All to play for as the Topklasse makes its debut
The start of a new competition season always gets the pulse racing, and this year’s Topklasse – a new division with a new structure – is unusually tantalising. Sunday’s matches, then, will be keenly watched for signs of how the eight teams are likely to shape up.
Champions Excelsior ’20 Schiedam travel to Haarlem to take on newly-promoted Rood en Wit, who dropped back down the last time they reached the top flight and will be determined to do better this time.
With Shahbaz Bashir and Andrew Bailey added to their ranks, the Haarlemmers will certainly not be short of experience, and their attack looks well balanced. Whether it will be effective enough to deal with Excelsior’s batting, led by coach Ed Cowan and Daan van Bunge, will be one of the keys to this game.
Excelsior’s bowling, on the other hand, will undoubtedly miss the incisiveness of Mark Cleary, although it must not be forgotten that they took the title last year without his contribution in the play-offs. Usman Malik (Hussain), the leading wicket-taker in the Hoofdklasse last season, will be even more crucial to their success with the ball this time, and Rood en Wit appear to have a top order good enough to set them a severe test.
Defeated in last year’s final, and third after the round robin phase, VRA Amsterdam are at home to Quick Haag in a repeat of one of the 2009 semi-finals.
Tom Cooper will make his Topklasse debut, as will the rival coaches, VRA’s Tim Muir and Quick’s Jono Boult. Much will depend on how well the Quick attack, including another debutant in opening bowler Farshad Khan, is able to contain a menacing VRA batting line-up, with Eric Szwarczynski, Tom Cooper, Peter Borren and Atse Buurman all gearing up to face Yorkshire and Middlesex in a fortnight’s time.
Quick’s batting line-up doesn’t lack depth, but without the explosive power of Darron Reekers and Edgar Schiferli one wonders whether they will be able to score quickly enough to match the VRA engine-room. But with Stijn Allema, Lesley Stokkers, Geert Maarten and Henk-Jan Mol, Jeroen Brand and Bobby van Gigch they have an experienced top and middle order, to which we must add the left-handed Boult, and VRA’s attack is not nearly as imposing as the batting.
VOC Rotterdam, second in the table going into last season’s play-offs, make the short journey to Schiedam, where they will meet Hermes-DVS.
Sportpark Harga is a venue which always suits Hermes’ steady seam attack, and this is another match in which one side’s bowling will come up against a very strong batting side. VOC’s top order, led by coach Michael Dighton, fellow-Australians Chris Free and Chris Smith, Maarten van Ierschot and Daan van Everdingen, seems likely to again be the key to their success, but they could have wished for a gentler start than Hermes away.
The Schiedammers won a tight match in the equivalent fixture last season, and this time they will of course have Derek de Boorder as well as coach Shanan Stewart in their batting line-up. VOC, equally, will have New Zealander Andrew Hoogstraten to add more bite to their bowling, and in the context of the whole season this may well turn out to be a crucial encounter between two of the leading sides.
HCC, scheduled to entertain ACC, have been unable to displace the footballers from their home field, and the match will be played at Klein Zwitserland, a ground which has tended to strongly favour the bowlers in the past.
The Hagenaars, in something of a rebuilding phase, will welcome back the prolific Johan Myburgh, and will be looking to him and to Tom de Grooth to make a big contribution with the bat. If the conditions favour the bowlers, though, a HCC seam battery which includes the Jonkman twins, skipper Bernard Loots and new international Philip van den Brandeler seems well equipped to take full advantage.
But ACC doesn’t come far behind in that department, with Mudassar and Farukh Bukhari, Mohsin Ghaznavi and brothers Zeeshan and Rizwan Akram, and can in addition call on the spin bowling of young South African Michael Rippon. One might reasonably expect this to be a relatively low-scoring game.
Enthusiastic as I am about the new structure of Dutch domestic cricket, I have to say that it shows every sign of being a tipster’s nightmare, and with so many unknown factors involved at this stage of the season, I almost hesitate to stick my neck out at all.
However, just for laughs, my four tips for this week (none of them with a huge degree of confidence) are: Hermes-DVS, VRA, Excelsior and HCC.