling up to ten overs the Amsterdammer’s batting line-up faces it’s toughest day of the season. Though all of the ACC top-order have a score or two under their belt, they will need Sanil Kothari at his best and the rest in good shape if they are to withstand the VCC pace battery. Though the ACC attack showed itself capable of causing all sorts of trouble for highly-rated but struggling VRA middle-order last week and VCC’s batting is not their greatest strength, it would be brave to bet against the hosts at Westviet this round.

RL: Not just Voorburg’s formidable pace attack but the spin section of Philippe Boissevain, Aryan Dutt and Sybrand Engelbrecht lie in wait for ACC at Westvliet, and that’s enough to worry any visiting side. ACC continue to perform above expectations, with captain Anis Raza proving a valuable opening partner for Kothari, but their batting otherwise lacks consistency and has a tendency to squander a good start. Their bowling, on the other hand, can prove troublesome and Voorburg, who have found it difficult to find their optimal batting order, have sometimes laboured to score quickly enough to set their opponents a really challenging target. They look better chasing, and given the strength of that attack must be odds-on favourites if ACC bat first. If ACC are initially in the field, on the other hand, it might be a more interesting battle.

BdJ: Finally second-placed Punjab Rotterdam will be heading across town to Cappelle to take on the still-winless Sparta 1888 at Bermweg. For the hosts, it’s a tough ask to start turning their season around against a Punjab side that has proved occasionally dominant as many expected, and reslient in a manner most had not. Teja Nidamanuru’s penchant for lower-order counter-attacks means even early inroads rarely spell victory against the Rotterdammers, nor have Sparta yet shown themselves capable of capitalising on early success with the ball when they find it. Suffice it to say a Sparta win on Saturday would be a a veritable bolt from the blue, and though the season has already seen more lightning strikes than one might expect for May, none has come from as clear a sky as that.

RL: If the Four Zulfiqars haven’t been as all-commanding with the bat this time round as they were in 2020’s foreshortened season, one senses that it may only be a matter of time before they fire on all cylinders, and with Stef Myburgh and Nidamanuru also components of Punjab’s engine they remain a potent threat, and potential challengers for the title. On the other hand, the Bermweg is not generally a high-scoring ground, least of all for a home side which has consistently struggled to get into three figures this year. Mudassar Bukhari has too often found himself on his own in that struggle, although Garnett Tarr has shown signs of giving greater solidity to the top order and Manminder Singh (and Prithvi Balwantsingh on Monday) has done sterling service lower down. But Punjab’s attack is disciplined and varied, and it would indeed be a major surprise if Suleiman Tariq’s men returned to the Zomercomplex without the points.

BdJ’s picks: HBS, VOC, VRA, Excelsior, Voorburg, Punjab.

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

Round 6 preview

Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 23/05/21

Not only busy, but also badly affected by the weather: of the 24 matches scheduled so far only seven have been rain-free, while five have been abandoned without a ball being bowled, four more yielded no result, and eight had the overs reduced. This is extreme even by the standards of a Dutch summer, and the forecast for Pentecost Monday indicates more of the same. Nevertheless, we all soldier on, and pretend that everything’s more or less normal.

RL: Struggling Sparta 1888 will spend the Monday Pentecost holiday at De Diepput, looking to take on HCC. There were encouraging signs in their match at Voorburg on Saturday, where the advent of Garnett Tarr gave greater solidity to the top order, and skipper Mudassar Bukhari was again impressive with both bat and ball. But the rest of the batting remains fragile, with Belgian internationals Ali Raza and Sherry Butt yet to make a significant contribution. HCC remain unbeaten, albeit in part due to their terrible luck with the weather. They may regard themselves as unfortunate not to have returned from Craeyenhout with four points on Saturday, but they will be a little concerned about the inability of their bowlers to make a greater impression on the HBS top order, but their batting remains a force to reckon with, and you’d expect them to match any total Sparta are able to post.

BdJ: One advantage that Sparta do at least have over HCC is match practice. Their showing against VCC showed some signs of improvement too, albeit from a very low base. Their lack of batting depth remains a concern, though it is one that may be papered over if tomorrow sees another rain-abbreviated game. The evident hittablitiy of the Sparta bowling is harder to get around however. A lot would have to go right for Sparta to sping an upset on even a frustrated and undercooked HCC, not least earl wickets one suspects. Mudassar Bukhari may well find a few of those of course, but he will need the rest of his side to give him more support than they have thus far.

