Sisanda Magala is eating right, staying fit, dreaming big

Sisanda Magala: "When you are bowling at the back end, it's your strength against the batsman's and you have to back yourself and have confidence in your skill" Cricket Australia/Getty Images

When fast bowler Sisanda Magala was included in South Africa's ODI squad in January this year, the call-up was conditional on him passing the fitness test. He failed the test ahead of all three ODIs.

Over the course of 12 white-ball internationals, six each against England and Australia, squad updates continued to include the caveat that Magala would only be capped if he met fitness requirements, and team sheets confirmed that he did not.

Having such an intensely personal battle made public every few days would have affected most people. Not Magala.

"Processes were discussed behind closed doors and I knew what I needed to do," the 29-year-old said. "I saw it as having an opportunity to learn from guys."

The processes were part of a Cricket South Africa conditioning camp that Magala attended in January with three others with question marks over their fitness - Jon-Jon Smuts, Tabraiz Shamsi and Lungi Ngidi.

Smuts, who lives with diabetes, was withdrawn from the T20 leg of South Africa's tour to India in September for fitness reasons; Ngidi spent a month injured after hurting his hamstring in the Mzansi Super League (MSL); and Shamsi needed more intense training ahead of a season where he would replace Imran Tahir as the front-line limited-overs spinner.

Shamsi described the camp as an "awareness exercise and not a boot camp", but even so, the emphasis was clear: if the four wanted to play for South Africa, they had to shape up. They each had individual guidelines, and Magala's zoomed in on his diet.

"There was a big focus on food portions, on what and when to eat, and also on recovery and sleep. I've cut out a lot of sugar and processed carbs. Luckily I don't have much of a sweet tooth. It's more about acids, so things like Coke," he said. "I eat a lot of veggies, some meat, like chicken or fish, and drink a lot of water. As simple as it sounds, that's a big thing."

Even under ordinary circumstances, such a strict eating plan would be difficult to follow, but it's tougher in these unusual times, where the Covid-19 pandemic has confined millions of people to their homes.

Magala and the rest of South Africa are currently in the middle of a 21-day nationwide lockdown. Outdoor exercise is forbidden and Magala, who lives in Port Elizabeth, does not have a home gym like some of his team-mates, but he's making do.

"I've cut out a lot of sugar and processed carbs. And I eat a lot of veggies, some meat, like chicken or fish, and drink a lot of water"

"I've got bar bells, and I do body weight exercises and shuttles in the yard," he said. "It's not easy, but I've got the right mindset. It's all up to me. It's my responsibility to stick to it.

"My goals were set in January and I am weighing myself every week. I go through a few phases of running very well some days and then not so well on others, so I am working on the consistency. But I am almost there."

When he gets there, he wants to aim for the T20 World Cup, which he says has been on his mind since last year. It's a lofty but entirely achieveable goal for Magala, who has been steadily making his name as a death-bowling specialist.

"Three years ago Colin Ingram told me he wanted me to bowl death at the Warriors. He wanted me to have ownership of the pressure, so I watched a lot of videos of Charl Langeveldt and Alfonso Thomas and tried to mimic what they do. And I am very specific in my skills, so when I do a lot of practice and bowling on my own, I try to put myself under pressure."

It paid off. He took 14 wickets in the 2018-19 One-Day Cup and 13 in 2019-20.

In the most recent MSL tournament, Magala finished sixth on the bowling charts, winning games for the Cape Town Blitz by defending 20 off the last over against Durban Heat and 21 against the Tshwane Spartans.

Magala also started to take a somewhat philosophical approach to this role. "When you are bowling at the back end, you can either win or lose the match. It's your strength against the batsman's and you have to back yourself and have confidence in your skill. It is a great opportunity to win the game and a bitter pill to swallow if you lose. I've probably won more games than I have lost, but the ones I have lost have been a great learning opportunity."

Magala grew up in Uitenhage, a town in South Africa's Eastern Cape province, also home to fellow fast bowler Anrich Nortje, his Cape Town Blitz team-mate. The two went to two of the area's best known schools, Nortje to Brandwag and Magala to Muir College, where he also played rugby. When, in Grade 10, he tore ligaments in his ankle while playing rugby, Magala decided to concentrate solely on cricket.

At the MSL, Magala also played alongside Dale Steyn, with whom he has "developed a great relationship". "Just being on the same field as Dale Steyn pumps me up," Magala said. "He also offered great advice and always told me to be calm and clever."

Steyn was also among the first to celebrate Magala's call-up on Twitter, and Magala hopes the senior bowler will soon be celebrating his international debut as well, although he won't be taking any diet advice from Steyn, who is notorious for his love of burgers and Coca-Cola. "Definitely not," Magala said. "But we talk about all the other things."

Things like maybe the T20 World Cup, which Steyn is available for, and where Magala could make his first big impact. "South Africa have a very good attack with lots of variety. Everyone is different and I think I could play a role there.

"I've already seen the intensity of international cricket is higher and I am going to be ready."