Topklasse semi-finals promise two hard-fought games
Weather permitting. Saturday’s Topklasse semi-finals promise to produce two outstanding matches between remarkably well-matched teams.
Competition leaders ACC go into their meeting with Dosti Amsterdam at Het Loopveld West knowing that victory would put them just one match away from their first national title since 1954, with home advantage again in the final on 8 September.
For Dosti, playing in the top flight for the first time since the formation of the new club from the merger of Gandhi and Bijlmer in 2006, reaching the play-offs is a notable achievement in itself, but their second position in the table is a fair reflection of the way in which they have developed over the season into an effective unit.
Both sides have overseas players of proven match-winning potential – Graeme van Buuren and François Le Clus in the case of ACC, David Wiese and Amit Uniyal for Dosti – but the outcome of this match may well depend on the way in which the sides’ locally-based players are able to rise to the challenge.
ACC’s veteran allrounder Zulfiqar Ahmed brings vast experience to the side, and in current Dutch international Mudassar Bukhari they have another player who is capable of turning a game with both bat and ball. Bas van der Heijde and Steven de Bruin have the ability to play crucial innings, while captain Mohsin Ghaznavi and Zishan Akram form a seam attack with Bukhari which is well suited to conditions at the Loopveld.
Wiese and Uniyal lead a Dosti seam attack which also includes Vimal Tewarie and a rejuvenated Victor Grandia, and in Mohammad Hafeez they have an experienced and wily spinner who adds another dimension to the attack. The batting took time to settle down, but Mohammad Wasim, Mehmood Sadiq and Hafeez are all batsmen of proven quality, and Rahil Ahmed had demonstrated once or twice this season that he is a young player of real potential.
VRA and Excelsior started the season as strongly-fancied sides, and their third and fourth places in the table reflect the fact that neither has quite lived up to that promise, especially in the batting. But both are good enough to pull off the trick of winning three games in a row to claim the title.
VRA, of course, have suffered the loss of three key players in Tom Cooper, Amol Prasad and coach Barry Rhodes, but with a phalanx of current or recent internationals such as Peter Borren, Wesley Barresi, Eric Szwarczynski, Atse Buurman and Berend Westdijk they remain formidable opponents. They were adversely affected last week by a back injury to Borren, and it will be a blow to their prospects if he is unable to play this week.
Barresi has been in outstanding form with the bat, though, and if Szwarczynski, Matthijs Luten, Vinoo Tewarie, Buurman, and youngster Victor Lubbers are able to give him greater support, VRA are capable of posting a substantial total. And then there’s Greek international George Toulantas, who played an important part with both bat and ball last week.
One of the most encouraging features of the present VRA side is its reliance on three young spinners, Tewarie, Lubbers and Leon Turmaine, and they could be a key weapon in this match.
But Excelsior look much stronger for the return of hard-hitting opener Stephan Myburgh from injury, and with Daan van Bunge and Fred Klokker at the heart of the batting line-up and two effective overseas allrounders in Rudi Hillermann and Brett Hampton they, too, could go all the way to the championship.
Like VRA, their batting has not always lived up to its potential this season, and even a century by Hillermann was insufficient to see them to victory over Hermes-DVS last Saturday. To be fair, they were facing one of the biggest totals of the Topklasse campaign, and they will be hoping that Hampton and Hillermann, backed up by international Tom Heggelman and Haider Khan, will be able to restrict VRA to a more manageable score.
With VOC Rotterdam almost certain to be relegated, the remaining matches in the bottom half of the table are robbed of a great deal of significance, but for HCC and Hermes-DVS, who meet at De Diepput on Saturday, the central issue is who will eventually finish in fifth place.
For VOC, by contrast, the ambition will no doubt be to repeat their victory over Quick Haag at Nieuw Hanenburg a fortnight ago, and to do so by continuing to give more responsibility to their younger players in whose hands an eventual return to the Topklasse will largely lie. It would present them with the slim possibility of what would be a miraculous last-minute reprieve.
This week’s tips (other than four No results): ACC, Hermes-DVS, VRA, Quick Haag.