VRA eyes treble of doubles, ACC start shakily
When the Topklasse competition finally gets under way next Thursday, last year’s finalists will find themselves in very different situations.
Champions VRA Amsterdam, looking not only to achieve three titles in successive seasons for the second time in eight years but also to complete a treble of doubles by winning the Twenty20 Cup for a third year in a row as well, go into the new campaign with a squad which is if anything a little stronger than in 2011.
They can still boast no fewer than seven internationals – Peter Borren, Tom Cooper, Eric Szwarczynski, Wesley Barresi, Atse Buurman, Berend Westdijk and Vinoo Tewarie – and have picked up another national squad member in batsman Matthijs Luten, who has transferred from Bloemendaal.
Even though the inclusion of Cooper in the Australia A party to play in England means that he will miss much of the latter part of the Dutch season, it is the strongest batting line-up in the Topklasse, and the new player-coach, the New Zealand-based, South African-born Barry Rhodes, has demonstrated in the T20 Cup that he is capable of scoring quick runs.
With Sohail Bhatti returning from injury to share the new ball with Westdijk, and Sri Lankan Amil Prasad waiting in the wings, the seam attack is also a force to be reckoned with, and even more so when one recalls that skipper Borren was the side’s leading wicket-taker last season with 27 victims. With Rhodes, too, able to contribute with his medium pace, Borren will have plenty of seam options.
The spin bowling is likely to be mainly in the hands of two youngsters: the 20-year-old Tewarie’s leg spin has already yielded him 50 Topklasse wickets at an average of 17.62, and he will have benefited from a spell at the ICC Europe academy in Pune earlier this year, while slow left-armer Victor Lubbers, two years his junior, has demonstrated his ability and temperament when he has had an opportunity in the first team.
But Borren can also call on the enormous experience of former international off-spinner Adeel Raja, who missed much of last season through illness but who with 198 matches in the top flight behind him and 218 wickets at 22.79 can still cause problems for opposing batsmen.
For ACC on the other hand, keen to prove that last season’s second place was no flash in the pan, the start to the new season could scarcely have been more unsettled.
With their South African overseas players Graeme van Buuren and François Le Clus yet to arrive, ACC have lost their first three matches in the Twenty20 Cup, going down to Hoofdklasse sides Rood en Wit and Voorburg as well as to VRA, and the club will be hoping that next Thursday’s Topklasse action marks the beginning of a return to form.
It cannot be denied that the overseas players make a huge difference to any team, and the contribution of Van Buuren and last season’s player-coach Heino Kuhn was unquestionably a key factor in the Amsterdam club’s challenge for the title.
But in international allrounder Mudassar Bukhari they have an outstanding matchwinner, while at 46 Zulfiqar Ahmed has the skill, the experience and the guile to make an impact with both bat and ball.
Steven de Bruin and Bas van der Heijde are also capable of making valuable runs, and one of the few real positives of the season so far has been the form with the bat of former youth international Ollie Lodder, who hits the ball cleanly and who appears to be relishing the greater responsibility arising from the absence of the overseas stars.
Another blow for the Loopveld West side has been an injury to seamer Zishan Akram, newly returned to the club after a season with Eerste Klasse side United Haarlem, but Mohsin Ghaznavi is a seasoned campaigner with the new ball and an effective foil to Bukhari, and left-armer Wajdan Alim is another player whom ACC will be looking to to make further progress this year.
Xander Udo has also picked up valuable wickets in his limited opportunities in the first team, while brothers Ajitpal and Maninder Kamboj should benefit from the presence of Van Buuren at the club, even if their chances to bowl long spells are restricted as a consequence. Rehan Younis' leg breaks add variety to the spin attack, and ACC will hope that he takes plenty of wickets this year.
For ACC, then, 2012 is shaping to be a more testing season than 2011 was, and the side will have done extremely well if it is again able to reach the top four in what promises to be a much more even and hotly contested Topklasse competition.