Excelsior march on, Hermes all but gone
Bertus de Jong
A win away at Punjab for Excelsior all-but seals the Topklasse title, whilst Schiedam rivals Hermes-DVS' loss to HBS means their relegation is as good as certain. Excelsior only dodged a coronation at het Zomercomplex thanks to VRA's comfortable home win over Dosti-United, which keeps the Amsterdammers notionally in contention for another round.
Similarly ACC's narrow loss to VOC means neither are quite safe, though ACC would need to lose three consecutive matches whilst Hermes would need to win all of theirs for the two to end on equal points, whilst VOC could now only be relegated in the case of a three-way tie. Meanwhile the round's final match - between Hague rivals Quick and HCC saw the latter take the points and pride home from Niuew Hanenburg.
Punjab briefly threatened to complicate Excelsior's route to the title somewhat when Awais Khan and Shoaib Minhaas, recovering from the early loss of Zakir Chaudhry, took the hosts into triple figures without further loss. After Lorenzo Ingram held on to a low return catch to dismiss Khan for 61 Minhaas pressed on with the middle order, setting Punjab up for a solid total at 167-3, but when he holed out to long on off Sohail Bhatti the innings went rapidly South. Punjab's last 7 wickets provided just 24 more runs as the hosts collapsed to 191 all out, Ingram finishing with 4-37.
Ingram would provide the backbone of the chase too, despite a shaky showing from the top order leaving Excelsior in some trouble at 92-4, Ingram's 73-run stand with Joost Kroesen for the 5th wicket put the defending champions back in control, and despite Ingram falling to a fine low catch from Haider Khan in the deep with the total at 165, Kroesen and David Woutersen saw them home with three overs to spare, Kroesen finishing unbeaten on 41.
The win means that with three matches to go Excelsior remain three wins clear of nearest rivals VRA , who kept their nominal hopes alive by seeing off Dosti-United at the Bos. Long-serving VRA skipper Peter Borren, after 166 matches and 99 wins in charge, elected to pass the torch ahead of the game. So it was new captain Emile van den Burg who won the toss and elected to bat first.
The hosts got off to a rough start when Mahesh Hans removed Ben Cooper and Vikram Singh early to reduce them to 15-2, and a two in two overs for Mohammad Hafeez first broke Borren and Eric Szwarczynski's fifty partnership and then removed the new skipper for a disappointing captain's innings of nil. Borren would go on to pass 900 runs for the season before falling to newcomer Daoud Ahmadzai for 84, but some good work from Quirijn Gunning and Fred Klaassen down the order saw them to a creditable 208-9 after 50.
The pair would start well in the Dosti innings too, each taking an early wicket to remove openers Rahil Ahmed and Vinoo Tewarie, and the visitor's middle order could not mirror their hosts' recovery. A spectacular one-handed grab from Cooper did for Hafeez and gave Adeel Raja the first of his five wickets, Klaassen held almost as good a catch off a Jeroen Mulder to remove Ahmadzai, some nostalgic legspin from the former skipper did for Vimal Tewarie and Raja mopped up the tail to see Dosti all out more than 100 runs short.
That margin will mean VRA are certain to end up ahead of Excelsior on net run rate should they wind up level on points, but still needing six matches out of six to go their way for that to happen.
The same equation in reverse holds for ACC's chances of relegation, as they missed the chance to secure their berth next season away at VOC. A maiden Topklasse ton for skipper Saqib Zulfiqar, with Mohammad Raza offering fine support with 49, saw the visitors to 247-8 from their 50 overs, but it would prove just shy of a winning score as the hosts chased it down with 2 balls to spare.
The VOC top four all contributed significantly, with Jelte Schoonheim and Chris Free's opening stand of 99 providing a solid platform, and though both fell within successive overs Caleb Jewell and Max O'Down continued where they left off, hitting 63 and 70 not out respectively, O'Dowd seeing his side home in the final over.
Fortunately for both sides Hermes were unable to capitalise, sliding to a 16-run defeat at home to HBS. Lokendra Bohra and Nick Statham combined to restrict the visitors to 200 exactly, the former taking 4-43 and the latter four catches and a stumping, Jaron Morgan again the stand-out with the bat for the crows - top-scoring with 64.
A welcome half-century from the mercurial Stephan Myburgh put the hosts in a strong position at 123-2 after just 20 overs, but when he fell for 65 and Statham followed one short of a half-century the innings fell apart in short order - Wessel Coster taking 4-27 as Hermes collapsed to 184 all out.
The round's final match saw HCC comprehensively best Quick Haag at Nieuw Hanenburg, Mark Jonkman and Reinier Bijloos taking 4-23 and 3-19 respectively as the hosts were bundled out for 107 inside of 33 overs.
Jonathan Vandiar got HCC's chase off to an explosive start, smashing 18 off the first over and reaching 37 before holing out off Brand in the 4th. By then HCC were already almost half-way there, and despite the hosts picking up four more wickets they never threatened to get back in the game, Hidde Overdijk's unbeaten 28 seeing HCC cross the line with only 55 overs played across both innings.
Remarkably that match was the only one of the round that can be described as a dead rubber from a purely arithmetic perspective, though from next week, one suspects they will increasingly become the norm.