VOC's pace attack may be key, while HCC rebuild
In the overcrowded mid-table battle in last season’s Topklasse, it was VOC Rotterdam and HCC who squeezed into the top four on net run rate, although they were so far behind the two leaders that they had no chance of making the best-of-three final.
This year’s format, with no second phase and semi-finals involving all the top four, means that the competition for places seems certain to be more meaningful, and whoever finishes fourth after the round-robin phase will still have a chance of taking the championship.
Of the two, it may be HCC who have a tougher task if they are again to finish in the top half of the table. International opener Stephan Myburgh has moved to Excelsior ’20, long-serving wicketkeeper and captain Jeroen Smits and another former international in Feiko Kloppenburg have retired, Philip van den Brandeler is studying in England, Bernard Loots is also unavailable, and the side is undoubtedly in a rebuilding phase.
Much is likely to depend on their three overseas players, Cameron Borgas, Rassie van der Dussen, and Logan van Beek – although as a Dutch passport holder the latter is officially not an overseas player.
Van der Dussen made a considerable impact in the four matches he played last season as a replacement for Dean Brownlie, and he, Borgas and Van Beek, along with the seasoned international Tom de Grooth, will form the backbone of the batting line-up.
21-year-old allrounder Willem de Kempenaer had a reasonable first season in 2011, and HCC will need him to make further progress with bat and ball. And the side will have a teenage wicketkeeper in 18-year-old youth international Werner Erkelens.
One focus of attention will be the role of the Jonkman twins: Mark remains suspended from bowling in international cricket, but Maurits’s action has never been declared illegal at any level and he is presumably eligible to bowl in domestic cricket.
HCC’s decision not to bowl either at the highest level last season left Mark’s formal situation with respect to the Topklasse (and, for that matter, the Twenty20 Cup) unclear, but with the KNCB now confirming that there is no requirement under the ICC regulations for him to be suspended from bowling in domestic cricket, it would appear that De Grooth, who takes over the captaincy, will be free to bowl him.
With the loss of Loots, Van den Brandeler and Kloppenburg, and of Myburgh’s off spin, the attack certainly has a rather threadbare look. Ollie Klaus is, apart from the Jonkmans, the most experienced seamer, especially since Reinier Bijloos will reportedly miss the first few games with an ankle injury.
Van Beek’s medium-pace certain gets him wickets in New Zealand, and with a first-class career-best of five for 42 he is likely to play a significant part in the attack, while Van der Dussen, although a more occasional bowler, will no doubt chip in with his leg spin.
HCC have a number of promising youngsters in the pipeline, but with the club having voluntarily dropped their Second XI down a division to the Eerste Klasse, that will form a proving ground for teenagers like Minne Marijnen, Douwe Schoemaker and Tonny Staal.
VOC will welcome back last season’s leading runscorer, player-coach Wade Townsend, whose four centuries and 796 runs at 66.33 made a huge contribution to their making the top four.
The batting will also be the stronger for the return of Bas Zuiderent, who played only six games in 2010 and none at all last season, and whose retirement from international cricket will enable him to concentrate on the domestic game. And if Maarten van Ierschot is able to recapture his form from last year, VOC’s top order will have a much more substantial look.
Another gain is Belgian international allrounder Shaheer Yar (Sherry) Butt, who has turned out for VVV Amsterdam for the past couple of seasons and whose hard-hitting batting, along with that of Jelte Schoonheim, could prove very useful once the openers have built a platform.
The club will also be looking for further progress from 17-year-old middle-order batsman Tim de Kok, and for more consistency from Daan van Everdingen, who has demonstrated on a number of occasions that he is capable of big innings but has yet to put in a run of big scores.
It is, however, the VOC seam attack which looks like the Rotterdam side’s trump card: with the Dutch international pairing of Timm van der Gugten and Ashan Malik Jamil to take the new ball, and youth international Dirk van Baren and the greatly-improved Bobby Hanif to follow, opposing batsmen seem likely to be in for a pretty hard time.
Butt and Schoonheim are also useful with the ball, and Townsend’s 20 wickets last season at an average of 18.95 was also a significant contribution. Moreover, they have acquired yet another effective seamer in Excelsior ‘20’s Tamim Faqiri.
Spinner Maninder Singh has had limited opportunities since moving to the Hazelaarweg, having played only 28 games in four seasons, but with the emphasis likely to be strongly on seam it will be interesting to see whether he plays more regularly this year.
The Rotterdammers have only one significant loss, the return of wicketkeeper Chris Free to Australia. But 21-year-old Tim Ruyters, who made his debut in the top flight as long ago as 2008, has been waiting in the wings, and the club has another option in Zuiderent, who took the gloves in nearly fifty games before Free claimed his place in the side.
It is eighteen years since VOC last took the championship, but they were one of the most consistent sides of the 1990s and 2000s, and it may be that after a couple of rocky seasons, they now have a team which can mount a really serious challenge for the title.