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Boucher strikes a tricky balance to keep Proteas fit

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Mark Boucher and his coaching and medical staff need to strike a tricky balance at training to ensure players are fit and able to perform at the required intensity at international level.

The Proteas coach Mark Boucher will have to be creative to keep the team’s fitness levels up in the bio bubble environment. Picture: Phando Jikelo, African News Agency (ANA)

PRETORIA – A year ago, Mark Boucher was hired to fix a team in crisis. Now he has to carefully manage a bigger team than he would have anticipated through a period nobody could’ve forecasted.

Making the current Proteas team successful, will take more than just the usual man-management, strategising, fitness and confidence building that coaches are supposed to provide.

In the age of Covid-19 and the numerous severe restrictive protocols in place for players and management, coupled with the lack of cricket domestically, Boucher and his coaching and medical staff, need to strike a tricky balance at training to ensure players are fit and able to perform at the requisite intensity at international level.

The demands aren’t quite as big in the limited overs formats, but over the course of five days in severe heat – as was the case for most of the first Test against Sri Lanka in Centurion – any shortcuts with regards fitness can create handicaps. The Sri Lankans found that out.

They were in a dominant positon, but then lost three players to muscular injuries. The touring side’s coach Mickey Arthur explained at the end of the third day’s play how he had found it difficult maintaining the right kind of fitness required to play a Test match for his players.

They’d held training camps, but the restrictions in place in Colombo because of the pandemic meant that many of the players couldn’t do the kind of work needed to get themselves to the requisite level for five days of cricket.

Boucher on Thursday explained that it wasn’t simply a case of the players being fit, they needed to have the right amount of training time in their legs to enable to be ready for a Test match. For bowlers, in particular it is enormously challenging.

“There has been a large emphasis on fitness, and our fitness levels have definitely improved in the last year,” said the Proteas coach. “The signs are good and we will keep raising the bar in that regard. But fitness and bowling loads are completely different, I’d say the guys are fairly fit, but there are others who are short on loads because they’ve been ill or injured, we need to build them up in order to push them at the intensity that is required for a Test match.”

Boucher highlighted the return of Kagiso Rabada as one example. Perhaps in any other season, once Rabada had proved his fitness, he’d be straight back in to the starting eleven, but that is not the case now.

“We really want to play KG but he’s got to get his workload up, so that he doesn’t go into a Test match and then there’s a high risk of him getting injured; then we’d be doing him and the team an injustice.”

Boucher has not been helped by the fact that there is currently no domestic cricket on the go, so any bowlers getting called up to the team – once they’d passed the necessary Covid-19 protocols – would need to endure some rigorous training before he’d be considered to start a Test match.

“You have to try and simulate a game situations; so you might bowl 10 overs in the morning and another 10 in the afternoon, and in between walk around in the field. That’s what we’ve tried. You can’t keep guys in cotton wool, give them six overs to bowl and then think they are ready for a Test match,” said Boucher.

“Their workloads need to be upped, and upped in a certain amount of time. They can’t just rock up and bowl 20 overs, it has to be built up over a period of time, you build them up to a safe zone (so that) if you do want to push him on a particular day, you know their body can handle it. We have to think out of the box, make good decisions for the guys bodies, that’s what the medical staff is accountable for.”

*Beuran Hendricks returned to the Proteas bio bubble after passing the necessary Covid-19 protocols. Hendricks had been picked for the initial Test squad, but was then taken out just before the team entered the bio-secure environment.

Hendricks’ return is the result of a muscle injury picked up by Migael Pretorius. Cricket SA said the injury was in Pretorius’ right shoulder.

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