Rod Lyall 12/04/22
For the first time in its 132-year history the Dutch top flight men’s competition will be played in two groups this season, and the teams’ first target will be to finish in the top three of their pool, thus giving themselves a crack at the Topklasse title in the second phase.
At first glance it looked as if Group A might be distinctly the weaker of the two, but with a returning influx of overseas players after the pandemic-induced drought of the past two years and some significant transfers it may prove a tougher challenge than first thought.
2021 champions, Punjab Rotterdam, have made the bold decision to do without any overseas imports, and will largely stay with their winning combination from last season.
With the four Zulfiqar brothers at the top of their order, along with (now former) international opener Steph Myburgh and all-rounder Teja Nidamanuru, they have plenty of power with the bat; whether Myburgh is regularly available remains to be seen, but Punjab fans will be hoping he can reproduce the scintillating form with which he bowed out of the international arena in New Zealand a couple of weeks ago.
The parsimonious seam attack of skipper Suleiman Tariq, Sohail Bhatti, Sikander Zulfiqar and Mubashar Hussain, now joined by Belgian-based, former VOC player Ashiqullah Said, is likely to further trouble opposing batting sides, and with the spin options of Nidamanuru, Saqib Zulfiqar, Irfan ul Haq and possibly the veteran Muhammad Hafeez, Punjab will again be a tough proposition, especially on their bijou ground at Rotterdam’s Zomercomplex.
After last season ended controversially with claims and counterclaims of racist behaviour, HCC will be keen to make a fresh new start, and although they have lost opener Musa Nadeem Ahmad to Voorburg they have compensated for this by acquiring two overseas players, New Zealander Tim Pringle and Australian Zac Worden.
Left-armer Pringle is the son of former New Zealand international Chris, who played for HCC and then for one season with VRA between 1996 and 2001, taking 264 wickets at an average of 11.27, and the Diepput club will be extremely happy if Tim is able to come anywhere close to that kind of effort.
Worden is coming off the back of a successful season opening the batting for his Tea Tree Gully club in the South Australian first grade and was recently selected for the state’s second team; he will slot into the space vacated by Ahmad, and should add solidity to a line-up which showed a tendency to fragility last year, despite the presence of Boris Gorlee, now a Dutch international, Tonny Staal and Damian Crowley.
On the other hand, HCC’s pace attack of Hidde Overdijk, Reinier Bijloos and Olivier Klaus is as menacing as any in the competition, and Clayton Floyd, last year’s leading wicket-taker with 37 wickets at a miserly 7.32, will have benefited from his experience with the Dutch national side over the winter.
Consistently there or thereabouts in recent seasons without ever hitting the heights, HBS Craeyenhout have, like Punjab, opted for the mixture as before.
They will welcome back South African Tayo Walbrugh, who had an outstanding start to last season and finished with 780 runs at an average of 65.00, and Dutch passport holder Ryan Klein, whose sharp pace earned him a place in Ryan Campbell’s national squad this winter; he will be joined by younger brother Kyle, who has already played for the Dutch under-19 side, and the squad will be under the guidance of another South African, Gavin Kaplan, who is part of the coaching team at Gary Kirsten’s academy.
For the rest, HBS will have the experience of skipper Ferdi Vink and mercurial opener Tobias Visée, while they will be hoping that former international star batter (and occasional deadly off-spinner) Wesley Barresi will be more regularly available than the six games he played last season.
They will also be looking for further progress from their emerging talents: allrounders Navjit Singh and Julian de Mey, seamer Benno Boddendijk, and young keeper Martijn Scholte. All told, HBS should certainly be in the mix for one of those top three places.
Among the dark horses of Group A will be promoted side Kampong Utrecht, returning to the top flight after a 24-year absence.
They have signed Auckland wicketkeeper-batter Cole Briggs, who will join South African Pite van Biljon, who enjoyed two successful seasons with the Utrecht club in 2011-12 and who has since played in ten T20Is for South Africa.
Led by the evergreen Usman Malik, the Kampong squad is not short of youthful talent, with under-19 international off-spinner Pierre Jacod, seamer Kertan Nana, the leading wicket-taker in the Hoofklasse last year with 19 at 9.26, and opener Alex Roy all likely to relish the opportunity to move up a level.
There is plenty of experience, too, with seamer Sean Trouw, Shivdutt Singh Jhala, Vikram Chaturvedi, Sandeep Abhyankar, Ratha Alphonse, Saurabh Zalpuri and Robert van der Harten all likely to play a part; with Briggs and Van Biljon to spearhead the side, it would be rash opponents who took Kampong for granted.
By contrast with the stability elsewhere there has been something of a revolving door at the Bermweg, where Sparta 1888 have seen several departures, the most notable of them the transfer of young quick Max Hoornweg to VOC; he has, however, metaphorically passed former international Ahsan Malik somewhere on the A20 as the latter will be appearing in Sparta colours this year.
Another absentee will be last season’s overseas player, Garnett Tarr, who will be with Scottish club Kelburne. He will be replaced by 31-year-old Tripura and former Gujarat batter Samit Gohil, who once made 359 not out for Gujarat in a quarter-final of the Ranji Trophy.
Other acquisitions at the Bermweg include the returning Sandeep Sardha and Belgium pace man Khalid Ahmadi, while Mudassar Bukhari is likely to again be the mainstay of the side with both bat and ball.
Prithviraj Balwantsingh played some useful knocks last year in a team which was generally short of runs, and the Capelle club will be hoping for a better season for the always-dangerous Ali Raza; on the bowling side, Bukhari, Malik and Ahmadi will have the support of fellow-seamers Joost Martijn Snoep and Nasratullah Ibrahimkhil.
If Sparta is to make a serious challenge for a top three spot it will, one suspects, be the bowlers who get them there.
Change is also the order of the day at ACC, another side who found runs hard to come by in 2021.
They will be strengthened by the advent of three South Africans: 27-year-old Limpopo opener Thomas Hobson and two players from Durban’s Amanzimtoti club, Robin Smith, who has experience with Llandudno in Wales and Langley in Cheshire and who was recently selected for the KwaZulu-Natal Coastal side, and Rob Ackerman.
The Amsterdammers will be delighted at the return of Charles McInerney from injury, and will be hoping that their South African trio will create greater space for the development of their crop of promising youngsters, such as seamers Aryan Kumar and Mees van Vliet, batter Shreyas Potdar, and 16-year-old spinner Zinesh Master, who had a sensational debut last season, taking five for 30 against Dosti on his first Topklasse outing.
With Anis Raza, Devanshu Arya and Chris Knoll all lending solidity to the side ACC will be hoping to hold their own in what promises to be a very tight competition, but they will do extremely well to make the cut at the beginning of June.