Though we’ve learned not to put too much stock in home advantage in the Topklasse in general and at the Bos in particular, second-placed VRA nevertheless head into this match as favourites. Punjab have made clear they want to finish as high as possible on the table even if the title has been beyond their reach for a while, but they head into the match on a losing streak and missing key personnel, overseas pros Ali, Shahzad and Minhas all having departed. VRA won’t be quite at full strength either – with keeper Mitch Lees missing the game and, still more worryingly, former skipper Peter Borren in doubt owing to a hand injury picked up in Ireland – but the Topklasse newcomers nonetheless head to the Bos as underdogs.
The word from your Malahide correspondent is that Borren intends to play, and from the way he batted on Friday his hand injury won’t impede him too much, at least when VRA are batting. It was with the ball that he did the damage when these sides met at ‘t Zomercomplex, but with Klaassen and Gunning to take the new ball and spinner Pragam Rathore also among the wickets, new skipper Emile van den Burg will have plenty of resources at his disposal. Even without their key players Punjab can’t be written off, but as m’colleague says, VRA will undoubtedly start as favourites.
Excelsior ’20 Schiedam vs Hermes-DVS Schiedam (Thurlede)
Assuming VRA do indeed hold off Punjab, it will be up to Tom Heggelman’s men to secure the title on the field when they take on Hermes in what looks likely to be the last Schiedam Derby for a while. Hermes are beyond hope of survival in the Topklasse now, but do tend to save some of their best performances for their visits to Thurlede. With Stephan Myburgh looking in belligerent if inconsistent form and Dan ter Braak coming off a solid series of innings there’s certainly a chance the sky blues may spoil the party as HCC did last week, conceivably setting up a thrilling finish to the season in a week’s time in defiance of all odds. On balance though, probably too much to hope for.
It’s hard to believe that Excelsior will turn in a performance as lacklustre as they did against HCC, especially against their traditional Schiedam rivals. But Hermes, on the other hand, have nothing left to lose which, as Janis Joplin told us, is another name for freedom. All cricket lovers will hope that this enables them to play as they are capable of playing and making this last Schiedam Derby until at least 2019 worthy of the occasion and a suitable climax to the season. Excelsior fans, however, will be hoping that it really is the climax, and that they don’t have to postpone their celebrations for another week. Sanity says they may well get their wish.
VOC Rotterdam vs HBS Den Haag (Hazelaarweg)
The first of three dead rubbers this weekend, but nonetheless an interesting match-up. With VOC showing some belated fight after a dismal season and HBS rather on the slide after a promising start, the momentum is with the hosts. Max O’Dowd has been in cracking form in the longer format, with centuries in the 3-dayer and against Ireland under his belt, and Umar Baker turning in a quite remarkable showing last week to take six wickets against Dosti. It’s an open question what sort of side VOC will put out however, and it was a remarkably experimental line up-that took the field at Drieburg last week. HBS remains reliant on big runs from their dangerous top order, though the chances of all three of Visée, Rutgers and Morgan failing again is probably too much for the Rotterdammers to hope for.
As clubs begin to look towards next season the hazardous task of Topklasse prediction becomes ever more difficult, but short of the discovery of an unheralded new talent it’s the established players who will still determine the outcome. At least on paper, this game features two of the competition’s more imposing top orders, even if VOC’s has really only just started to get going and that of HBS has been in less commanding form in recent weeks. It’s HBS that has the superior seam attack, but their lack of a frontline spinner evens things up somewhat. A difficult one to pick, but I’m joining m’colleague in going for the Kraaien.
Quick Haag vs Dosti United Amsterdam (Nieuw Hanenburg)
Another dead rubber, with the task of prognostication complicated by uncertain selections. Quick took the field with ten men against ACC last week - Asief Hosienbaks having quit the club owing to a difference of opinion with skipper Jeroen Brand - whilst Dosti were without their departed coaches Dry and Kohli, as well as replacement coach Diwan. Quick probably have the greater strength in depth of the two however, and will likely start the game as favourites.
Not only were Quick a man short last week, but they were without iconic veteran Henk Mol. He still makes a considerable difference with both bat and ball, but it’s true that man for man Quick have more to offer than a seriously-depleted Dosti, although with their second team still battling for promotion to the Hoofdklasse they may be reluctant to deplete that side in the interests of winning a match on which so little is riding. Their visitors’ lack of talented youngsters should be a matter of concern to all, but the established figures in the team will need to be at their best if they are to take the points back to Amsterdam.
HCC vs ACC (De Diepput)
Having so inconsiderately spoiled the party for Excelsior last week, HCC will fancy their chances against a slightly understrength ACC at De Diepput too. Jonathan Vandiar’s extended stay shifts the odds rather in their favour, and with Sikander Zulfiqar still sidelined the limitations of ACC’s bowling attack are further compounded. But though skipper Saqib had a tough introduction to international cricket his Topklasse record this season remains impressive, and ACC’s youngsters have generally given a decent account of themselves so far this season. Far from a foregone conclusion then this, but I’d say the odds favour the hosts.
On 1044 runs, Jonathan Vandiar has potentially two more chances to climb the Runs in a Season list, and while Nathan Astle’s all-time record of 1257 – set in 1994, back in the days of 55-over matches and a 12-team competition – is probably beyond him, it would be a bold prophet who bet against his beating it. HCC were genuinely impressive last week, and under Vandiar’s guidance they clearly see every match as a serious challenge, whatever the state of the competition may be. Which is how it should be; even dead rubbers are there for the winning. Boris Gorlee will be back this week, no doubt, while even though ACC’s Saqib Zulfiqar was another casualty of the Ireland match (struck a painful blow on the hand by Boyd Rankin) he will almost certainly lead his side, who could still just about squeeze into the top half of the table. So I’m afraid your Topklasse prophets are again in 100% agreement.
[Note: These tables show the results of this fixture over the past ten seasons. ‘W’ means a win for the home side, ‘L’ a defeat, ‘T’ a tie, ‘N’ no result. Matches played on the opponent’s ground or a neutral venue are shown in square brackets.]
Bertus de Jong’s predictions:
VRA, Excelsior, HBS, Quick, HCC
Rod Lyall’s predictions:
VRA, Excelsior, HBS, Quick, HCC.