With a declared ambition to raise the profile of its T20 Cup, the KNCB has devised an intricate schedule for the new-look Topklasse T20 competition, combining single matches with double-headers and some tri-series in order to fit a full round-robin into a six-week window between 3 June and 8 July.
In previous seasons Topklasse and Hoofdklasse clubs have played against each other in first-phase groups, most recently also including representation from the Eerste Klasse (actually the third division, despite its name), but this year there will for the first time be separate competitions for each division, with promotion and relegation operating independently of the 50-over leagues.
This could mean that over time clubs will be playing in different divisions in the two formats, giving some the opportunity to concentrate on gaining a higher ranking in a preferred format.
The 2023 T20 Cup will feature five tri-series events, two of them on the opening day on 3 June, when HCC will host Salland Deventer and Excelsior ’20 Schiedam at De Diepput and HBS will welcome VRA Amsterdam and Punjab Rotterdam to Craeyenhout.
On the same day, holders VOC will begin their defence of the title at home to Voorburg, while Sparta 1888 will take on ACC at the Bermweg.
The following Saturday Voorburg will host a tri-series against HCC and Sparta at Westvliet, and on 17 June VRA will be at home to Excelsior and Voorburg in the Amsterdamse Bos.
The final tri-series will be at Rotterdam’s Zomercomplex on 24 June, when Punjab will play host to Salland and Excelsior.
This elegant solution means that most clubs will play four home games, four away and one on neutral territory.
The new set-up means that there will be no quarter-finals, with the semi-finals and final taking place on Saturday, 15 July.
No such intricacies are required for the 50-over Topklasse, which will comprise a single round robin played between 22 April and 29 May, followed by a five-round play-off among the top six teams and a double round robin of six matches between the bottom four; in contrast with last season, all points from the first phase will be taken through to the second.
The top four sides will then play off for a place in the grand final on 26 August, with the teams in first and second after the 14 league matches again having a double opportunity to reach that game.
The competition will get off to a cracking start with a replay of last year’s final between the champions HCC and Voorburg at Westvliet, the scene of the Lions’ 12-run victory over their hosts, who fell at the final hurdle after topping the table throughout the season.
Also on the opening day, there is a Rotterdam derby between Punjab and VOC at ‘t Zomercomplex, while Amsterdam sides VRA and ACC will be at home to Salland and HBS respectively; the final game will see Sparta 1888 take on Excelsior at the Bermweg.
The domestic season will be less disrupted through international commitments than it might otherwise have been, since the national side is spared having to qualify for next year’s T20 World Cup by virtue of finishing in the top six of the 2022 event in Australia.
The national squad will, however, be away for much of the T20 Cup round robin phase, which clashes with the qualifying tournament for the 50-over World Cup, scheduled for 9 June to 7 July in Zimbabwe.
In the likely absence of most of the national side’s county-contracted players the squad for Zimbabwe seems certain to have a strong home-based contingent, which could mean that some clubs will pay a stiff penalty for having several Dutch players in their side.
The up-side of the programme, however, is that there is likely to be little or no interference with availability for the 50-over Topklasse.
Not all clubs have yet announced their signings of overseas players for the new season, but we already know that there will be a fair sprinkling of new faces.
Excelsior ’20, for example, have signed up young Western Australian Michael Hart, while Sparta will welcome two 22-year-old New Zealanders from Central Districts to their squad: allrounder Will Clark has played ten games for the provincial side across all formats, and Sam Ferguson is, like Clark, an Under-19 international. Sparta have also gained the services of Joost Kroesen, who has transferred from Excelsior.
HBS and Voorburg have maintained their connection with South Africa, with the Craeyenhout club announcing that Nic Adendorff, another youngster, will replace Gavin Kaplan as their coach; Kyle Klein, younger brother of Dutch international Ryan, will return to HBS, with Wesley Barresi taking over from Ferdi Vink as captain.
Voorburg, it seems, may be without Bas de Leede, if the rumours of his signing for an English county prove correct, but they will add Western Province youth player (and Dutch passport holder) Michael Levitt to their squad, as well as tall paceman Mees van Vliet, who will come to Westvliet from ACC.
Defending champions HCC will again field Dutch international Tim Pringle, but they will be without last year’s overseas player Zac Woerden, left-arm seamer Reinier Bijloos (who retired at the end of last season, wicketkeeper Yash Patel and Damien Crowley; they have, however, signed up wicketkeeper Ratha Alphonse from Kampong Utrecht.
Perhaps the largest gap of all will be at VRA, whose long-serving captain and club icon, former Dutch skipper Peter Borren, has returned to New Zealand after twenty years with the club; his shoes will be tough to fill, but he leaves behind him a squad of talented young players who have greatly benefited from his mentorship.
Eleven weeks out from the first matches, the 2023 Dutch domestic season already looks as if it will be one to savour.
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