Bertus de Jong & Rod Lyall 18/08/20
Two rounds to go, and there’s a few things we already know for sure. Voorburg will top the table, while VOC, Salland and ACC have secured safety in the lower half. There the battle is now between Dosti, Sparta and Kampong for the one remaining chance to stay up, while at the top of the table HCC, HBS, Excelsior and Punjab are all tied in second on six points. VRA, two points behind the pack, almost certainly need to win both their last matches. The entire round for the top half has been shifted back by a week however, all three matches having been deferred (not without protest in some cases) due to the absence of international players owing to the Pakistan series.
BdJ: With two consecutive wins under their belt, Dosti Amsterdam will have a modicum of momentum on their side as they cross the river to take on ACC in their penultimate match. Dosti find themselves remarkably well placed to stage a last-ditch escape via the relegation play-off, with a points average advantage over Sparta and a NRR lead over both their remaining rivals. Nonetheless they’ll need to win at least one and probably both of their last games to get there. Despite ACC having little left to play for but pride, they are safe for good reason. The principle reason being Mees van Vliet’s remarkable season that’s seen him top the wicket-taking table, and a steady supply of runs from overseas Hobson and Smith. Dosti arguably look the more balanced side however, with a solid roster of spin options and Amitoze Singh finding some form. They will likely need more runs from the rest of the order in the next two weeks if they’re to keep their hopes of another Topklasse season alive however.
RL: Whatever the chemical reaction that has turned Dosti from serial losers to winners of two matches in a row (all right, it’s not much, but everybody has to start somewhere), there should be teams of scientists trying to identify the elements of the process with a view to patenting them. Two more victories would give Mahesh Hans’s side a real chance of staying up, but the close run ACC gave VOC last week should caution them about thinking that their visit to Het Loopveld will be straightforward. On the other hand, after a brilliant start from Smith and Knoll the rest of the ACC batting contributed fewer than a hundred runs against VOC, and although Fergus Wegener has started to look solid in the middle order they may find the going tough against Waheed Masood and Co. Could be close, but Dosti have the wind in their sails.
BdJ: Likewise Kampong have little room for error if they are to secure a second season in the top flight. Taking on Salland this week, it’s not certain what sort of strength side they’ll be welcoming to Utrecht given that Salland have no need of points from here. Kampong will certainly be without Tom Cooper however, who is set to depart after the Pakistan series in any event. Cooper’s 37 last week was Kampong’s top score by a distance, while he and Cole Briggs were the only ones to make significant scores against Salland in their first match. While they have reason to feel somewhat aggrieved at how the format this season has treated them, their batting since the start of the second phase has not helped them either. On paper then another defeat looks likely if they can’t turn their batting around, but with only one team really needing the win there’s every chance this is the game they do it.
RL: Kampong’s real problem is that, a couple of supreme efforts against top sides notwithstanding, they have largely been unable to get the better of the main rivals in the relegation stakes. They have a useful attack, Alex Roy being to them what Van Vliet has been to ACC, but their batting has seldom produced when it really matters. Who Salland will bring to Maarschalkerweerd is, however, the Great Unknown, and should the answer turn out to be the B team then Kampong’s chances of taking the points they so sorely need will be great improved. The best they can hope for now is that play-off place against the Hoofdklasse champions, but even that is preferable to automatic relegation.
BdJ: The day’s final game sees Sparta 1888 take on VOC, and fair to say Sparta will be delighted with the timing. Unlike the other teams who have seen players called up for national duty, VOC have agreed to play on regardless. This is perhaps not unrelated to the fact that as of last week they are safe from relegation and thus for the Bloodhounds the match is a dead rubber. For Sparta the format has thus gifted them a chance to play what for them is a crucial match against arguably the strongest team in the bottom half while the latter is without their two top-scorers and leading wicket-taker. Now on a five-match losing streak, it may still be beyond Sparta to take advantage of their fortune, but with Ahmadi, Malik and Bukhari beginning to find some rhythm with the ball they have the attack to run through a weakened VOC.
RL: Much may depend here on how well Mudassar Bukhari comes back from the leg injury he sustained at Salland last week. That said, even his spinners were effective enough to capture three wickets, and the consequences for his batting are more likely to be an issue – although who would want to bowl to a Bukhari reduced to hitting fours and sixes? In the perennial, never-to-be-resolved debate about playing competition matches when the national team is otherwise engaged, too little weight tends to be given to the opportunity it offers for fringe first-team players to gain experience and state their case, and with VOC now safe and presumably beginning to think about next season, those who often have a minor role in the Topklasse side or seldom get picked at all will get their chance against Sparta to show what they can do. Even without Edwards, O’Dowd and Jain VOC have enough in their locker to prevail over an ailing Sparta, although their absence does indeed level the odds significantly.
BdJ’s picks: Dosti, Kampong, Sparta.
RL’s picks: ACC, Kampong, VOC.