RL: On top of the table on run rate, Voorburg travel to the Zomercomplex to meet Punjab Rotterdam in what looks like the match of the round. Even with the restrictions on their attack reportedly imposed by the national team management ahead of the Ireland Super League series – Kingma and De Leede unable to bowl at all, Van Beek restricted to six overs – Voorburg were strong enough to see off Sparta, but Punjab are obviously a very different proposition. The contest between the Rotterdammers’ top order and a full-strength Voorburg attack would be something to savour, but in present circumstances you have to expect the former to have the edge. Punjab’s own bowling, on the other hand, is less overwhelming that the batting, even if they did a great job containing Excelsior last week, and Voorburg’s top six will really test their mettle. Should be a great game (weather permitting) which could go either way, but I reckon Punjab may shade it.

BdJ: VCC may have reason to regret their all-international bowling attack in the circumstances, though the request from the Dutch camp is not altogether unreasonable given the workload the bowlers have had, and it’s a testament to their confidence that they were prepared to play VRA on Ascension Day without any of their internationals if necessary. Nonetheless Punjab away is a rather different proposition, with a motivated Myburgh at the top of a batting card that hits a long way down VCC can hardly afford to be sending down anything too part-time. It may indeed come down to VCC having to match their hosts hit for hit, surely a prospect to relish if the rain relents

RL: Seldom has the Amsterdam derby been such a low-focus event, but VRA’s visit to Het Loopveld to face ACC finds both sides in the wrong half of the table and level on points, VRA’s run rate advantage owing almost entirely to their massive victory over Sparta. Neither got a game in on Saturday, and each has managed just one win so far. But ACC have a marginally better record, having beaten HBS and had a great start against Excelsior, even if much of that success is due to in-form opener Sahil Kothari. A side without stars, or even big names, they take on a VRA line-up which includes the likes of Peter Borren, Ben Cooper, Vikram Singh and Eric Szwarczynski, although their one win came through the efforts of Marcus Andrew and Jack Balbirnie. Both sides have a mix of experience and youth, but it may the performances of VRA’s big names which decide who gets the bragging rights come Monday evening.

BdJ: One might not have imagined, looking at the two Amsterdam line-ups at the start of the season, that this match would be tricky to call. Even now one would have to back the VRA batting to come good eventually and though the top-order is horribly out of form Peter Borren was finding the middle of the bat last week and his record at het Loopveld is intimidating. Nonetheless ACC may just smell blood in the water, with VRA coming off the back of a heavy defeat and having had a rainy day to dwell on it, one cannot imagine that confidence levels are high.

RL: There’s a similar imbalance of reputations in the other match scheduled for the capital on Monday, in which co-leaders VOC Rotterdam will meet Dosti United at Sportpark Drieburg. We keep going on about VOC’s international trio of O’Dowd, Seelaar and Edwards, but that’s because they’re enough to give their side the edge over most opponents. Dosti, of course, are going through hard times, and Vinoo Tewarie’s men will need to be at their absolute best if they are to discomfit VOC to the degree they discomfited their previous visitors from Rotterdam, Punjab. The prospective return of Rahil Ahmed should give them a boost, but Tewarie, Mahesh Hans, Waheed Masood, Asief Hoseinbaks and the rest face an all-round VOC outfit which is a serious championship contender.

BdJ: Having had no better luck than HCC with the weather this season, one imagines Dosti will be glad just to get on the park on Monday, but putting up a competitive total will require more application with the bat than Vinoo Tewarie’s men (Tewarie himself excepted) have shown thus far in their admittedly limited season. The scare they gave Punjab however suggests that if they bowl to their ability they may not need an overwhelming number of runs to sneak a win, indeed one rarely does at Drieburg. A little luck with the toss and the weather and Dosti will count themselves in with a chance, though they will have to get used to the label of underdogs.

RL: Harder to pick is the clash between HBS and Excelsior ’20 Schiedam at Craeyenhout. The Crows did well to pull two points out of the fire on Saturday, especially since they were at least one front-line bowler short. In Lorenzo Ingram and Tristan Stubbs Excelsior have the batters to take full advantage of that and of the artificial Craeyenhout outfield, but the HBS overseas pairing of Tayo Walbrugh and Ryan Klein are capable of turning a game as well, and Klein’s encounter with the Excelsior top order could be one of the features of the round. Both Stubbs and Walbrugh have made a big impression with a couple of half-centuries in their first Topklasse innings, but the game may turn on how the local members of the two teams respond to the challenge of the occasion as much as on the efforts of the Big Four. And there it may be the visitors who hold a slight advantage.

