Hoofdklasse Preview 1
For Rood en Wit Haarlem, returning to the top flight after a two-year absence, and VCC Voorburg, who scraped clear of relegation on the final day of last season, the new Hoofdklasse campaign may again prove to be something of a battle.
Rood en Wit have stayed with South African coach Enoch Nkwe, whose 934 runs and 42 wickets were the crucial factor in their quest for promotion last year. He has again been playing for Lions and for Gauteng in the two-tier South African domestic competition during the winter, and it will be interesting to see how he responds to the demands of the Hoofdklasse. Much will depend upon him as the Haarlem side seek to ensure that they avoid the relegation zone.
The rest of the squad will basically be the same as that which won the Eerste Klasse title, most of whom were also playing when Rood en Wit dropped out of the top division in 2003. They will, however, be strengthened by the return of Klaas-Jan van Noortwijk (right), the former Dutch international who was part of that 2003 side but who subsequently returned to VOC Rotterdam.
Van Noortwijk's batting will be important, as will that of captain Farhaad Sardha. But Rood en Wit urgently need a settled batting order: last season they used six openers in seven different combinations, and young allrounder Moenir Bhoelan, for example, fluctuated between No. 3 and No. 9.
Rif Bakas, who made most runs after Nkwe, alternated between opening and the middle order, and the same applied to Elvis Roach. A settled top six would make a big difference this season, when the ability to set competitive targets will be crucial to the side's chances of success.
Nkwe's medium pace will no doubt again play a key role in the Rood en Wit attack, backed up by the seamers Bhoelan, Jeroen van Aalst and Zowak Aziz, along with Sardha's spin.
But the likelihood is that the Haarlem club will find their return to the Hoofdklasse a tough challenge.
VCC have taken steps to strengthen their squad after a disappointing 2005 season. Last year's coach, Kiwi Marcel McKenzie, performed modestly, and despite the exploits of captain Tim de Leede the 2002 champions came uncomfortably close to relegation.
Missing Zulfiqar Ahmed and Daan van Bunge (the latter playing just four games when he was free from commitments with the MCC Young Cricketers), they struggled all season to find consistency. With van Bunge moving to Excelsior for 2006 and Mo Salman also departing, Voorburg clearly need to raise their game if they are to be sure of staying up this year.
The new coach is 21-year-old Australian leg-spinner Ryan Le Loux, who has already played a couple of games for Queensland. He impressed on debut, making 63 against the West Indies in October, and VCC will be hoping that he makes an impact with both bat and ball.
He will share the spin attack with Dutch international off-spinner Adeel Raja (right), who has transferred from VRA Amsterdam. Raja has been frustrated by his inability to command a top-five place in VRA's powerful batting line-up, and will be looking to establish his credentials as an allrounder with VCC.
Other than these arrivals and the move to new premises at Westvliet, it will largely be business at usual for Voorburg. Much will again depend on de Leede, supported by veteran Marc Nota, Mohammad Rafi, and young wicketkeeper-batsman Atse Buurman.
VCC's batting line-up was, if anything, even more in need of stability last year than Rood en Wit's: they tried no fewer than ten different combinations at the start of the innings. Raja's arrival may help, but there will also be hope that younger players like batsman Wilfred Diepeveen and seamer Adrian Kroonenburg are able to establish their places in the side.
Calling up veterans Patrick de Leede and Hans Boerstra last season had something of an air of desperation about it, and with Tim de Leede and Nota approaching the end of their careers Voorburg need their promising crop of youngsters to step up if their place in the top division is to be secure.