Mark Boucher admits South Africa affected by bio-bubble, unrest at home
"To say it's not affecting us is not true. It is affecting us and every South African."
The pressures of being in a bio-bubble amid unrest in South Africa is taking its toll on the national team, who shared the three-match ODI series with Ireland 1-1. South Africa came back from defeat on Tuesday to beat Ireland convincingly on Friday, but the head coach Mark Boucher acknowledged it has been a challenge to keep intensity levels up as the players try to cope with bad news from home.
Not only is South Africa in the grip of its third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, but riots and looting in the Gauteng and Kwa-Zulu Natal provinces have left more than 200 people dead and caused food and medical shortages, crippling parts of the country. "To say it's not affecting us is not true. It is affecting us and every South African," Boucher said.
South Africa wore black armbands in the third ODI to show solidarity with those affected by the violence, which was at its worst earlier in the week, including on Tuesday, when they lost to Ireland.
"We weren't there the other day. Our awareness was down; our intensity was down," Boucher said. "We looked at quite a few things without making excuses. We had a long chat after the game and we said, 'Guys we are in a position where we can't afford to make excuses. You are playing for your country and you have to be up every game.'
Boucher said a combination of factors, including moving from one bubble in the Caribbean to another in Ireland, contributed to the lacklustre showing on Tuesday.
"I have to look at the reasons why we were flat. It could be that coming off a good win against the West Indian team - usually you get a bit of time to take that in and get away for a while - maybe a week or two and we didn't have that opportunity. As soon as we got that win, guys were packing and we got onto a plane and we flew for two days and got back into another bubble," Boucher said.
"If you want to be real around the whole thing, our energy is probably a little low because of that. Also what's going on back home. That's probably the reason why our awareness was down badly."
The same thing happened in the third ODI, when South Africa's bowlers allowed the Irish tail to put on a seventh-wicket stand of 104 and a 10th-wicket partnership of 47.
"Today we came out and showed when we put our minds to it and we play with good energy, we were there but when the game was sort of won, we took our foot of the gas again, which was a bit disappointing. We didn't end off the game as we wanted to."
Boucher has taken it on himself, and the rest of the management, to try and keep the squad as focused as possible, despite the difficulties of finding ways to stay entertained under current restrictions.
"It's a tough one. It's even tougher in bubbles because one of the things we've liked to do is get the guys out a bit," he said. "We've found a spot on the beach where guys can go for a walk, albeit at 8 o'clock at night. There's a golf course next to us which we are allowed to play at with restrictions. And in general, in team chats, we are giving a space for everything to get their emotions out because keeping it in and having to be locked down in your room can be quite tough, especially if you have been personally affected. And I know there have been a couple of families personally affected. These are things we didn't know we'd have to deal with. We are going along with a gut feel of what we feel is best for the players and trying to be there for the guys who feel quite emotionally drained by what is going on."
Their time on the road is not over yet. South Africa have another week in Ireland and will play three T20Is on Monday, Thursday and Saturday before returning home. Boucher expects his team to be up for it against hosts who they take very seriously.
"This Irish team is no walkover team. They have had some close series against England, who are a very good team. We knew from the start that if we don't rock up here in these conditions, which they know well, we'll be found out," Boucher said. "If we thought we'd just rock up at 70%, we are going to get tested in a massive way. (On Tuesday), we had a bad day on tour, which we are allowed to have. The energy levels will be a lot higher in the remaining three games. We've been on tour for two months, guys have been away from home, families and things are happening at home. Now, it's about emptying the tanks."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent