Johannesburg - Early last year, Proteas coach Russell Domingo – with Hashim Amla and Allan Donald as the main guests at one of those corporate breakfasts sports people get dragged to – was asked how he would react if his team again failed to win a major International Cricket Council trophy at the 2015 World Cup.
His answer wasn’t exactly from the back-to- the-drawing-board manual:
“My wife will still love me and life will go on.”
While he may have sounded nonchalant in a sport in which too many of those involved think it’s a matter of life and death, the response suggested that the man who is moggy about his fishing isn’t short on perspective.
The Proteas didn’t win the world cup, but it wasn’t before they won a play-off match for the first time in the tournament. Given that he’s still in charge, life went on. But how it went on makes for uncomfortable reading.
Perhaps still reeling from a semifinal in which they didn’t choke but still lost to New Zealand, the Proteas drew a Test series with Bangladesh, were humiliated by India and outplayed by England at home.
This was followed by a lukewarm performance at the T20 World Cup, a tumble in rankings and inexplicable performances in the triangular series in the West Indies.
Domingo was back to being described as being out of his depth.
The reason most ex-pros felt comfortable describing him as such is because he never played first-class cricket, let alone international cricket.
As if there’s one qualification for coaching cricket. As if playing international cricket gives you a PhD.
My theory (which is probably inaccurate) about what happened is that Domingo underestimated what needed to be done after the more acceptable former Proteas batsman, Gary Kirsten, left the scene. Kirsten, a hands-free coach, had picked two of the most experienced teams in history in agreeing to coach India and South Africa, and had allowed senior players – with his guidance – to map out team direction.
When he resigned from coaching South Africa, not only had the side lost a lot of seniors (Mark Boucher, Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis), but Domingo thought he could borrow Kirsten’s unobtrusive guidance to lead the team when it was time to do heavy-duty coaching.
Two things also didn’t help: Kirsten lingered as a consultant when a cleaner break should have been made; and Domingo’s encyclopaedic habit of quoting numbers when answering his critics’ barbs.
Even in a game where there’s a stat for just about everything, the latter played into the hands of the daft idea that he doesn’t have a feel for the game because he didn’t play it at the highest level.
As a result, the team – especially the seniors – seemed to drift both in discipline and motivation after Kirsten left.
An example is how some of the Proteas chose not to play first-class cricket after returning from India, the only opportunity they had to acclimatise to home conditions before the Test series against England.
One doesn’t know if necessity (all that stuff about a hanging in the morning ... ) or time has forced the change, but the Proteas team is starting to look like one in Domingo’s image.
They are a chirpy lot and not the doggedly belligerent unit that our cricket teams tend to be; they are willing to try new things, and they are resourceful these days.
His easy-going demeanour has allowed different personalities such as Imran Tahir and Quinton de Kock to flourish; the Proteas have played three bona fide spinners in a game in which they fielded eight black players; and the spectacular run chase against the Aussies in Durban on Wednesday showed that the team is moving away from relying on Amla, AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn or even Kagiso Rabada.
Chasing down 371 was a record (the previous one was the Aussies’ 271/2 in 2002).
Yet there was no panic: just a concerted effort to use everything and everyone to win. A bit like it was during Domingo’s days as Warriors coach.
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