While the Highveld Lions celebrate their Sunfoil Series success, they also bid farewell to one of their most loyal servants, as Neil McKenzie calls time on his first-class career.
The Lions celebrated their first four-day title in 15 years as they secured a record points haul in the competition with an emphatic victory over the Warriors on the weekend. It was McKenzie’s first ever title, and not only did he sign off with an unbeaten double century in his final innings, he took the catch that sealed the victory too.
The 39-year-old is done with the longer format which also signals the end of a five-year stint with Hampshire, but he will continue to play in the shorter formats with the Johannesburg-based side.
‘He’s had a great career – he’s a legend of the game and a good man,’ said Lions coach Geoffrey Toyana. ‘I’m lost for words because I’ve got a lump in my throat to be honest.’
In a first-class career spanning 20 years, McKenzie played 280 matches, scoring 19 041 runs at an average just shy of 45. He dipped in and out of the Test side over a number of years, but he enjoyed plenty of success. 2008 was arguably his best year as he was involved in a world record opening partnership of 415 with Graeme Smith against Bangladesh. His 138 against England at Lord’s later that year was regarded as a match-saving one and he was one of 12 batsmen to pass 1 000 Test runs in the calendar year. His heroics against the English earned him the prestigious Wisden Cricketer of the Year award in 2009.
His highlight with English outfit Hampshire came in 2011, when he amassed 523 with Michael Carberry against Yorkshire. It remains Hampshire’s highest, and the highest ever third-wicket stand in county cricket. The 237 that he scored in it is his best first-class score.
McKenzie finished seventh in the run-getting charts in the Sunfoil Series this season. He will hope to pile on the runs in the shorter games for his side next season.
‘He has been a vital part of the top order for years now and his experience has always helped us a lot,’ said Toyana.
‘If you want to be a champion, you’re not just a champion for one season – it’s something that’s done time and time and time again,’ he continued as the Lions will hope to build on their Sunfoil crown. McKenzie won’t get that opportunity, but he’s left the four-day side in good hands to go on and achieve exactly that.