BdJ: Excelsior’s preferred tactic of containment through discipline is not always reliable at Craeyenhout, especially so long as Tobias Visée is at the crease. Dismissing Visée cheaply is a nigh-indispensible part of any plan against HBS of course, and Excelsior have managed it more often than not in the past. With both Ingram and Stubbs in form the defending champions can also afford to leak a few more runs than has been the case in the past, but one feels that Craeyenhout remains the ground where the Schiedammers feel least in their element.

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

BdJ’s picks: HCC, Punjab, VRA, VOC, HBS.

Round 5 Preview

Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 21/05/21

In what must surely be the busiest May for Dutch cricket in modern history, the Topklasse rolls out of last week’s double round and straight into another, domestic action pausing only for the trifling matter of two mid-week One Day Internationals against Scotland. With ten more matches scheduled across Saturday and Monday, eyes will turn nervously to forecasts and radars as the league resumes its battle with the unseasonably wet Spring weather.

BdJ: By a distance the most unfortunate team weather-wise has been last year’s table-toppers HCC, who find themselves lingering in the middle of the table despite being undefeated this season, having had three of their four matches washed out. They will hope for better luck when they travel to Craeyenhout to take on HBS, who will be at full strength for the first time this season as Tobias Visée and Ryan Klein return from international duty to join second overseas Tayo Walburgh. Walburgh gave a good account of himself on debut against ACC last week, hitting 88 off 110, albeit in a losing cause. Defeat against the unfancied Amsterdammers rather exposed HBS’ lack of penetration with the ball, something Klein’s return will remedy to an extent, though HCC boast greater batting depth than do ACC. Depth counts for less in abbreviated games however, while Walburgh and Visée look all the more dangerous if overs are lost. The rain has been HCC’s toughest opponent so far this season, and a shower or two could make HBS favourites again come Saturday.

RL: It took a solid partnership between Damian Crowley and Yash Patel to dig HCC out of trouble against Voorburg last Saturday (was it really only last Saturday?), but that demonstrates that there’s more to the Lions than a classy top three. Klein’s battle with Musa Ahmad, Staal and Gorlee will be well worth watching, and on the other side of the balance Visée, Walbrugh and Klein (who showed in Ireland that he can certainly bat a bit) may prove a handful for Reinier Bijloos, Ollie Klaus and the rest of an experienced HCC attack which has been comparatively untested this season, mostly because they’ve been cooling their heels and watching the rain. As m’learned colleague suggests, this looks a fairly even contest which could hinge on who gets the better of the weather conditions, assuming they relent sufficiently to allow a result at all.

BdJ: Also denied a game last round were HCC’s putative opponents Dosti-United, who head down to Thurlede to face Excelsior ‘20. Dosti are still waiting for their first win since 2019, though they gave a better account of themselves with the ball in the one game they’ve managed to play so far, making a decent fist of trying to defend a total of just 103 against Punjab. With Rahil Ahmed returning to the side Dosti captain Vinoo Tewarie can perhaps expect a little more support with the bat, but they remain a long shot to upset the defending champions on their own turf. Excelsior dropped their first points of the season against Punjab last week in a nominal home game that was relocated to the Zomercomplex owing to the weather, but are a different prospect at Thurlede where their disciplined bowling attack tends to strangle opposition batting. With Ingram and Stubbs in the middle order and Roel Verhagen now also finding some form, a winning score will be even harder to find for visitors to Thurlede.

RL: Dosti are even shorter of match practice than HCC, and the trip to Thurlede is indeed a daunting one, especially against an Excelsior side smarting from that defeat at the hands of Punjab. The old suspicions about the Schiedammers’ limitations when their overseas stars don’t come off with the bat will have been revived by that defeat, the contributions of Verhagen and Joost Kroesen notwithstanding, and with Tim Etman struggling to find form after his return from Australia the onus on Ingram and Stubbs is even greater. Whether Dosti have the bowling resources to contain those two is decidedly moot, although Asief Hoseinbaks and Waheed Masood did throw Punjab into a tizzy on their one outing so far. No much doubt about who start as favourites here!

