This year’s Varsity Cricket final saw Tuks claim their fifth consecutive title, and captain Neil Brand led from the front as he took home the Player of the Tournament on top of Player of the Match for the second year running.
Neil Brand, Tuks captain and Titans player, competed in his second Varsity Cricket tournament last week and took home several Player of the Match awards before he walked away with the Player of the Tournament award too. Brand was one of the top scorers in the competition, scoring an immense 269 runs from 202 balls, and also picked up eleven wickets with his left-arm spin.
Tuks have now won four of the five Varsity Cricket tournaments since its inception in 2015 and Brand tells varsitysportssa.com that “winning the trophy again feels amazing”.
The 23-year-old Tourism Post Grad student also gave some insight into how the boys in blue went about defending the title, now that the tournament had been moved from January to its Spring-week time slot.
“The guys had been working hard since the sixth of May and luckily at Tuks we’ve had grass nets since June. It was different to last year because this year was about managing the expectation; as a group of senior players we knew deep down we had the strongest team so it was all about staying composed and not getting complacent. So, upon reflection, losing to Maties was the perfect kick up the backside for us and to be honest, we never really looked back.”
Issues with the lighting in the stadium during the final against UJ delayed the game by two hours, resulting in it being an eight-over game and Brand felt it made the result more unpredictable.
“The final itself was such an intense period, an eight over game levels the playing field completely and the game can change in the space of a ball, so once again the way we kept calm was probably we reason we won against an intense and frustrated UJ side. The feeling of winning trophies never gets old and the best part is the change room after the game when it starts to sink in.”
With regards to his personal performance, Brand – who will now focus on his debut season as a full-time franchise player with the Titans – was just happy to contribute in the big games.
“Starting with the first game against UJ it was nice to contribute in a must-win game against the ‘Orange Army’. Luckily the wickets assisted the spinners so to contribute was a must! And obviously being to contribute in the final stages of the tournament against Maties and then to be there in the final when my good mate Ruan de Swardt hit the winning runs is a moment I’ll never forget!”
Being captain adds pressure to any player, especially when there are game-changers like Steers Powerplay involved, and Brand said, “It’s always a goal of mine as a captain to make sure that the players know I back them 100%.”
In that regard, the Johannesburg-born but England educated Brand, had a quite a ‘highlights’ to pick from.
“My expectation for Sean Gilson was very high and I’m sure he has a big future. I told him before the tournament that he was our best spinner and to see how he backed himself after that was great to see.
“My favourite moment was in the final when Ruben Trumpelmann dismissed UJ’s two big guns [Joshua Richards and Delano Potgieter], we had our plans for them and we knew we could control the game if we got them early and it took us four balls to dismiss them both! So that plan coming together was awesome.”
Winning clearly comes easy for Brand, and when asked about his achievements in the tournament he said, “It’s very special to win Player of the Tournament, especially when the team wins. Obviously I would always rather win the trophy than be player of the tournament, but this is always a nice accolade to get and a great way to finish my last Varsity Cricket tournament for Tuks.”
By Bronwen Bain