Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 06/08/22
Four rounds to go in the second phase of this unique, outsized edition of the Topklasse, and once again the league is set to be consumed in another Eindrangschikking controversy, as it was discovered that the playing conditions specify total points rather than points average as the prime determinant of ranking, contrary to what official points tables have said all season, and everyone involved had assumed. The change hurts HCC and HBS in the top half, and especially ACC in the lower, though by pure luck does not mean any club is actually playing in the wrong half. Nor does the change put anyone entirely out of the running for the finals play-offs or top-flight survival, though there’s a couple of clashes this weekend that could leave some teams playing for pride, with VRA and Dosti needing wins over Punjab and Sparta respectively to keep their seasons alive, while Salland could put their top flight survival beyond doubt.
BdJ: Voorburg could also all-but seal their spot at the top of the table if they continue winning streak away at HBS Craeyenhout, and on current form any other result would be a surprise. Tayo Walbrugh’s imperious form and the expected return of Gavin Kaplan makes it tough to count the Crows out at home of course, especially given the struggles of VCC’s attack at Punjab last week, but HBS lack the batting depth of Punjab, and other than Walbrugh few of their top order have made consistent runs (or indeed appearances) while Voorburg’s top order are in fine form, Andre Malan and Musa Nadeem both striking unbeaten centuries last week and Bas de Leede showing his class against the touring Blackcaps. For HBS a win would go a long way toward securing a top four finish, though even on home (astro)turf downing the favourites remains a tall order.
RL: Difficult to disagree with any of that, although one might add that HBS have potential trump cards in the batting of Wesley Barresi and the bowling of the brothers Klein, while Voorburg also have the luxury of a pace attack which includes Logan van Beek and Viv Kingma alongside De Leede and valuable leg-spinners in Shariz Ahmad and Philippe Boissevain. In other words, this game between the two top sides could well feature ten present or former Dutch internationals as well as some outstanding overseas players, and it’s hard to imagine a better advertisement for the top flight of Dutch domestic cricket.
BdJ: For HCC this Sunday’s match against Excelsior ‘20 is effectively, if not quite arithmetically a must-win match if they’re to have any hope of a double shot at making the final, and more realistically pretty key to both sides hope of involvement in the finals play-offs. Both sides had their games rained out last week, HCC with barely a ball bowled against VRA and Excelsior as they looked in a solid position batting first against HBS. Fresh in the minds of both teams, however, will be the drubbing Excelsior gave HCC in the shorter format on T20 finals day. HCC’s batting has looked indifferent at best in both formats since the break, while Excelsior’s top order have all had rather more time in the middle. Brett Hampton especially has been in fine form with bat and ball, though with two international left arm spinners HCC arguably have the tools to counter him. They have to find a way past Lorenzo Ingram first of course, and though Excelsior’s local bats have been making runs too one suspects those two will be the wickets the Lions will be hunting for.
RL: After a remarkable run of dominant form early in the season Zac Worden has been markedly less prolific in recent games, making 95 runs in his last four innings, and HCC will need him to get back to his best if they are to have a real chance of squeezing into the top four. The fact remains, though, that they have one of the most effective attacks in the competition with an outstanding balance of seam and spin, and one which certainly has the potential to test Excelsior to the full. Dependent as they are on Ingram and Hampton, the Schiedammers have plenty of experience behind them, and they always look a better side when Tom Heggelman is in it, even though he has now devolved the captaincy to Roel Verhagen. This, too, looks like a very even encounter, but it’s one which HCC can afford to lose much less than their visitors, and that might make all the difference.
BdJ: The washout against HCC last week all but ended VRA’s hopes of a top four finish, and their match away at Punjab this week, like all their remaining games, is a must-win if they are to have any hope of sneaking into the play-offs. VRA have done rather better than many expected to make the top half at all, and a late surge to the top four would be a quite remarkable result after an inconsistent season. The departure of Johan Smal for the last few matches of Phase 2 makes it all the more unlikely, and an upset away at Punjab all the more necessary. Punjab nonetheless have reason to worry given their attack’s lack of penetration last week, and the VRA middle order’s past record of cutting loose at the Zomercomplex. With absolutely nothing to lose, VRA will at least be the less nervous side on Sunday.
