Through 15 years of professional cricket for Easterns, Northerns, the Titans and the Dolphins, De Bruyn was famous for being a real scrapper, someone who made the absolute most of his talents.
A first-class record of 4637 runs at an average of 37, with a highest score of 202, and 108 wickets at an average of 29 only tells half the story because he was an even greater competitor in the limited-overs formats, and yet De Bruyn is happy to say “I wasn’t talented at all”.
“I managed to string together 15 years as a professional cricketer through complete hard work. I always tried to be one step ahead of the guy next to me through focus, discipline and enormous work ethic. I really wanted the tough situation,” he says.
De Bruyn retired in 2010, having left his beloved Titans to spend two seasons with the Dolphins, and is now a Level III coach. Having discovered how to make the most of his own talent, it is pleasing that the all-rounder is now teaching youngsters how to do the same.
The 36-year-old is the technical director and head coach at the University of Pretoria, a top-class outfit that is dominating South African club cricket.
“From what I’ve experienced as a player, I can teach the youngsters how to start and sustain a professional career, both of which are not that easy. I’m working with guys who have everything in terms of talent, but I can really teach them things in terms of mental preparation or how to build an innings. It helps having had a tough career myself,” De Bruyn says.
Going to the Tukkies nets opposite the famous High Performance Centre at the University of Pretoria, it is clear the cricket club is being run like a professional outfit.
Their focus is clearly on the future – “The pace of the game is moving so fast and you need to get there before anyone else,” De Bruyn says – but they haven’t lost sight of the traditions that all great teams have.
Going into the upstairs section of their clubhouse is like a walk down memory lane as former Tukkies greats are commemorated in photographs and on an honours board – names like Mike Macaulay, Syd Burke, Alan Jordaan, Hein Raath, Tertius Bosch, Anton Ferreira, Martin van Jaarsveld, Jacques Rudolph, New Zealand Test cricketers Neil Wagner and Kruger van Wyk, AB de Villiers, Marchant de Lange, Morne and Albie Morkel, Paul Harris, Faf du Plessis, CJ de Villiers and Zimbabwe’s Kyle Jarvis.
Tukkies have also been at the forefront of the women’s game in South Africa, producing current national captain Mignon du Preez and fellow internationals Melissa Smook, Yulandi van der Merwe, Lonell de Beer, Cindy Eksteen and Charlize van der Westhuizen.
“Tradition and history is part of our culture of success. We let the guys know about the traditions of the club; we’re 95 years old now and they must never forget who represented this club,” De Bruyn says.
The most obvious feature of their training sessions is intensity: De Bruyn works groups of two or three players hard in fielding drills while former Titans coach Chris van Noordwyk is very hands-on in the nets, giving tactical advice and lots of encouragement.
“We’ve definitely got a professional approach, I want to show these high-performance cricketers what a professional environment is like so that when they get the call-up to higher honours, like Francois le Clus, Graeme van Buuren and Theunis de Bruyn have this season, they are familiar with the standards and know what to expect. They don’t have to try and find their feet for the first two weeks, which can set you back badly,” De Bruyn says.
Being able to use the services of coaches like De Bruyn, Van Noordwyk and academy coach Aldin Smith – who have all played first-class cricket – is obviously one of the keys to Tukkies’ incredible recent record: They have won the Momentum National Club Championships for the last two seasons, unbeaten, triumphed in the Universities Sports South Africa Week in December, and have won the Northerns Premier League for the last four years, with an unbeaten run of 85 games.
But the considerable support of the university’s sports office and chief sponsor Assupol also plays a major part and the facilities at Tukkies are first-class. De Bruyn says R2.5 million has been spent on upgrading the nets and they will also have full use of the state-of-the-art new CSA Centre of Excellence opening this month.
The wealth and success of the club also guarantees the steady flow of promising cricketers, many of them the recipients of bursaries.
The Tukkies 2nd XI also play in the Northerns Premier League and are challenging for a place in the top three, showing the incredible depth present at the club.
The critics, however, say the club is greedy and causing an imbalance in the province by hogging all the best players.
“It’s tough. The elite squad is 25 players, which covers the 1st and 2nd XIs. We need that depth because this season alone we’ve lost seven players to the next level and we have to make sure we have replacements.
“It’s a fast-moving environment and it’s not like guys are stuck in the second team. They’re training and competing with first-class players day in and day out and the club is basically like a full-time high-performance programme for the Titans. It’s tough for the local clubs, but it’s the same in Port Elizabeth, Potchefstroom and Stellenbosch. It’s a massive positive for any union to have a strong university,” De Bruyn says.
Northerns Cricket Union president John Wright agrees that the Titans benefit from the excellence of Tukkies.
“The other clubs are under the impression that Tukkies get preferential treatment, but it’s not the case. They have top facilities, full-time coaches and the support of the university and a major sponsor, so they attract the top players. It’s just an unfortunate fact of life that these factors weigh against the other clubs, but it all benefits the Titans.
“They just have to be aware of the flip-side: If they take all the good players, then they might not have anybody to play against,” Wright says.