South Africa in England 2012 July 30, 2012

Looking and acting the part

A fancy dress night designed to break up the routine of touring is just another example of South Africa's innovative methods

Jacques Kallis the hotdog, Hashim Amla the baby, Dale Steyn the tigger, AB de Villiers the shadow and Morne Morkel, Mr Bones. No, that's not taking cheap shots at the South Africa team. It is actually a list of what five of the squad chose wear to their fancy dress party on Sunday night in Leeds.

The rest were not too shabby either. Jacques Rudolph turned up as Flash Gordon, Albie Morkel as a sniper and Imran Tahir as a paparazzo. All those outfits were put together in an hour, after the squad were instructed at the last minute they would need to find or create their own garments for an impromptu event.

It was all part of an "improvisation theatre session" organised by Paddy Upton, now performance director but better known for his work as a mental guru. Upton, who was first hired as a consultant but has been travelling with the team on a more permanent basis, came up with the idea to do something different to break the routine between the first and second Test, a period of nine days which is longer than usual between matches.

"When you are away from home for a long period of time you need to think of ways to keep the environment fresh and keep challenging the guys," team manager Mohammad Moosajee said. South Africa are on week four of a 13-week trip that includes the tour of England and the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, making this one of the longest stretches on the road and the need to break it up greater. "They were all so innovative with this that it exceeded our expectations."

Upton explained that he initially wanted to create some theatre scenes but the quality of the dressing up was so good that it became the central focus of the night. "It was really about asking players to step out of the box and expose themselves. The fancy dress part was really just to create some expectancy for the evening but the guys did such a good job that we took that and incorporated it into the evening," he said. "There were some skits and that sort of thing and a lot of fun and laughing."

This is not the first time South Africa have chosen the path less travelled in their preparations. Before the tour began, they spent four days in Switzerland with explorer Mike Horn and almost every member of the squad repeated how the experience prepared them mentally for a tough series. At first, those comments were not taken very seriously and they were labelled "undercooked" ahead of the first Test. Following their comprehensive victory, the Alpine adventure seems to have had its merits.

Creativity is part of Gary Kirsten's method, which also involves players taking more responsibility in everything they do, including their own training. "When we get to practice, Gary doesn't have to tell them what to do, they know what to do and they just do it. The same goes for something like a fitness session," Upton said.

It reflects in things that are done, not said - such as who conducts throwdowns, often someone who has batted for a substantial period of time, for instance Amla. Kallis, for the first time in recent memory carried out the drinks in the tour match against Worcester, after being rested from the playing XI. The reserve members of the squad took turns to take out gloves, water and other equipment during the Test and with substitute fielding, presumably to ensure none of them felt left out.

For someone like JP Duminy, who has been on the sidelines of the team since his debut in Australia in 2009, the inclusiveness of the current era is a major positive. "We've built something really good and we thrive on building that. The guys have gelled really well and we all play for each other," Duminy said.

He credited Kirsten with as having "really good man-management with individuals". Duminy said all the players have the "freedom to train the way they want to and how they want to operate, to try and get the best out of them."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent