The Hollywoodbets.net Crusaders’ jubilant triumph over Stellenbosch University in the 2015 National Club Championship final in Pretoria is a well-chronicled affair.
Chasing a tough 217-run target, the Crusaders slipped to 14-3 and then 30-6. The steely Sean Dixon, however, spearheaded the recovery that eventually produced a famous victory with a solitary wicket to spare.
Scorecards, statistics and other numerical accounts fail to relay the guts, determination and passion that got the humble Durbanites over the line on 27 April 2015, though. Dixon, aided by a couple of ambitious tail-enders, simply typified what the rest of the team characterised – perseverance, tenacity and courage – on that historic Freedom Day.
“A lot has been said about our attitude. I always try to foster a collective atmosphere, where the team is always bigger than the individual. We never had anyone who thought they were above the team. It was always about the unit,” captain Rob Clift tells SA Cricket magazine.
“We have managed to attract people to the club to enjoy the game. Club cricket isn’t something that is forced upon people. If you don’t have a love for the game, what is the point in spending another weekend away from your wife, girlfriend or family to play cricket? At the Crusaders, we’ve fostered this love for the game and it shows in our positive results on the field.”
Clift and company have been very successful throughout the past decade, winning the KwaZulu-Natal Cricket Union premier league for six consecutive years, and eight in the past 10. Associated with high-profile names like Shaun Pollock, David Miller and Kyle Abbott, who have all graduated through the Crusaders ranks, the Northwood-based club boasts its fair share of rising stars.
Unaccompanied by a full-time coach, lacking major sponsorships enjoyed by university teams, without the big guns of provincial or franchise calibre and the absence of a key fast bowler towards the business end of the Championship, the Crusaders transcended cricket’s challenges with the so-called ‘human element’ and their enviable team culture throughout.
“We don’t really have a coach, which is probably one of the unique things about us. We believe our players are big enough to stand up by themselves. We have a core leadership group, who we make all the decisions through. You don’t need to be coaching them technically, it’s more a managerial rapport that needs to be had with the players. The guys respond well to that,” says Clift.
“We had manager-esque guys like Dave Kerr and Duncan Miller, who took a week out of their lives and full-time jobs to assist us. Then a family-run business, HollywoodBets.net, came on board to help us out. Club chairman Andrew Bennison is also an amazing and selfless guy, a real club man.
“After Tshepo Moreki broke down with a side strain, Nick Hewer was pretty much our only strike bowler for the final. The pressure was on him, yet he managed to get [Player of the Tournament] Keegan Petersen and some of the other key players out. Riaan Minnie, Cameron Delport and Kyle Simmonds were also unsung heroes of the week.”
After several failed attempts, the Crusaders’ maiden Club Championship title has arrived as somewhat of a belated marvel, if not a veritable miracle. As the first community club to win the competition in more than 10 years, during their captain’s final season with the 1st XI, and with circumstance and conditions hellbent on affording Stellenbosch University victory, Clift’s men justified their collective name by crusading to triumph despite the adverse elements.
“Few people were there to experience what went on during the day of the final. It was a sunny day for the most part, but then the clouds started to roll in. Then the rain came, and the score had to be tailored because of the delay. Then it stopped but the wind picked up. When we needed about 20 runs to win, a massive rainbow appeared over our heads,” adds Clift.
“I turned to the guys and told them there was no way we were going to lose,’ recalls Clift. ‘Whether it was written in the stars or it was divine intervention, it was meant to be. I had never seen a rainbow across a cricket field like that. I am a big believer in fate. A few of the guys close to the club who are no longer with us were perhaps sitting and watching upstairs, insisting it was our time.”
This article first appeared in the August-September 2015 edition of SA Cricket magazine