Ascension Day take-off for Topklasse
With the Twenty20 Cup occupying the opening weeks of the Dutch domestic season, the Ascension Day holiday on Thursday will see the first round of the 2012 Topklasse and Hoofdklasse campaigns, with the second not taking place until 27 May.
The T20 competition has been dominated by overseas players and to a lesser extent by Dutch internationals, and we must hope that the 50-over format will give greater scope for local club cricketers to show what they can do, and for some of the emerging younger players to demonstrate their potential.
The match of the day may well be at Hazelaarweg, where VOC Rotterdam will be at home to defending champions VRA Amsterdam.
After three convincing T20 victories VRA suffered their first defeat of the season at the hands of HCC on Sunday, but they remain a powerful unit which will start as clear favourites to take their third Topklasse title in a row.
The battle between their batting line-up of Vinoo Tewarie, Eric Szwarczynski, Tom Cooper, Matthijs Luten, Barry Rhodes, Wesley Barresi, Peter Borren and Atse Buurman – certainly one of the strongest ever to grace the Dutch competition – and a VOC seam attack which features the national new-ball pairing of Timm van der Gugten and Ahsan Malik Jamil, backed up by youth international Dirk van Baren and the greatly-improved Bobby Hanif, should be one of the early highlights of the season.
And on the other hand, VOC’s own top order, with Bas Zuiderent back in the side, the prolific player-coach Wade Townsend, skipper Maarten van Ierschot, Daan van Everdingen, and the hitting power of Jelte Schoonheim and Sherry Butt, will be a good test for the VRA bowling, led by Berend Westdijk and Sohail Bhatti, and also including Borren, Rhodes and perhaps Amil Prasad.
With such an array of seam bowling it may seem that there’s little room for the spinners, but VOC have Townsend and Butt, while for VRA Tewarie’s leg-spin may be backed up by the off-breaks of Leon Turmaine, who bowled well on Sunday and who claimed a four-wicket haul against HCC.
HCC’s new-look side, with the overseas trio of Rassie van der Dussen, Cameron Borgas and Logan van Beek, had a successful first outing against VRA on Sunday, and will open their Topklasse campaign at home to Hermes-DVS Schiedam.
Hermes won the corresponding fixture last season by nine wickets, thanks to a record-breaking partnership between Harro Seelaar and Greg Todd, but HCC will be a very different proposition this year and must have a very good chance of reaching the play-offs.
Tom de Grooth was in fine form with the bat against VRA, and with the Jonkman twins returning to the attack and joining Van Beek and Ollie Klaus as well as the spinners Van der Dussen and Borgas, the side has a promisingly balanced look.
Hermes have depended a great deal on their two New Zealanders, Todd and Mark Craig, with the bat in winning their first four T20 matches, but Sebastiaan Braat has shown the benefit of a winter in Tauranga by twice claiming three wickets.
New skipper Pieter Seelaar has an experienced and varied attack at his disposal, and with Nick Statham running into form with the bat last Sunday Hermes will certainly be looking to extend their Twenty20 success into the longer format.
Another of the pre-season title favourites, Excelsior ’20 Schiedam will be at home to Quick Haag on Thursday, and with three T20 wins under their belts will want to get their Topklasse campaign off to a winning start.
By picking up left-handed international opener Stephan Myburgh over the winter and recruiting two excellent overseas allrounders in Rudi Hillermann and Brett Hampton Excelsior have added to a batting line-up which already features former internationals Daan van Bunge and Luuk van Troost and Danish international wicketkeeper-batsman Fred Klokker.
That they failed to make the top four last season was one of cricket’s mysteries, but the current squad is likely to provide the main challenge to VRA, not least because of the sharpness Hillermann and Hampton bring to an attack which also includes international seamer Tom Heggelman, the extremely useful Haider Khan, and the spinners Adam Woutersen and Joost Kroesen.
The skills of Quick Haag’s elegant player-coach Amol Muzumdar have been augmented this season by the recruitment of New Zealander Tim Clark, and with the return of Tim Gruijters from England and a significant contribution from established players like the Mol brothers, Edgar Schiferli and Thijs van Schelven, Quick are capable of giving some of the more fancied sides a run for their money.
Newly-promoted side Dosti Amsterdam gave a clear indication of what they have to offer in the Topklasse with a comprehensive victory in their first Twenty20 outing on Sunday, and will go into their initial game in the top flight, against ACC at Het Loopveld West, brimming with confidence.
South African player-coach David Wiese had a dream start with a century and three wickets, and with a trio of other overseas players in Amit Uniyal, Sridharan Sriram and Keyron Fraser to choose from, Dosti seem likely to launch a determined bid for a top four place.
They also have the established talents of Mohammad Hafeez, Mehmood Sadiq, Ehtesham Chaudhry Mohammed, Mohammad Rafi, Gary Gravesande and Victor Grandia to call on, and having recruited former Pakistan Test batsman Mohammad Wasim from Sparta 1888 over the winter, they are a force to be reckoned with in both batting and bowling.
ACC, on the other hand, have had a poor start to the season, handicapped by visa delays which have deprived them of their South African players, Graeme van Buuren and François Le Clus. This throws greater responsibility than ever on their international allrounder Mudassar Bukhari, and onto the experienced shoulders of Zulfiqar Ahmed.
Help came from an unexpected quarter on Sunday, however, when Zulfiqar’s 15-year-old son Asad picked up four wickets in ACC”s first victory of the season at Kampong Utrecht. With the other Zulfiqar triplets, Sikander and Saqib, hitting an unbeaten 70 and taking four wickets respectively for ACC’s second team, cricket history will be made at the Loopveld on Thursday. Surely there can be no previous instance of three triplets and their father playing in the same team in a major domestic competition.
In the first round of Hoofdklasse matches, two of the likely candidates for promotion, HBS Den Haag and Voorburg, will be at home to Punjab Rotterdam and Sparta 1888 respectively. Rood en Wit Haarlem, relegated from the Topklasse last season, travel to Utrecht to take on Kampong, while Hoofdklasse debutants FC Amsterdam United (formerly Amstelland) will visit Bloemendaal.
This week’s Topklasse tips (as always, with a reduced degree of confidence!): HCC, Excelsior, Dosti, VRA.