Rod Lyall & Bertus de Jong 03/09/21
The KNCB’s scriptwriters were back in top form last weekend, as after all the hassle of the previous two weeks actual cricket became the headline once more, and Punjab hauled themselves out of a seemingly hopeless situation to claim the first grand final spot and home advantage for the season’s climax this Sunday. First, though, Voorburg and VRA Amsterdam will have to play off on Saturday to decide who their opponents will be.
RL: Having come so close to victory last Sunday, only to see it torn from their grasp by an innings of rare character and accomplishment, Voorburg will need to discover resources of character of their own as they try to achieve a rematch with Punjab. That they have resources of ability, especially in the bowling department, is beyond question, although the sharpness of the attack was effectively blunted towards the latter stages of last week’s encounter. Still and all, Viv Kingma and Logan van Beek, backed up by Bas de Leede and Aryan Dutt, did well against the might of Punjab’s top order, and VRA’s rather more fragile batting will need to be at its very best to cope with that threat. If we assume that the Amsterdammers will be at full strength for this one – and if not now, when? – then a top six of Vikram Singh; Zamaan Khan, Shirase Rasool or Luke Scully; Ben Cooper; Eric Szwarczynski; Peter Borren; and Jack Balbirnie is, on paper at least, the equal of any in the competitition. Lack of consistency has, of course, been one of the hallmarks of their season, but they are no strangers to the big occasion, and there are few in Dutch domestic cricket bigger than this. Setting a decent tempo has been the bugbear of Voorburg’s batting this year, but they showed last week, mainly through the efforts of De Leede, Sybrand Engelbrecht and Van Beek, that even a slowish start need not be terminal if the side has wickets in hand. Engelbrecht is Voorburg’s leading run-scorer and only centurion, and getting him early might well be crucial for VRA’s chances. New-ball pairing Quirijn Gunning and Ashir Abid may lack the menace of Van Beek and Kingma but they have claimed early wickets often enough, and with seamers Singh and Borren and spinners Leon Turmaine, Udit Nashier and Balbirnie available to take over VRA’s bowling resources are far from negligible.
BdJ: It’s fair to say that VCC’s attack is better suited to their own conditions than the Zomercomplex, where pace on the ball is ever a risky strategy. Against Punjab the wet conditions didn’t help either as lateral movement didn’t last and the visitors weren’t willing to risk deploying Boissevain’s legspin given how tough it was to keep the ball dry. In retrospect that may have been a mistake, and one suspects it’s not one that will be repeated. Voorburg’s traditionally slow starts with the bat are arguably a sign of a lack of faith in their lower middle order, preferring to build a platform for the likes of Engelbrecht, Dutt and van Beek to launch from rather than going hard from the start, and it’s a strategy that has largely worked for them, thanks in part to the strength of their bowling. Against a line-up with the potential hitting power of VRA it’s perhaps not the soundest approach however, and risks the hosts underexploiting VRA’s bowling woes. Though the visitors’ persistent availability issues are unlikely to be a factor for a semi-final, the improbably numerous injuries that have plagued them through the season persist. With Quirijn Gunning, Udit Nashier and Luke Hartsink all less than fully fit, even if VRA can field their first-choice attack it will be somewhat under-strength. What VRA do have, however, is momentum. A six-game winning streak heading into this fixture will lend the visitors a degree of confidence that their hosts, having seen a place in the final slip away last week, may struggle to match.
RL: And then the winners will proceed to the Zomercomplex on Sunday to take on Punjab. Leaders after the round-robin phase, the Rotterdammers have shown in recent weeks both that they are far from invincible and that they fight all the way to the final delivery. They will undoubtedly miss injured allrounder Teja Nidamanuru whoever their opponents may be, and in view of the way Irfan ul Haq stepped up last week when Nidamanuru was forced to leave the field and the faltering of the top order it may be that his absence will be felt especially keenly when the side bats. The depth of Punjab’s resources has been tested less than any other side in the competition: they’ve used only 13 players all season. But with Steph Myburgh and the four Zulfiqars in the line-up they remain a powerful unit, and the bowlers, if a little short of cutting edge, make up for that with discipline and an evident loathing of giving runs away. It has all the makings of a really cracking denouement.
BdJ: After such a dominant early season, Punjab’s entry into the final lacked a certain pomp for sure, though it indeed illustrated a degree of resilience that they’ve not had to call upon much. As much as the Zulfiqar-heavy middle order, the obduracy of the Punjab tail has been a somewhat un-remarked strength of the table-topping Rotterdammers. That may again come into play regardless of who they face in the final, especially if VRA’s rickety bowling attack is called upon to play two days in succession. That said, should the Amsterdammers get through to the final they arguably have a better shot at spoiling Punjab’s party. The ability to bring in pinch-hitters such as Marcus Andrew and Shirase Rasool whose style of play is well-suited to Punjab’s artificial wicket and short boundaries makes them better able to at least partially negate the hosts’ home advatage. It’s worth noting that since Sieb van Wingerden’s six-for saw VOC roll Punjab in their own back yard back in May, VRA are the only visiting side to have taken points home from the Zomercomplex. Conversely, VCC have now lost there twice. It’s hard to argue that either would be favourites over a Punjab side that, despite their late wobbles, has consistently looked the strongest in the competition, but one suspects that the Rotterdammers themselves will be rooting for Voorburg tomorrow.
RL’s picks: Voorburg, Punjab.
BdJ’s picks: VRA, VRA.