BdJ: Meanwhile Punjab Rotterdam will be making the trip up to Amsterdam, where VRA will be hoping to finally stage their first home game of the season. Despite coming back from a stumbling start to deliver a drubbing to Sparta last weekend, VRA have looked rather undercooked this season so far. Most concerning for the Amsterdammers is a misfiring top order, which on paper looks their chief strength. With Ben Cooper, Vikram Singh and Eric Szwarczynski all horribly out of form, VRA have depended on their middle and lower order for runs. Punjab have likewise looked vulnerable at times, most notably in their stuttering chase against Dosti, but have the depth of batting to carry a struggling bat or two. Punjab’s bowling has likewise looked more dependable, if not more penetrative than that of their hosts. VRA doubtless have the quality to see off Punjab at home, but on current form go into the game as clear underdogs.

RL: If the old truism that class is permanent while form is temporary has anything at all going for it, then sooner or later VRA will turn in the sort of batting performance we all know they are capable of. Whether it will be this week on the untested surface of the Amsterdamse Bos ground is another question, given that Suleiman Tariq, Sohail Bhatti, Sikander and Saqib Zulfiqar and Teja Nidamanuru bowled VOC out cheaply and were able to make Excelsior toil for runs last weekend. It’s a well-balanced attack, but whether its cutting edge is sharp enough to slice through VRA’s admittedly buttery top order remains to be seen. But Punjab’s batting – that aberration against VOC apart – is strong enough to chase most totals, and short of that serious VRA revival the Rotterdammers should take the points back south.

BdJ: Currently in pole position, VOC Rotterdam will be looking to widen the gap at the top when they take on ACC at home on Saturday. The Amsterdammers have again looked more competitive than many expected this year, taking back four points from Craeyenhout last week and at times looking on top of Excelsior. Sahil Kothari is in flying form with almost 200 runs under his belt from those two games, though Excelsior showed the ACC middle and lower order remains fragile. VOC’s own middle order likewise looked wobbly last week, unneeded against Sparta but with a string of sub-15 scores for bats 4 through 9 against Punjab. The Rotterdammers are adept at defending low totals at home however, with Hazelaarweg looking typically inhospitable to visiting bats this season.

RL: ACC are a classic example of a side which is greater than the sum of its parts, and they have demonstrated that they are capable of pouncing on any opponent who is operating at anything below their best. Kothari’s batting at the top of the order adds a whole other dimension, enhanced by skipper Anis Raza’s stepping into an opening role, while the return of Devanshu Arya unquestionably strengthens the ACC attack. But VOC do, of course, have crucial trump cards in O’Dowd, Edwards – top scorers in this week’s ODIs against Scotland – and Seelaar. Man for man they are, moreover, perhaps the strongest eleven in the competition, with Arnav Jain slotting in well as an allrounder and Siebe van Wingerden beginning to take plenty of wickets with his leg spin. They’ve earned their place at the top of the table, and it may not be too soon to start thinking about them regaining the title they won in 2018 after a 24-year dry spell.

BdJ: Saturday’s final match sees Voorburg take on Sparta 1888 at Westvliet, and with both Logan van Beek and Vivian Kingma in flying form both for VCC and in Orange, Sparta face a daunting challenge as they go looking for their first win of the season. The Cappellenaren are coming off the back of a miserable weekend, a promising start against VRA turning into a rout on Saturday before spending 50 fruitless overs chasing leather against VOC only to be skittled for 100. Max Hoornweg and Mudassar Bukhari remain a menace with the new ball and Garnett Tarr’s return has bolstered the batting on paper if not yet in practice, but taking on a Voorburg side with the wind at their back a win for Sparta would be the surprise of the season.

RL: There’s not a lot more to say, really. Sparta’s batting has let them down at every turn so far, and if the attack is the stronger element it, too, has come in for some awful punishment. Kingma and Van Beek are enough to worry any batting line-up, with Bas de Leede, Ali Ahmed Qasim, both Aryan Dutts (the seamer and the off spinner) and Philippe Boisevain in support. Sparta’s best hope is to capture early wickets, but with Sybrand Engelbrecht, Karl Nieuwoudt and Van Beek in the middle order, even that doesn’t guarantee success. Voorburg know they need to keep winning if they are to keep pace with VOC and end their own 19-year titleless drought, and this ought to be one of their more comfortable victories.

BdJ’s picks: HBS, Excelsior, Punjab, VOC, Voorburg.

RL’s picks: HCC, Excelsior, Punjab, VOC, Voorburg.