RL: We’ve talked a good deal here about the comparison between Punjab’s title-winning form last year and their less impressive performances this season, and it remains a somewhat enigmatic question. They have gained enormously from the arrival of Vandiar and to a lesser extent Jappie, but that doesn’t entirely compensate for the reduced impact of the four Zulfiqars, and the relative toothlessness of the bowling against Excelsior and Voorburg when defending big totals is a real source of concern. For VRA, a win here is an absolute necessity, and Peter Borren’s mercurial side unquestionably has the capacity to exploit any weaknesses in their opponents; it would, though, be a major surprise, and logic suggests that Punjab will make sure of the points.
BdJ: Down in the lower half of the table Salland’s position has only become stronger, with nearest rivals ACC demoted to third place. ACC will doubtless be hopping mad about the shambles, but will have to contain their frustration as a loss at home to Salland could now drop them right into the relegation zone. Overseas Hobson and Smith have kept them out of immediate danger thus far this season, with the aid of Mees van Vliet’s ever growing tally of wickets, and support from skipper Raza was enough to set up a surprise win over VOC in their Phase 2 opener. Netting nul points from a washout vs Dosti has put them back in trouble however, while Salland are on something of a roll, having knocked over the Cooper-reinforced Kampong last week. Following the dictum that when it rains, it pours, Salland adding to ACC’s woes this Sunday looks a more than fair possibility.
RL: The presence of their German contingent has pretty much taken Salland to safety, and if they turn out again on Sunday they may well be able to guarantee the Deventer club a second season in the top flight. On the other hand, the Amsterdammers have been a much stronger force with Hobson and Smith, and the progress of Van Vliet and Shreyas Potdar have also been significant factors in their season so far. The issue of the regulations apart, the endgame could well be evolving into a tussle between ACC and Kampong to finish third in the pool and thus clear of relegation and this match, like the one at Maarschalkerweerd, is potentially crucial in that scenario.
BdJ: One of the few clubs likely to be happy with the change will be the otherwise luckless Kampong who see their hopes of climbing out of the top three improve marginally, and a win at home against VOC could shift the odds still further in their favour. They are now just two points behind ACC with a superior net run rate, though barring another late change in tie-breaking the latter is unlikely to matter in this case. VOC’s demolition of Sparta last week does suggest they have woken up to the danger they remain in, though of course the new ranking order has diminished that somewhat. A win over Kampong could put them pretty close to safe on ten points, at least out of significant danger of direct relegation.
RL: Having beaten Punjab and HCC in the first phase, Kampong can approach this key encounter in a positive frame of mind, and all the more so as Tom Cooper slots into their line-up in place of Pite van Biljon. They will, of course, need to neutralise the threat of Max O’Dowd, Scott Edwards and Pieter Seelaar, but if Kertan Nana and Alex Roy bowl at their best they could put the VOC top order under pressure. But the Rotterdammers remain, at least on paper, the strongest side in the relegation pool, and they will start as favourites here.
BdJ: Finally at the do or die (and probably die either way) end of the table, the winless Dosti welcome Sparta to Drieburg. The game probably represents the hosts’ best chance of breaking their long winless streak, with Sparta looking entirely out of sorts, senior bowlers Bukhari and Malik short of wickets and Samit Gohil still failing to fire. Sparta managed just two wickets in two games since the break and were twice bowled out for double figures, while Dosti looked briefly competitive against Kampong and were going remarkably well in the brief passage of play the rain allowed against ACC last week. Another loss would almost certainly spell the end of the Amsterdammers’ stint in the top flight, an eventuality which has looked increasingly inevitable for years now.
RL: Two dire batting performances have left Sparta in real trouble near the foot of the table, and even with Bukhari, Gohil and Malik in their side they have become favourites to occupy one of the two automatic relegation spots. Victory over Dosti is a <i>sine qua non</i> if they are to avoid that fate, and it’s a brave call to tip a win for Mahesh Hans’s side. But as m’colleague observes, this is Dosti’s best chance of breaking that duck, and they began their short-lived game against ACC last week as if they had discovered a new, if slightly desperate, sense of purpose. None of this week’s games is easy to call, but having been stung in the past I’m guessing that Sparta will pass the character test and take the points back to Capelle.
BdJ’s picks: Voorburg, Excelsior, VRA, Salland, VOC, Dosti.
RL’s picks: Voorburg, HCC, Punjab, ACC, VOC, Sparta.