Cricket South Africa (CSA) has relaxed its fitness protocols which played a role in the international retirements of Proteas’ women stalwarts Lizelle Lee and Dané van Niekerk last season.
While the regulations are still the same, players will not be automatically barred from playing if they fail either the two-kilometre running test or the skinfold test. Instead, it is up to the head coach to make the final decision to select a player or not.
CSA’s fitness guidelines stipulate that male players have to run two kilometres in under 8.30 minutes and have an overall skinfold count of 85mm or less, while women have to complete the same distance in under 9.30 minutes with skinfolds at 100mm or less.
“It is in the coaches’ hands. We’re just sort of simplifying the process,” CSA Director of Cricket, Enoch Nkwe told Daily Maverick.
“It’s not to say that the minimum standards have changed. No, that hasn’t changed.
“It happens pretty much in every sporting code where the person heading up the environment makes final calls.
“We do understand that as a coach, we need to be well empowered as well when it comes to fitness.
“I know for a fact that the coaches will not compromise on the standards because it’s a work in progress, we are building a proper cricket culture, including fitness and all of that.
“To be honest, fitness should not even be a debate at all. It forms part of the prerequisite as a professional cricketer.”
The men in charge of the final decision on whether players who fail any fitness tests are allowed to take the field or not are Rob Walter (men’s white-ball coach), Shukri Conrad (men’s Tests coach) and Hilton Moreeng (women’s coach).
Walter, who started his career as a fitness trainer, said this week that he hopes his “obsession” with improving and fitness rubs off on the players too.
“I suppose the fitness roots never leave you,” the coach said at the announcement of the Proteas’ white-ball squads for the upcoming series against Australia.
“From my point of view, I suppose it comes down to the old adage: it’s a process. It’s a process of getting guys fitter and up to standard. Everyone in any of my teams will attest to my obsession for everyone to be better and that’s applicable to fitness too.
“I expect every player in my team to strive towards that and we as team management also have a responsibility to support them in those endeavours.”
Sisanda Magala, who has been selected in both Walter’s One Day International and T20I squad for the respective series against Australia, has failed fitness tests — as recently as last season — which deemed him ineligible for selection.
Magala is the highest wicket-taker for the country in the ODI format this year and looks set to be part of the 15-player squad for the World Cup in India in October.
“Sisanda, on the park, has been electric for us in the recent period and we want to acknowledge those performances,” Walter said.
“But we also expect him and everyone else to get fitter, better and stronger because it gives us a better chance of performing. Our responsibility is to provide a platform for these guys.”
Magala missed sections of the CSA T20 Challenge in October last year, as the fitness parameters included the domestic game in South Africa too. Coaches in the domestic circuit will similarly be able to select players in their playing XI even if they fail a fitness test.
“We’ve been working very hard in terms of all of us aligning with our standards, we want to drive international standards,” Nkwe said.
“We’re all striving to get to that level because with so much cricket, player movement [from one team to another] happens quite often and I know players are getting an understanding of what is required and expected of them.
“We want to make that transition seamless, from domestic to international cricket.”
Nkwe insisted that he has full faith in coaches’ discernment to “make the right call” when it comes to fitness.
“We don’t want to be worrying about certain fundamentals that are not being met [at domestic level] to play international cricket, which would be setting us backwards,” the Director of Cricket said.
“This is just part of the process of us now realigning, ensuring that we’re aligned in terms of standards, in terms of reaching a new height as a system.
“Not just one team, not just the national team, but the rest of the system also doing that.” DM