Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 18/05/22
The second round of the first phase sees the two groups in rather different situations: in Group A the six teams are arrayed in an orderly fashion, each one win ahead of their nearest rivals, but Group B is much more even, with the teams in second and third, and in fourth and fifth, separated only by net run rate. But in neither group is the final division into Championship and Relegation pools anything like settled, and there are likely to be some more tense struggles in the coming weeks.
RL: After their last-ball victory over Kampong last Saturday, Sparta 1888 are away again this week, facing HCC at De Diepput. On paper HCC are distinctly the stronger in both batting and bowling, but they had to battle hard to overcome ACC last week, and Sparta have proved if they are nothing if not a team of fighters (in the best possible sense). They have, moreover, been strengthened by the advent of Samit Gohil, whose batting looked genuinely first-rate against Kampong and who also gives skipper Mudassar Bukhari useful options with his bowling as well. The Lions’ attack was a little less incisive than usual against ACC, and will no doubt be hoping to make early inroads into the Sparta batting. Sparta missed former international Ahsan Malik at Kampong, his new-ball combination with Bukhari an important asset, and will hope to see him restored to the side as soon as possible. Specifically, they will need to find a way of neutralising the threat of Zac Worden, who is showing signs of becoming a permanent resident at the crease with five successive half-centuries for HCC.
BdJ: If there’s one thing to be said in defense of the two-pool format this season, it’s that it does lend greater consequence to this sort of mid-table clash. A win for HCC here would significantly strengthen their hold on a top three spot, giving them a two-win safety margin heading into the latter part of phase one, while a Sparta victory would put the two neck-and-neck for third place and the security that comes with it. Worden apart, HCC’s batting line-up has have looked rather inconsistent since their Tonny Staal-inspired opening win at Bermweg, but conversely one could say that most all of the top six have contributed at one point or another. The same cannot be said of Spartan bats, of whom all but Bukhari and Gohil average in the teens or worse this season. IF they are to break into the upper half of the table, they will likely need the rest of the line-up to step up come Saturday.
RL: HBS suffered a fairly traumatic defeat at Punjab last week, and will need to bounce back fast when they face ACC at Craeyenhout on Saturday. They were admittedly without the talismanic Tobias Visée and the injured Gavin Kaplan, but even so their batting collapse was dramatic enough to leave some scar tissue. ACC are, of course, a different proposition, and the Crows will be happy to be back at Craeyenhout for this encounter. Their attack is among the stronger units in the competition, but they need the batting to give them a defensible target. Or bowl first, obviously. Tayo Walburgh has had a rather mixed start to the season, and they will be hoping that he can find the sort of rich vein of form with which he began last year. ACC’s South Africans, Thomas Hobson and Robin Smith, have settled in well, while the progress made by Shreyas Potdar has also been a positive feature, as has the bowling of Mies van Vliet and of new acquisitions Joseph Reddy and Rob Ackermann, another member of the South African contingent.
BdJ:ACC have certainly had a slow start to the season, slow enough that they’ll already be more concerned about avoiding relegation than anything else. That said, they’ve assembled a side that might have set their sights higher had they settled sooner. With HBS’s glass cannon of a line-up shattering spectacularly at the Zomercomplex, the Amsterdammers may sense a chance to climb two points closer to the safety of the top three, though on paper the Crows at Craeyenhout remain favourites against most any team in the league.
RL: Defending champions Punjab Rotterdam go from strength to strength, and will be full of confidence for their expedition to Maarschalkerweerd to take on winless Kampong Utrecht. Winless but not totally off the pace, as that last-ball defeat by Sparta (and one or two other results) have shown. Whether that will be enough to halt Punjab’s relentless march is, of course, another question: the Rotterdammers were a class too good at the Zomercomplex on the season’s opening day, and although there has been the occasional stutter since, nobody has yet figured out a way of overcoming their varied and menacing attack, or of getting all the way through their powerful top seven. Kampong have a useful enough side, with Alex Roy’s bowling and the batting of Cole Briggs, Usman Malik and Ratha Alphonse impressive at times, but they are palpably short of match-winners, and a Punjab victory here appears to be one of the safer bets of the campaign.
BdJ: Kampong’s lack of star power has been a running theme this season, their long-announced but still absent overseas signings Pite van Biljon and Shubham Ranjane leaving a gap on the team-sheet that they’ve struggled to fill. Certainly individual players on the Kampong roster have shown they can make the step up to compete at Topklasse level, but the team as a whole looks to have more weak links than strong on any given day. Punjab have meanwhile continued their unbeaten streak where they left off last season, though it should be noted this will be there first test on a turf wicket since their group phase match away at VCC last year, which just happens to be the last match they lost.
