Bloemendaal surprise contenders for Topklasse spot
With the top Dutch domestic competitions reaching their halfway point a clearer picture is beginning to emerge of who the leading contenders for promotion are likely to be.
In the Hoofdklasse, where a place in next season’s Topklasse is at stake, a three-way battle is taking shape although Rood en Wit Haarlem, relegated from the top flight last year, could perhaps make a challenge of their own if they can string together a strong winning sequence.
It seems most probable, however, that it will be current leaders Bloemendaal, HBS Den Haag and Voorburg who will be fighting it out in the first half of August, with this Sunday’s clash between HBS and Bloemendaal at Donkerelaan one of the most significant matches of the second round.
Bloemendaal would have been top of few people’s list of promotion candidates at the start of the season, but they have proved to be a well-balanced side, with player-coach Douglas Hewitt having made 381 runs at an average of 95.25 and former international leg-spinner Mangesh Panchal among the top wicket-takers with 15 at 11.27, and they now have a real chance of returning to the top division for the first time since 1990.
Their overseas contingent also includes batsman Matt Dance and allrounder Tim McCormick, while the attack has been strengthened this year by the arrival of Masood Khan from Rood en Wit.
Whether they will have the staying power to withstand the challenge from their closest rivals, however, remains a real question.
In Grant Elliott, Shane Deitz and player-coach Brad Barnes HBS have had three overseas players of genuine quality, and it is not surprising that in addition to their position near the top of the Hoofdklasse table they came very close to claiming a place in the semi-finals of the E.on Twenty20 Cup.
Sjoerd Weurman and Rasool Abed, moreover, are seamers with a wealth of experience at the top domestic level, but the batting lacks depth, and they will need more consistency from players like Dennis Coster and Ollie de Geus if they are to return to the top flight next season.
As the only side to have beaten Bloemendaal in the first round Voorburg can go into the second half of the season with a degree of confidence, but in a tight battle their 13-run defeat at the hands of Rood en Wit back in May could cost them dear.
Bronson Meehan and Steve Marillier have been in good form with the bat, though, and Tim de Leede proved last week, with both runs and wickets, that he can still, at the age of 44, be a force to be reckoned with. But Voorburg, too, will be looking for a more regular contribution from young home-grown players like Vivian Kingma if their hopes of promotion are not to be disappointed.
In a competition where the role of the overseas players is even more dominant than in the Topklasse, Rood en Wit’s Peter Fulton has been outstanding, with 557 runs so far at 111.40. Defeats by Bloemendaal and HBS put them at a disadvantage, but the heaviest blow was their loss to Punjab Rotterdam, which if it did not put them out of the running certainly made their task a great deal more difficult.
The Haarlem side will therefore start the second round at a distinct disadvantage, having played a game more than Bloemendaal and Voorburg and two points behind the leaders.
At the other end of the table FC Amsterdam United, still without a win, seem destined for a quick return to the Eerste Klasse, having been promoted just before the start of the season as a result of HCC’s decision to let their second team drop down a division.
HCC 2 are now one of the sides in contention to replace them, although their reliance on player-coach Rasheed Lewis with both bat and ball might cause one to ask whether they are yet ready to return to the Hoofdklasse.
Their main rivals in what is developing into a four-way promotion battle are United Haarlem, level with them on points and having played a game fewer, and VVV Amsterdam and Quick Haag 2, who are both one point behind.
United’s tie with HCC 2 on 27 May was one of the highlights of the season so far, but defeats by Quick Haag and Hermes-DVS Schiedam 2 – the latter in a rain-affected match – indicate that they are far from invulnerable. Having gained openers Sharukh Akhtar and Rifaiz Bakas and allrounder Usman Malik over the winter, however, United are a powerful unit, and it would not come as a surprise if they were to make it into the Hoofdklasse next season.