Proteas left in good hands

2013-05-18 00:00

IT is often tempting in these situations to cast the net wide in a search for the perfect replacement.

This usually involves an inordinate waste of both time and money. Cricket South Africa rightly recognised that Russell Domingo was the obvious man to succeed Gary Kirsten and did the right thing in making the appointment without any delay.

Domingo has served his time both as a successful coach of the Warriors and as an understudy to Kirsten in the national squad. It was during this latter period that he was exposed to the subtleties of the bonding and team ethos that Kirsten introduced to the Proteas.

This will have been an invaluable experience for Domingo and will have made him better prepared for what will not be an easy assignment.

The only precaution that CSA took prior to announcing Domingo’s appointment was to check his acceptance with the players in the national squad.

He received from them an unqualified vote of confidence. The announcement that he would be Kirsten’s successor became a formality.

Domingo is an engaging and disarming personality with no hidden agendas. With him you get what you see but, admirably, he is a man without prejudice.

He is the kind of man who seeks out the least important person when he enters a room rather than making a beeline for the most celebrated. The importance of these characteristics in a national cricket coach cannot be overstated. The worst captains and coaches have created problems by lionising star players.

There is an inherent conflict of interest in the roles of coach and chief selector. It is important therefore that the players have absolute trust in the ability of the one person who has to manage both these roles.

Those who have been close to Domingo have no worries in this regard — Domingo has a deep knowledge of cricket. Although he did not play the game at its higher levels, he has impressive technical credentials.

In his early days as a coach he was thought to rely too much on correct playing techniques as the solution to all problems. Under Kirsten, however, he has learnt the importance of mental strength, psychological preparation and team harmony.

Cricket dressing rooms are tricky places, particularly for those players who are not doing well. In no other sport is so much time spent watching and waiting.

Just as success breeds confidence, consistent failure can produce a spiral of depression and further failure.

The best coaches and captains are alert to the wellbeing of those players who are out of form.

They know how important it is to maintain the spirits of everyone in a team.

They have also learnt how to watch out for and deal with those characters whose behavior can disrupt the equilibrium of a dressing room.

Domingo will inherit a team that is in good working order, but not one that is without challenges.

It will fall to him to manage a certain amount of changing of the guard. Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith will both be gone sooner rather than later.

The absence of these two, who are once in a generation players, will remove a colossal amount of ability and experience that will not be easily filled.

It is unlikely, therefore, that the Proteas will find the playing power to stay at the top of Test cricket for long.

A time of less than stellar success seems inevitable, but should not be regarded as a period of failure.

In the squad there are enough world class players around whom a new team can be built before they too retire from the game. Unlike the Australian coach, Mickey Arthur, Domingo will not be faced with a collapse of quality playing personnel.

I fear that Domingo will find that the intrusions made on his players by the IPL and other such circuses will become more of a problem. It seems inevitable that, in their sunset years, older players will seek financial security ahead of the glories of playing for their countries. It remains to be seen if this affects South Africa more than other countries.

We all thought that Kirsten would take this squad to the next World Cup, which continues to be the unclimbed Everest of South African cricket ambitions.

Kirsten has given himself a chance of winning just one ICC trophy next month, but let us hope that he and Domingo will begin laying the foundation for better showings in future World Cups.

Domingo has a chance to keep the team at the top of the Test match rankings for a couple of years and win the next World Cup in 2015.

If he does both there seems no reason why he should not remain in harness for many years.

He should not stay for as long as Alex Ferguson, but I think it is time for our national coach to spend more than just a few years in the post so that his influence can be spread beyond just the national squad.

Kirsten, sadly, has decided to leave after just two years. One can understand the pressures of trying to do an away job and manage the demands of a young family. He has made the right decision as a father and husband. Children grow up all too quickly.

He does not want to miss his only chance to be an active parent and to influence the development of his children. Nor does he want to leave too much of the burdens of parenthood to his wife.

Kirsten did a wonderful job as national coach. He probably exceeded all, including his own, expectations. He has bequeathed a brilliant team to his successor in an era when successful coaches of all sports tend to carry on as long as they can before they are fired.

He has left at a time of his own choosing. More importantly he has ensured that a good man and a modern South African will follow him.

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