RL: Voorburg, too, are riding high, and were too strong for Excelsior ’20 in their season’s opener. Both sides have been reinforced since then, Voorburg by the arrival of Janneman Malan and Logan van Beek, their opponents by the return of skipper Tom Heggelman and, after a somewhat longer absence, Brett Hampton. There is pretty general agreement that this Voorburg outfit is one of the strongest domestic sides ever to take the field in the Netherlands, and even though they had a few uncomfortable moments against VRA last week it would not come as a surprise if their first really serious challenge didn’t come until the Championship pool in the back half of the season. Excelsior may well join them there, but last week’s heavy defeat by VOC makes Group B a real contest, and even if they are on the wrong end of this one they will hope to restrict the damage to their net run rate inflicted upon them at the Hazelaarweg.
BdJ: With one foot in the championship pool already, VCC have the luxury of a four point cushion over their nearest rivals and six points over the cut-off line. That said, though they can afford a slip-up or two they’ll be keen to avoid one on Saturday, as a loss to Excelsior would more likely than not be carried forward into the final phase. In that respect they arguably have more to lose than the Schiedammers, who are unlikely to have banked on taking points home from Westvliet in their pre-season strategising. They are the last team to have done so however, rolling Voorburg for 116 last season on the way to a 7-wicket win. But this is a considerably stronger VCC side of course, and after their drubbing at the hands of VOC last week, repeating that trick would be quite the upset.
RL: VRA Amsterdam, similarly, will be aware that their position in the top half of the group is far from secure, and may view their journey to Deventer to take on Salland as a potential banana-skin. Salland skipper Victor Lubbers had a great game with both bat and ball against Dosti last Sunday, and will doubtless relish another opportunity, this time on home turf, to take on the club where, as a teenager, he first made an impression in senior cricket. Like Kampong, their fellow-promotees, Salland have plenty of useful players without many real stars, although German captain Venkat Ganesan and his international team-mate Elam Bharathi have shown themselves to be influential allrounders at this level. VRA’s youngsters, reinforced by Jack Balbirnie and Eduard Visser, have been impressive in fits and starts, although they will be hoping that Peter Borren has recovered sufficiently from last week’s indisposition to return to his steadying role at the head of the side.
BdJ: Given their rather modest ambitions at the start of the season, VRA will be more than pleased with their position as it stands, though with the realisation that a top-three finish is entirely with in their grasp one suspects that nerves may be creeping in ahead of their long trip out East to the largely unfamiliar Schootsveld. Salland have not had much opportunity to capitalise on home advantage as yet, playing their only home fixture thus far against a VCC side in their most hype-fulfilling form, and may sense a chance to bag some points against a road-weary VRA side, especially if Borren is absent or firing at less than 100%. Though VRA’s young side has outperformed expectations this season, they have nonetheless relied heavily on their evergreen skipper, Borren playing a key role with bat or ball in each of their three wins so far. By the same token, Salland have suffered for their own skipper’s slump in form, and will hope Lubbers’ showing against Dosti last week is a sign of things to come.
RL: By demolishing Excelsior last week VOC Rotterdam seemed to be emerging from the doldrums which had affected them for a couple of crucial weeks, and they will want to maintain that momentum when they take on Dosti Amsterdam at the Hazelaarweg. Dosti’s doldrums, by comparison, appear to be a veritable Sargasso Sea, and they will need to lift themselves considerably if they are to sail away from what seems an increasingly likely relegation. For VOC, the spectacular return to form of Tim de Kok and the continuing good form of young Belgian Burhan Niaz have taken some of the pressure off the three Dutch internationals, and they will hope for that to continue long enough to carry them securely into the top three. The contributions of Waqas Raja and Wahid Masood are enough to give Dosti hope of better days, but it will take more consistent support from more of the side if they are to reverse their now years-long barren period.
BdJ: While the season has shown that, outside of the three Dutch internationals, VOC’s batting line up-cannot be relied upon for runs, Tim de Kok delivered a timely reminder last week that the opposition can’t rely on them to fail either. With Dosti’s overseas reinforcements still held up by visa problems (though there are rumours that Amitoze Singh’s arrival in imminent) it’s difficult to see the Drieburgers getting through the VOC line-up without similar incident. Though the Dosti attack is capable of finding wickets, a full innings of sustained pressure has proved hard to produce, and likewise last week’s effort against Salland was the closest they have come to batting 50 overs. Given Dosti’s struggles, for VOC this looks a must-win fixture, securing two points that would keep their top-three hopes alive, but perhaps more importantly carry through to the second phase should they fail to make the cut and be faced with a tricky relegation fight at the back end of the season.
RL’s picks: HCC, HBS, Punjab, Voorburg, VRA, VOC.
BdJ’s picks: HCC, HBS, Punjab, Voorburg, VRA, VOC.