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For UJ alumnus and former Proteas cricketer Neil McKenzie, sporting excellence is a way of life

With an illustrious career as part of both national and provincial teams behind him, Neil McKenzie has surely made his mark on South African cricket – not least as a part of the Record-breaking first wicket partnership of 415 runs with former Proteas captain Graeme Smith in 2008.​

cricket.jpgIt’s hardly surprising that McKenzie took to cricket early, given that he’s the son of former Transvaal cricketer, Kevin McKenzie. Neil lead his teams to victory during his school career, and followed in his father’s footsteps by earning himself a place on the provincial Transvaal team. His cricketing career blossomed, and in 1995 he led an under-19s side featuring Ashwell Prince, Makhaya Ntini and Mark Boucher on an English tour. Meanwhile, unlike many professional sportsmen, McKenzie was also applying himself in academia, earning his BCom in Sports Management from what was then RAU. Of course, cricket was never far from his mind – he even played for the university cricket team while he was studying.

After scoring his first centuries in both the Test and One Day International (ODI) formats, he soon cemented his place in the middle of the Proteas batting order. As his career evolved, he moved up to become an opening batsman. In 200​9, he retired from international cricket, although he continued to play for the Highveld Lions, his cricketing home for most of his domestic cricket career. Throughout his career, he was known for his eccentric superstitions, which included taping his bat to the ceiling the night before a game, a prank played on him by his teammates before a game and then repeated in hopes of conjuring the same luck. "Us cricketers, we can be funny people," he said. "We try and control the uncontrollable. In the game, things can be unpredictable so I tried to make them predictable."

Since his official retirement in January 2016, McKenzie has played in the Masters Champions League (MCL) in the United Arab Emirates, a league for retired cricketers. Not content with resting on his laurels, he has recently been appointed as batting coach for the upcoming ICC T20 Cricket World Cup held in India this year. "It's a tremendous honour to be aiding in the batting side of things," he says. "I'm really keen to get started working with all the professionals and to hopefully try and make a difference for South Africa."