Hardus Viljoen has had a taste of Test cricket and wants more, so, with the help of the special woman in his life, he has put in the hard yards in the off-season to become an even leaner and meaner fast bowler.
The off-season is pretty much over for the Highveld Lions star as he leaves on Tuesday with the SA A side for two four-day matches in Zimbabwe and then a triangular series in Australia with India A as the other opponents.
And the 27-year-old looked in tremendous shape on Monday as the team had a middle practice session at the University of Pretoria’s Groenkloof field and is clearly not resting on the laurels of last season, when he took 47 wickets, the most in the Sunfoil Series, in nine matches at an average of just 23 and made his Test debut in January at the Wanderers and removed England captain Alastair Cook with his first ball.
The rest of his first game for South Africa did not go as well, though, as he finished with one for 79 in 15 expensive overs and then bowled four wicketless overs in the second innings as England chased down just 74 for a commanding victory.
“Last season has come and gone, no-one’s going to talk about how you bowled last year, there’s no reward on that. So I did a lot of training in the off-season and I’ve lost 10kg because I worked a lot on my fitness and my diet. My lady [girlfriend Rhemi Rynners, sister of Faf du Plessis] is into healthy eating and she helped me a lot with that, it’s become a way of life.
“I took a bit of flak for my fitness levels and it’s a personal thing – by doing this I can have a longer career and there’s less weight on my feet and legs. So I’ve worked hard on getting fitter and stronger, and it’s all about training smarter; I don’t want to just put on muscle like a rugby player,” a clearly focused Viljoen said on Monday.
“It was a good season last year, but it was also disappointing in a way because I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to in my debut. I wanted to really make an impact, so I’m working very hard on my consistency, that’s a massive thing for me. But that won’t happen in one week, it’s an ongoing process.”
Although Viljoen is desperate to earn a place back in the national team, he is being patient in that regard as well, not telling himself that he has to take a whole bunch of wickets in Zimbabwe and Australia.
“I don’t want to put unnecessary pressure on myself. These tours are good preparation for the summer and to see what my hard work has brought in terms of the things I’ve worked on in the off-season. It might be SA A, but I am still representing my country and I don’t want to take anything for granted. Our performances will obviously be looked at, but for me it’s still about how my game has progressed,” Viljoen said.
Viljoen initially sprung to prominence in limited-overs cricket, but he has taken more than 30 first-class wickets in each of the last seven seasons, with his highest average being 30.39 in 2013/14. The Waterkloof High School product whose actual name is just the initials GC, also has his sights set on a place in the Proteas limited-overs teams.
“In Test cricket, you need patience and consistency, but in T20s, for instance, I would love to just come out and bowl at 155km/h. One of my main goals last season was to bowl at 150km/h and I got to 152.4, so to bowl at 155 is another personal goal of mine.
“But you also need to execute your skills in limited-overs cricket and there’s a massive gap for a death bowler in the Proteas set-up, so I’m working on getting more skills in my arsenal. It’s not going to take one season though, you need about 10 000 hours to master those skills!
“So I have a few things to work on … ” Viljoen said.
It is clear, however, that Viljoen is not happy with his career standing in the same spot. The hunger inside him suggests he will be one to watch in Zimbabwe and Australia.