Cricket South Africa (CSA) has recently announced a more lenient stance on fitness standards for their male and female athletes. Previously, players who failed to complete a two-kilometer run in the required time or had skinfold measurements above the recommended levels were not permitted to play. However, CSA now allows national coaches to exercise their discretion in allowing these athletes to participate, based on their overall evaluation of the players’ fitness levels.
The New Approach
In a document circulated to the players, CSA emphasizes that while they no longer enforce strict fitness standards, they “strongly recommend” that players who do not meet the minimum fitness requirements should not participate in official matches. This change aims to provide flexibility and acknowledges the coaches’ understanding of the team’s environment and the players’ capabilities.
CSA’s Director of Cricket, Enoch Nkwe, explained that the decision to adopt a more flexible approach came after a medical conference in June. The medical team was tasked with devising a better way forward, recognizing the need for a level of flexibility in assessing players’ fitness levels. Nkwe also expressed confidence in the coaches’ ability to make informed decisions regarding player participation.
The recent change in approach follows incidents where key players were sidelined due to failing fitness standards. Former captain Dane van Niekerk, wicketkeeper-batter Lizelle Lee, and death-bowling specialist Sisanda Magala were among those affected. Van Niekerk and Magala failed to complete the two-kilometer run within the stipulated time, while Lee’s weight exceeded the required amount, jeopardizing her ability to obtain a no-objection certificate for overseas leagues.
However, it is worth noting that van Niekerk and Lee have since retired, while Magala managed to pass the fitness test and was included in South Africa’s most recent One Day International (ODI) squad.
Current Fitness Standards
For the 2023-24 season, the “fit-to-play” standard remains the same for national male and female players. Male players must complete a two-kilometer run in under 8.30 minutes and maintain an overall skinfold count of 85mm or less. Female players, on the other hand, are required to complete the same distance in under 9.30 minutes and have skinfolds measuring 100mm or less.
While male provincial players are held to the same standard as international players, female domestic players have some leeway. They must complete the two-kilometer run in 10.15 minutes or less, with skinfolds measuring less than 120mm.
Nkwe expressed confidence in the players’ ability to meet these fitness standards, stating that he does not foresee any challenges in terms of players failing the tests.
Elite Standards and Incentives
As part of their new approach, CSA has established an elite standard for players who can complete the two-kilometer run in under 7.45 minutes for men and under 9.00 minutes for women. This standard is set to encourage and drive all professional players towards reaching elite levels of fitness. However, it is not clear if there are additional incentives for players who achieve this excellence.
Testing Frequency and Guidelines
To ensure continuous monitoring of players’ fitness levels, CSA plans to conduct fitness tests twice during a season. The first test will take place just before the start of the competition in September, followed by a mid-season test in December-January.
CSA recommends that the two-kilometer run test begins with ten minutes of running and dynamic stretching. During the trial, walking is permitted, and the run must be completed outdoors, preferably on an athletic track. Indoor or treadmill running is not allowed.
It is worth noting that Dane van Niekerk’s final fitness test was conducted on a treadmill, on which she fell short by 18 seconds, resulting in her exclusion from the T20 World Cup squad. At that time, South Africa was the only country applying such rigid fitness standards. Other countries, such as England and Australia, use the 8.30-minute benchmark for men as an indicator of fitness, without excluding players who fail to meet the mark.
Cricket South Africa’s decision to adopt a more flexible approach to fitness standards reflects their recognition of the need for individual evaluation and the coaches’ understanding of the team’s environment. While strict fitness standards are no longer enforced, CSA still strongly recommends that players who fail to meet the minimum requirements should not participate in official matches. The new approach aims to strike a balance between ensuring players’ fitness levels and allowing coaches to make informed decisions based on their assessments. With regular fitness tests and the establishment of an elite standard, CSA aims to encourage players to reach higher levels of fitness and performance.