A successful tour to Bloemfontein has put the Nelson Mandela University cricket team in a good frame of mind as they look ahead to the University Sport South Africa tournament in Pretoria next week.
Due to the countrywide Fees Must Fall campaign and the subsequent shifting of examination schedules over the past two years, this annual competition has not been held since 2014.
The switch to the beginning of the season from its traditional December slot has meant an early start for the Madibaz cricketers. But, even though they have played no league cricket, they have put in some good preparation, including eight competitive matches.
“It definitely doesn’t seem like pre-season anymore,” said Madibaz captain Lloyd Brown. “We have just come back from a trip to play Kovsies (Free State University) where we had some useful games.
“It was nice to play in Bloem as the pitches were similar to what we will face in Pretoria and very different to our coastal conditions. The guys adapted nicely and we had two good wins over Kovsies so that was a big plus to get some exposure to those conditions.”
With the tournament having been on the backburner for a few years, Brown said there was an air of excitement in the squad at competing at this level again.
“There are quite a few guys who have been at varsity for a while, but have not yet been to an USSA week, so this will be a new experience for them,” he said.
“In addition, Madibaz missed out on the national club champs this year so we’ve been deprived of competitive 50-overs cricket. We are looking forward to this opportunity because traditionally we have done well at the format.”
Brown added, however, that he knew they would be in for a tough week, with the pressure on from the start when the matches got under way on Monday.
“The format is really tough because you have four in a pool (there are two pools) and we will have to hit the ground running.
“To reach the semifinals, we will have to win at least two of the three matches and we have some hard games against Kovsies, University of the Western Cape and Stellenbosch.”
With the introduction of Varsity Cricket, Brown said a lot of emphasis had been placed on the sport at university level and that the pool of favourites had grown much bigger.
“Nowadays you are getting at least five or six varsities who are very strong and with this format it will boil down to who plays best on the day.”
He said their strategy would be to try to dominate with the bat, while they also had a strong seam attack, led by players such as Jason Davidson, Lutho Sipamla and Solo Nqweni.
“Previously we have been stronger in the spinning department, but this year the emphasis is on our seamers and we will aim to take control up front with the new ball.”