Embracing the Underdog: How Neil Brand’s Captaincy is Motivating a New-Look South Africa

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As South Africa prepare for Dean Elgar’s final Test, his replacement both as opening batter and captain was being called up on the morning of the first day of the Test in Cape Town. “It was the morning of the first day of the Test in Cape Town that Shuks (Shukri Conrad, Test coach) called me and said, “You are in the team and you are also going to be captain,” Neil Brand said in Johannesburg ahead of the squad’s departure to New Zealand. “Obviously going over to New Zealand, making your debut and captaining is quite interesting and probably quite rare. I am obviously delighted.” Brand is replacing Elgar, who retired after the Newlands Test. Instead, Brand, his opening partner at Titans in the domestic circuit, will lead a squad that includes eight uncapped players, in New Zealand and will have to front up against the new ball as well. “This tour has been spoken about a lot in the media. People have written us off but we are still wearing the Proteas badge. We are desperate to come back with something.” Inexperience aside, South Africa’s squad will also be facing New Zealand who have not lost a home Test series since March 2017. “There’s always pressure, but there’s also a lot of pride that comes with wearing this shirt. We don’t want to let our country down. We want to perform.” He pointed to the experience at the level in his group at domestic level as an example. “This team has 96 games per player as an average. That’s a lot of first-class cricket in the group,” he said. “There’s a lot of experience in terms of domestic cricket and that has to count for something. There’s not a lot of Test matches but you’ve still got to see it as a positive. I don’t think anyone has any baggage.” Also included in South Africa’s squad are seamer Dane Paterson and spinner Dane Piedt, who have played 271 first-class games and taken 990 wickets between them and Keegan Petersen, a 12-Test capped batter, who has played 130 first-class games and is 112 first-class runs away from 8000. “Playing at the (Centurion-based) Titans makes you tough, especially opening the batting,” he said. “Over the last few years batting with Dean, I have learnt how to constantly score runs in tough situations.” He has also consulted with Elgar on captaincy, but, with 18 matches under his belt as a first-class leader, wants to establish his own identity. “I am someone that will visualise and see how people are doing things. I have been in the Titans for five years now with some amazing captains and I am a very deep thinker about the game so I am always analysing their decision making.” Brand will aim to use this series to make a case for a permanent spot in the Test side. “Test cricket is the ultimate. South Africa are giving themselves over two weeks to acclimatise in New Zealand before the first Test on February 4.”

-Firdose Moonda

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