Gqeberha – Cricket South Africa is committed to being among the best cricketing nations in the world and the 2km time trial is a direct reflection of their dedication to that cause.
The trial – a fitness test that requires a player to run 2km within an eight-and-a half minute limit – has been a hot topic of conversation ever since it kept impact players from being selected.
Initially, it affected Proteas fast bowler Sisanda Magala during India’s tour to South Africa, and resulted in him not being eligible for selection.
The most recent player to be impacted by the time trial is former Proteas women’s captain Dane van Niekerk.
Her case created an uproar, as fans could not understand how this meant Van Niekerk was not eligible for selection in a home World Cup.
Did it mean Van Niekerk was no longer good enough to make the squad?
After her retirement, Van Niekerk has been vocal about her assessment of the situation, and to an extent that she has suggested it was a personal attack against her.
“Let me put it this way, we don’t intend to be punitive against players,” CSA’s chief medical officer Shuaib Manjra told IOL Sport in an exclusive interview.
“This is meant as a measure to show professionalism in South African cricket, to increase SA cricket’s competitiveness.
“The other point I want to make is that we don’t suddenly drop this on players. We don’t suddenly say, ‘Guys, we’re dropping it from nine minutes to 8.30, now you’ve got to meet the standards’.
“Players have adequate time and have multiple opportunities to pass the test. It’s not like if you fail the test once, then you’re out; we’ll give you multiple opportunities,” he said.
Manjra noted that people were quick to criticise Cricket SA without digging deeper into the situation to understand what is really happening and why these decisions were made.
“Any player who has been dropped, there’s a long history before that; it’s a trend,” said Manjra.
“People like to crucify Cricket South Africa, and CSA is very dignified in that we don’t give it a full story because there’s a long story behind it.”
Despite the criticism, the governing body still does all it can do, according to Manjra, to give players the best chance to meet the required standards.
Players know about these standards and acknowledge them by signing performance contracts that clearly state they have to meet the standards to be eligible for selection.
“Also remember, this is part of players’ performance contracts. It is not something that they don’t know, it’s something they are signing onto.
“If you need assistance, we give you assistance. You need to go to a bootcamp, you need a fitness trainer, you need the help of a dietician or a nutritionist, or you need mental support, whatever it is, we give players all the support. It’s not like we’re throwing players into the deep end and say swim or sink.
“In a sense we are creating a support structure to ensure the players can meet the standards."
The ongoing Indian Premier League has shown that professional cricket has evolved so much that the margin for error is getting closer and closer to zero.
It is getting harder and harder to know how many runs should be enough to win a T20 game than it was two years ago. That is how fast the game is evolving.
The main objective for the standards is to adapt to the significantly evolving cricketing environment.
Cricket South Africa is simply committed to being in the same level as all the top cricketing nations, which have more or less the same standards.
Moreover, Manjra says all this effort from CSA is directed towards creating a stronger team culture.
“This is not a fitness test per say, it is to establish a team culture – to say that we’re professional teams, we want players to look professional, to behave professionally and to attain professional fitness standards as well.
“It’s part of the team culture that everybody is committed to a certain goal, a team culture of each person working for another person in the team.
“It’s two reasons in terms of performance improvement and team culture. The third reason is to ensure there’s injury prevention. Those are the three elements.”
When the 2km time trial was implemented, it was post-Covid and the benchmark was nine minutes.
Manjra told IOL Sport the only reason they pushed the time to 8.30 was to push players to get better and that it was dropped to 8.30 across the board – in domestic cricket and at national level.
“As we approached the T20I World Cup, we said we need players on top of their games and we dropped the standard to 8.30. Everybody met the standard in the men’s team and in the ladies team as well, except for one or maybe two players who didn’t meet the standards.
“We’ve also introduced this across the board; it’s not only for the national team, it’s for provincial teams as well. Probably three to four players did not meet the standards, all the other players met the standards. It means it is doable. It’s not a fitness standard, it’s an entry level criterion that we’ve set.
“Internationally, that’s where the other teams are at,” said Manjra.
In the past, the Yo-Yo test – a running aerobic fitness test – was the only test used, and professional cricketers in the country were expected to meet a certain level in this test.
How and why did Cricket SA move from that test to the 2km time trial?
“The Yo-Yo test was very specific in terms of what you want to do. Many of the players were complaining about the Yo-Yo test, it can be quite demanding.
“In addition to player concerns about the Yo-Yo test, although I still think it is a pretty good test, also international trends have moved to the 2km time trial rather than the Yo-Yo test as a measure of speed and endurance.
“We’ve followed that trend. I think it’s more practical and players can train for it specifically to meet the 8.30 standard.”