Australia v South Africa, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 1st day November 22, 2012

How little training is too little for South Africa?

While too much cricket is never a good thing, a certain amount of conditioning is a must to build up the fitness levels required to get through a Test match


For a team that spent time either city slicking or beach bumming over the last week, South Africa should have no excuses for their current injury glut. Wear and tear that is usually associated with overload should not apply to a unit who fit in mini-breaks mid-tour and opt for a more relaxed training regime.

Yet, already four players are among the walking wounded in this series and one, AB de Villiers, had only just recovered from a chronic problem when the tour began. As a result, South Africa could be playing a second successive Test with 10 men.

The evidence points to a lack of conditioning, a surprising accusation to lay on a team that has built a reputation for being athletic and hard-working. Gary Kirsten could not put his finger on the exact reason for the spate of injuries. "Every team goes through injuries at some point in time," he said. "It can happen. I don't have the answers to that."

Kirsten stands by his work-life approach, which has been in operation with vigour since he took over. Some would say South Africa have been having too much of the latter and too little of the former but once, already, Kirsten has proved them wrong.

Earlier in the year South Africa were accused of being under prepared after the first day of the Oval Test despite playing two tour matches in the lead-up. Their four-day trip to Switzerland some said should have been used to play a third practice match. There were no calls for any more fixtures after the third day, when the attack bowled England out and began piling on the runs in preparation for their series win.

According to team management, the packed schedule is the main reason driving down time instead of time in the nets. "Preparation is always something that will come up. Even when we play home series, we send players home between matches and they come back and prepare. There is no exact science," Kirsten said. "We've had a long year. We knew we would have back-to-back Tests now, so we didn't feel four days off was too much to give to the players."

This year has not been particularly more strenuous than previous ones. South Africa will have 75 days of international cricket, some way off their most, which was 91 days in 1998 and 2000. The Adelaide Test is the eighth of 10 they are due to play in 2012. Last year, South Africa only played five Tests as they enjoyed their longest winter break in 14 years, but between 2007 and 2010 they have played at least six and at most 15 Tests in a 12-month period.

"We do what we think is best for the team. Sometimes we put in a lot more effort in training but we also like to create times were we give guys off. We think we make those decisions because they are the right decisions, but we don't always get it right."
South Africa coach Gary Kirsten

Their ODI fixtures have also remained fairly consistent. They played 13 this year, 15 last year and 16 in 2010. What has increased noticeably is the number of Twenty20 matches South Africa have played. Including the unofficial tri-series in Zimbabwe that also featured Bangladesh, they have played 17 T20s - the most in the last five years. In 2011, they only played two.

What is worth noting is that South Africa have played a lot of matches away from home in 2012. They were on the road for a month in New Zealand, more than three months in England and Sri Lanka combined without time to go home, and are in the middle of a six-week tour of Australia. For that reason, there could be some understanding for tired bodies and the investment being put into non-cricket activities to freshen minds. But professional sport is also about continuous practice. David Warner said he likes to hit "as many balls as he can" in preparation for a Test.

South Africa chose not to play a tour match in-between the two Tests despite the eight-day break. While Australia also dispersed, some of the players did their own training, such as Warner. South Africa had a complete break. They regrouped on Sunday and had two full sessions that Kirsten did not attend because he was flying back to Australia, followed by two optional ones on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Jacques Kallis was one of the players who did not take part in either of the elective practices, something that Kirsten said he had every right to do. "Jacques Kallis has earned the right to prepare the way he needs to prepare," he said. "He has been a consummate professional over 20 years."

Overall Kirsten regarded the work done for this tour as "the best I think we have prepared" for a series, and said the players, including Philander, felt the same way. "Vernon said it was the most he has bowled in preparation. Maybe he bowled too much, and that's why he got injured," Kirsten joked.

"We do what we think is best for the team. Sometimes we put in a lot more effort in training but we also like to create times where we give guys off. We think we make those decisions because they are the right decisions, but we don't always get it right." Unless South Africa can maintain a clean bill of health for the rest of the series, this may become one of those times.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent