Punjab Rotterdam’s bowlers clinch Topklasse title

Punjab Rotterdam claimed their first Dutch Topklasse in their 30-year history at the Zomercomplex on Sunday, and it was entirely appropriate that it should be their bowlers, who have worked so tirelessly all season, who had the last word.

Bowled out for 157 after being put in to bat by Voorburg captain Bas de Leede, Punjab’s attack produced another disciplined, determined performance to dismiss their opponents for 102 and set the seal on a campaign in which they had previously bowled sides out for under 150 on no fewer than nine occasions.

Even so, the wind appeared to be in Voorburg’s sails after their own attack, chock-full of internationals, had restricted the powerful Punjab batting line-up to such a meagre total.

Punjab Rotterdam have justly developed a reputation for brutal hitting on their bijou Zomercomplex ground in the Topklasse: their batters had smacked a total of 67 sixes there in the season so far at better than one every two overs but on Sunday they managed only two and, more important, openers Steph Myburgh and Rehmat Zulfiqar, both fell trying to add to that total.

Myburgh had contributed a typically aggressive 20-ball 24, but it was the more conventional techniques of Asad Zulfiqar (30) and his brother Saqib (22) which enabled Punjab to reach 93 for two at the 25-over mark.

With the Zulfiqars starting to play their shots a total in excess of 200 seemed on the cards, but then Philippe Boissevain, who had had trouble finding a length, trapped Saqib in front, and when De Leede removed Asad the same way in the following over Punjab, without the injured Teja Nidamanuru, needed some serious reconstruction work from the middle order.

But neither Sikander Zulfiqar, batting hero of Punjab’s semi-final victory over the same opponents the previous Sunday, nor Irfan ul Haq stayed long as Logan van Beek and De Leede pressed home Voorburg’s advantage, the last six wickets fell for just 32 runs.

The wickets were deservedly shared: Kingma’s two for 14 from eight overs and Van Beek’s two for 26 from ten were just reward for some genuinely hostile bowling, while Aryan Dutt with one for 29 maintained the pressure well.

Punjab Rotterdam needed to make early inroads into Voorburg’s line-up, and Sohail Bhatti duly obliged by getting Tom de Grooth caught behind by Asad Zulfiqar in the second over of their reply.

It was once again skipper Suleiman Tariq, however, who set the tone, bowling his ten overs unchanged and claiming the crucial wickets of De Leede, brilliantly caught by Saqib Zulfiqar at slip, and Sybrand Engelbrecht, who had made 59 and 103 not out in his last two innings and who now fell to an equally fine catch by Mohsin Bajwa in the gully.

Bowling three consecutive maidens in the power play, Tariq denied the Voorburg innings any real momentum, and although Dutt and Van Beek put on 33 for the fifth wicket, Sikander Zulfiqar then took a hand with the ball, claiming four for 10 in three overs to run through the lower middle order and end any chance of a Voorburg recovery.

Dutt remained to the end, hitting Saqib for a defiant six, but he was eventually caught behind off the leg-spinner, and the innings finished 55 runs short.

Low-scoring matches are often the most absorbing, and this one, dominated by two contrasting but equally outstanding attacks, was no exception. It was, moreover, a complete vindication of the KNCB’s decision to bring back play-offs as a climax to the Topklasse season.

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