Inside South Africa's T20 bubble
Temba Bavuma, Rassie van der Dussen and Keshav Maharaj take us inside South Africa's T20 camp in the UAE and discuss the team's improvement in the last 12 months.
“What are we watching?” Rassie van Der Dussen asks his wife, Lara.
“No, not too much at the moment,” is the verdict. “We’re in between series so you’ve caught me at a difficult time.”
That is quite the predicament, considering that the pair have very little else to fill their downtime inside South Africa’s T20 bubble.
“I’m sure in the next few days I’ll put some time into thinking about it,” says van Der Dussen, who is to be South Africa's top run-scorer in the UAE this month in the latest cricket betting. “It’ll be a series, we tend to fall asleep in front of movies.”
A Netflix marathon is not the reason why Van Der Dussen and his team-mates are restricted to this bio-secure environment in an Abu Dhabi hotel.
But staying sane in the hours in between their practise and preparation is key to their performance.
“We’re very well looked after,” says Van Der Dussen, on behalf of both himself and Lara, a teacher, who has been allowed to enter the bubble and teaches her classes virtually.
“We do spend a lot of time in the room, but we have a big TV and a lovely living space.
“You’ve got to keep active, obviously. I’ve got lots of fitness toys to play with and there are facilities in the hotel.”
The gym area on the bottom floor of the hotel doubles as a team room and medical area.
Another squad member, spinner Keshav Maharaj, describes the makeshift setup as ‘not ideal’, but is also working to make the best of this unusual preparation.
“It is what it is,” he says. “There are a lot of differences so I work hard to make myself feel as at home as possible.
“I am a very clean and tidy person. I like neatness. There’s nothing worse than an untidy room and scruffy sheets. It really drives me mad.
“With no cleaners coming into the rooms I spend time making myself more comfortable by keeping my room in check.”
But an entirely isolated existence is not healthy, either.
The team have a cordoned-off dining area in the hotel room in which they eat, drink coffee and watch sport together.
On Saturday October 2, they gathered to watch South Africa beat New Zealand 31-29 in The Rugby Championship. “Watching other South Africa teams connects us to home,” says Maharaj.
One look around the team gathering is enough to know that this squad is capable of replicating the Springboks’ success.
Van Der Dussen and Maharaj are both experienced cricketers, while Reeza Hendricks and Dwaine Pretorius have made great strides in the last 12 months, Then, of course, Quinton de Kock, Kagiso Rabada and others will join the squad from the IPL.
Mark Boucher is overseeing the operation as head coach, while other previous Proteas JP Duminy and Charl Langeveldt are on the coaching staff.
The staff are all still relatively new to the job, but performances and results in 2021 show that South Africa’s trajectory may be on the up.
Victories in both Test and T20 series in the Caribbean were followed by T20 whitewashes of Ireland and Sri Lanka in July and September, suggesting that the squad is benefitting from approaching a major tournament with an extra 12 months of development behind them.
“We’ve had a good year,” says Van Der Dussen. “We’ve been in different conditions and we’ve adapted really well.
“A year ago we were certainly less experienced. We’re in a good place now.”
The captaincy has also changed hands in the last 12 months.
Temba Bavuma took the permanent reigns as South Africa’s T20 skipper in March, overseeing a string of positive results since.
“It came as a surprise to me,” he says.
“There was plenty of initial anxiety and fear, I guess, as to how I could take the team to new heights, but actually I’ve really enjoyed it.
“I’m lucky that I’ve played with lots of the guys from school level so the understanding is there and the respect is there. I feel that they are behind me.”
Bavuma broke into the South Africa setup when Proteas legends AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Morne Morkel were still at the fore.
Relaying his experience of playing with those legends of the game to the rest of the squad is a big part of his job.
“I draw a lot of inspiration from Amla, particularly,” he says.
“He is similar to me as a player, too, in the sense that he wasn’t considered a classic T20 player but remodelled his game.
“Playing with these guys and watching them prepare has given me great experience to pass onto the rest of the squad.
“I might prepare like Amla, for example, but someone like David Miller, who comes in at the back end of the innings, may prepare like De Villiers.”
But mental preparation is considered just as import as physical for Van der Dussen, who is desperate not to burnout ahead of a busy few weeks of cricket.
“You put in all the hours that you need to,” he says, “and then on game night it’s pretty intense.
“I get my practise done and then mentally switch off so that next time I’m on the field my mind is 100 per cent ready to go.”
It’s time get browsing on Netflix, then.