VRA took a clean sweep against wooden spoon-rivals VOC in their three encounters last season, but whilst the Rotterdammers have strengthened appreciably over the winter, VRA are still suffering from the injury troubles that put them in the running for relegation in 2016. Whilst VRA have the batting firepower to run up a big total, the lack of Leon Turmaine and Fred Klaassen leaves their bowling looking rather one-dimensional. With both Pieter Seelaar and Ahsan Malik making strong starts to the season, and Caleb Jewell and Max O'Dowd bolstering the batting, the hosts look clear favourites on Saturday.
VOC have beaten VRA at home only once in their past six encounters, and they faltered a little on their way to a first-up victory over Hermes last week. But it will take a massive effort by the Amsterdam side if they are to claim their first points of the season at Hazelaarweg. Peter Borren and Eric Szwarczynski are always capable of playing match-winning innings, of course, and young spearhead Haseeb Gul Mian made a promising start against Excelsior.
Quick Haag vs Hermes-DVS Schiedam (Sportpark Harga)
Both teams will be looking to turn around disappointing starts to the season, Quick especially will have been rattled by a surprise loss away at Punjab last week. Hermes will have home advantage owing to ground availability issues at Nieuw Hanenburg, but though Harga has acted as something of a leveller for them in the past, their performance last week against VOC suggests they still suffer from an over-reliance on Stephan Myburgh with the bat. Any complacency will surely have been drummed out of what remains a strong Quick line-up, and they'll be heading to Harga with the odds in their favour.
That final-over defeat by Punjab may prove to have been a blip on Quick’s horizon, and the essential strength of their squad is likely to assert itself sooner rather than later. Jean Bredenkamp bowled impressively last week, and with a bit more support from the rest of the seam attack and from the spinners Quick will cause opposing batsmen plenty of problems. Myburgh apart, there are doubts about Hermes’ capacity to post substantial totals, and it will some as an ever bigger surprise than last Saturday’s if the Schiedammers come out on top.
HCC vs Punjab Rotterdam (De Diepput)
Likewise Quick's Hague rivals HCC will look to avoid making the mistake of underestimating Punjab, who will still have plenty to prove when they head to de Diepput. It took an astonishing display with the bat from HBS to see HCC off last week, but Punjab will likely have to do a better job of containing HCC's in-form top order. It will be a tough ask for the Rotterdammers’ spin-heavy attack though on a ground that has not traditionally been kind to slow bowlers.
This is one game this week where I beg to differ from m’ learned colleague. It was not only the individual skills of Punjab’s players that impressed against Quick, but the spirit they showed when their opponents seemed to be cruising to victory. Young Spanish international Yasir Ali is an acquisition, and with Khurram Shahzad coming into the side this week, they will be strong opposition for an HCC side that was unable to defend a 300-plus total against HBS.
ACC vs HBS Den Haag (Het Loopveld West)
HBS have certainly made quite the dramatic return to top-flight cricket, their breakneck chase on Saturday underscoring the explosive qualities of their top-order, though questions remain about the bowling unit's ability to readjust to Topklasse level. Whether ACC's youngsters have the firepower to take advantage is a different question, but the Amsterdammers’ biggest worry is the continued absence of their as-yet-unannounced keeper-coach, who is still awaiting a visa. As well as leaving something of a gap in the batting, ACC's keeping troubles cost them some 18 runs against Dosti last week, and they'll likely be relying on a non-specialist gloveman this round.
Circumstances have dealt new ACC skipper Saqib Zulfiqar a tough hand at the start of the season, and they face an HBS side riding high after their remarkable win against HCC last week. But it’s a far cry from Craeyenhout to Het Loopveld West, and the home side have the experience of Usman Malik and Saqib’s father Ahmed to draw on as well as the undoubted talent of his brother Sikander. This is a hard game to predict, but I think home advantage may just tip it in ACC’s favour.
Excelsior ’20 Schiedam vs Dosti Amsterdam (Thurlede)
A re-run of last year’s final is Excelsior's first home game, one safe prediction is that it's sure to be good day out. Gezelligheid aside, the hosts look slight favourites this time round too. Dosti are not as reliant on overseas stars as in years past, but are nonetheless rueing the departure of former skipper Colin Ackermann in terms of bat and ball, and Excelsior's youngsters have a couple of seasons’ experience under their belts – in contrast to the comparatively callow ACC side that Dosti saw off comfortably last week.
This, too, is likely to be a hard-fought match, but a settled Excelsior side should have the edge over a Dosti outfit which needs to adjust to its new composition. Taruwar Kohli did enough last week to suggest he will be a force this season, and when Rusty Theron joins him the Amsterdammers will look a lot more powerful. The return of Victor Grandia sharpens the attack, but it nevertheless seems probable that the champions will have too many guns for their visitors and consolidate their position in the leading group.
[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:
VOC, Quick, HCC, HBS, Excelsior.
Rod Lyall’s predictions:
VOC, Quick, Punjab, ACC, Excelsior.