Monday, 6 September 2010

Thanks, Mac

The title says it all to be honest. After more comebacks than Jesus or Michael Jackson, playing in matches on dates we all thought he'd be in SA for, the curtain finally comes down on Neil McKenzie's season with Hampshire, and in short it has been a pleasure. A pleasure to watch a world class player form part of the backbone for a team wracked by injuries. To slot into Hampshire Cricket life just like that, taking on plenty of responsibilities, including two captaincy stints (one unexpected), securing the middle order and playing a key role as a senior player in a very young 20/20 team. After the retirement of Crawley we were desperately in need of a proven run getter and Bransgrove and White made that happen by convincing McKenzie to join as a kolpak. It was quite a coup and despite greyblazer's dislike of his technique McKenzie brought some of the batting that saw him earn a recall to the test squad a few years ago. He started slowly but quickly found his stride, hitting his first CC century in Hampshire's first win, teaming up with Herath to chase down a very tough total with little time to spare. He was in and out of the 20/20 side before forming a rock in that side too, striking 50s against Gloucs, Somerset, Sussex (crucially, to see us into the knockout phase) and Somerset again, in the Final in which he was deservedly man of the match. It was a fitting reward, as he provided something that had been missing from the side in years previous. We boasted and still boast plenty of quick scoring stroke makers, the likes of Lumb, Ervine, Benham, Mascarenhas etc. However what we lacked was a focus in the top order. Yes 20/20 is all about runs scored as quickly as possible, but there is still a place for a batsman to tick along at a strike rate of 120, provided that others build around him. McKenzie provided that, the unflappable middle order man who was just as happy chasing as he was setting a total. In short we would never have won the 20/20 without McKenzie.

But it's not just about the stats with McKenzie. He has been a visibly positive influence on the younger players that form such an important part of the Hampshire team. Standing at second slip McKenzie had all number of opportunities to impart knowledge onto Vince and Bates stood at first slip and wicketkeeper. And not just cricket knowledge either, as noted in the Lancs home blog, the golf swing received a thorough breakdown from McKenzie between deliveries. I suppose what has impressed me above all is the way that he has integrated himself into the squad, in doing so becoming one of the most popular members of the squad. Pre match football warm up would always include McKenzie either entering into a fake argument with Cork (with whom he got on particularly well with), pulling off a wonder save in goal, charging up and down the field or just anything that would raise both laughs and spirits. Not once did he give off a look of "I've played Test cricket", as can happen with some overseas or high profile kolpak players. I guess this reflects both upon his personality and his professionalism. He was offered a job and so as a professional cricketer he intended to carry out that job to the very best of his abilities. In a way that encapsulates the man. Mind you you have to get down and do the hard yards when due to match injuries you are tasked with batting out a day to save a match with just seven other fit players under your assumed command, one of whom having taken a ball to the face.

That's the sort of character White wanted from his signing, and he got repaid handsomely and some. Thankfully McKenzie's job has not ended here, as announced earlier in the day was the news that he would in fact be returning next season to carry out the same role as middle order pillar, run machine, mentor and leader. It will of course dampen the rumour of Hildreth coming to The Rose Bowl, but in truth another year of McKenzie, guaranteed, pretty much signed, ink dried, keep the kit and the car, is all we could have wished for. To say that I'm chuffed with the news would be a huge, huge understatement.

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