Four double-headers get T20 Cup under way
The revamped Twenty20 Cup gets under way on Sunday, with a new slot in the calendar and a new playing format – and for the first time in living memory, competitive cricket taking place in the Netherlands before the beginning of May.
Twelve of the sixteen teams in this year’s competition will be in action this weekend, with two double-headers scheduled in each of the two groups. ACC, Bloemendaal, Hermes-DVS and Punjab will be the host clubs, each taking on two of their rivals in successive matches, starting at 13:30 and 16:30 ((with the exception of Hermes-DVS' matches, which have been brought forward to 11:30 and 15:30 respectively).
There will be two all-Topklasse games, two pitting Hoofklasse sides against hosts from the Topklasse, and the remaining four matches will involve pairs of teams from the Hoofdklasse.
In Group A, relegated side Rood en Wit Haarlem will take on ACC in the early game at Het Loopveld West, while the second match, in which the home side will face old rivals VRA Amsterdam in a repeat of last year’s Topklasse finals, promises to be one of the keenest contests of the day.
ACC will reportedly be without South African stars François le Clus and Graeme van Buuren, who have yet to arrive in the Netherlands, but club coach Anton Roux may well fill in, as he did in the closing stages of last season.
In Mudassar Bukhari, however, the Loopveld side have a potentially match-winning allrounder, as Rood en Wit will remember all too clearly after his unbeaten century in last year’s Twenty20 Cup. The bowling will be reinforced by the return of Zishan Akram from United Haarlem, and after their successes of 2011 ACC will be keen to get their campaign off to a winning start.
The Haarlemmers, too, have a match-winner in Shahbaz Bashir, whose aggressive batting could be their best chance of opening their season with an upset. They have another seasoned campaigner in Jarrod Englefield, a new player-coach in New Zealander Peter Fulton, and a cohort of young talent, including 20-year-old skipper Sverre Loggers, Paul van Meekeren and Jaap Dickmann, the latter pair back from a profitable winter in New Zealand.
And then there’s VRA, with no fewer than eight Dutch internationals in their squad and a new player-coach in South African-born, New Zealand-based allrounder Barry Rhodes. Peter Borren’s side is looking to take the Twenty20 Cup – and indeed, pull off the double of 50-over and 20-over titles – for the third year in a row, and if they perform at anything like their full potential they should return to the Amsterdamse Bos with two points from this game.
At the Donkerelaan in Bloemendaal, the home side will face two of their Hoofdklasse rivals, taking on Voorburg in the early game and then playing Kampong Utrecht. For these teams, success against their peers will be absolutely vital if they are to have a realistic chance of challenging for one of the two finals day spots which, in the absence of a quarter-final round, are on offer in the group phase.
Fifth in the Hoofdklasse last season and entertaining two sides which finished above them in the table, Bloemendaal will have New Zealand allrounder Tim McCormick in their team for the first time, but will be without new player-coach Douglas Hewitt, and they have lost youth international batsman Matthijs Luten to VRA.
They will therefore need to rely to a considerable degree on their established local players, such as batsmen Pyke Gunning and Douwe Walhain, bowlers Aldroy Powell and Quirijn Gunning, and former international Mangesh Panchal. Their attack has also been reinforced by the acquisition of Masood Khan from Rood en Wit.
Voorburg seem certain to again be among the stronger Hoofdklasse sides, possible candidates for promotion to the Topklasse. With New Zealand player-coach Bronson Meehan, fellow Kiwi Campbell Thomas, and Zimbabwean Steve Marillier in their squad they will have a strong overseas contingent, but they also have international batsman Wilfred Diepeveen and youth internationals Floris and Philip Kingma, the latter another who has played in New Zealand this winter – not to mention the option of playing Tim de Leede, at 44 still capable of having an impact on a game.
Kampong welcome back South African player-coach Petrus van Biljon, whose 656 Hoofdklasse runs last season made a big contribution to the side’s top-four position, but in three pairs of brothers, Bhavik and Milan Nana, Karel and Nikki Vieler and Camille and Robert van der Harten, they have a group of Dutch-produced younger players who could help the team to consolidate on that performance this season.
In Group B Hermes-DVS Schiedam, playing as the Falcons in recognition of new sponsors, notarial firm Van der Valk, take on Hoofdklasse side Sparta 1888 at Sportpark Harga before meeting Quick Haag in the other all-Topklasse match of the round.
With player-coach Greg Todd having been joined by fellow-New Zealander Mark Craig, Hermes have a reinforced batting line-up this year, and a disciplined attack which includes international slow left-armer – and new captain – Pieter Seelaar.
Sparta, on the other hand, have lost former Pakistan Test player Mohammad Wasim to Dosti Amsterdam, but with returning player-coach Jonathan Boult they also have plenty of players with experience in the top flight, including veteran seamer Phil Keukelaar and brothers Suleiman and Luqman Tariq.
The avian later match between the Falcons and Quick Haag (whose nickname is the Cockerels) should be an excellent contest, which will incidentally give an early indication of how these sides may shape up in the Topklasse later in the season. Quick, too, have a new overseas player, New Zealander Tim Clarke, joining returning coach Amol Muzumdar, but the game may turn on how effectively the Quick attack is able to restrict the home side’s batting.
In the other Group B double-header, at the Zomercomplex in Rotterdam, Punjab will celebrate their promotion to the Hoofdklasse and return to the Twenty20 Cup by playing fellow-promotees FC Amsterdam United (formerly known as Amstelland) and HBS Den Haag.
Punjab’s Eerste Klasse title last season owed much to Bilal Saleem and Faisal Iqbal with both bat and ball, while Zahid Parvaiz was also a key member of the attack, and the side has been strengthened by the arrival of Mohsin Salman from Excelsior ’20 and Irfan Ul Haq from Hercules Utrecht.
FC Amsterdam have picked up Rizwan Akram from ACC, and they have plenty of experience too in players like Sajjad Hussain, Kamran Shafiq, Nadeem Ahmed and allrounder Omair Sultan. Having beaten their hosts twice in their three meetings last year the Amsterdam side will go into this game with a fair degree of confidence.
HBS, too, will be keen to make a good start to a season in which they will be looking for a return to the top flight, and with South African player-coach Bradley Barnes and former coach Shane Deitz in their side and a younger brigade, including Dennis and Wessel Coster, Ferdi Vink and Tobias Visée, which has already built up a good deal of first-team experience they may prove too strong for Punjab.