Domingo wrestles SA’s layoff

Russell Domingo (Gallo Images)
Russell Domingo (Gallo Images)
Johannesburg - Less than a month before heading to the United Arab Emirates to play Pakistan, Proteas coach Russell Domingo says the No 1-ranked Test side are doing everything they can to shake off the danger of cobwebs in the format.

Domingo told Sport24 at the Cricket South Africa awards dinner here on Monday - where Hashim Amla was a regular visitor to the stage and won Cricketer of the Year for the second time in three years - that the country’s rare, entire winter layoff from the five-day code was “less than an ideal way” to kick off the new campaign.

“There are some positives: fortunately we’ll be there for nine or 10 days before we hit the first of the two Tests, so that’s a bit of a plus. Included will be a three-day warm-up game, which is better than nothing at all - it’s pretty typical of the ways schedules go these days.

“I think eight of the 15 who go will be playing first in the Twenty20 Champions League, so that’s another good development.

A guy like Hashim has been playing of late for Surrey, while Vernon Philander will be touring Namibia with the Cape Cobras in the next week or two - at least it’s some sort of cricket.”

Amla will be a key element, as has become increasingly customary, in South Africa’s quest to improve on the shared outcome last time they played Pakistan in the neutral UAE (2010/11), particularly as he will have an advantage over co-batting heavyweights in the top order like captain Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis because of his useful weight of personal first-class cricket in the lead-up.

The 30-year-old dominator of the crease has already played three of six intended four-day County Championship matches for Surrey in England’s late season and accumulated at least 100 runs per match each time.

In often more challenging second-knock conditions, his innings include, from most recent matches, 84 against Middlesex and 88 against Derbyshire at The Oval, and 89 against Durham at Chester-le-Street.

So he should hit the ground running in the UAE, even if the likes of Smith, through injury, and Kallis through voluntary time out, have not played serious cricket matches since as far back as May.

Smith is expected to be named in the Test party to be announced here by selection convenor Andrew Hudson later on Tuesday, although his fitness after ankle surgery is apparently not wholly assured yet, so it is understood a standby batsman may be named as well.

Domingo added: “We’ve been into Test series ‘cold’ before; there’s not an awful lot you can do about it. The players are professional and experienced enough to know what they must do to hit the ground running.

“We’ve been monitoring players through the off-season; there’s a fitness test tomorrow (Tuesday), and we’re on top of where they are bi-weekly in terms of physical conditioning.

“That’s all you can do really; make sure nobody has gone out of shape. A couple of guys are coming back from injuries, like Dale (Steyn), so we’ve been keeping close tabs.

“Guys who aren’t where they need to be will be tested again in two weeks before the season starts, so we’ve got a handle on it.”

Domingo anticipates pitches for the mini-series that may respond even more to spin than they did on the last occasion.

“Last time we were there AB (de Villiers) got a big 280-odd, the wickets were very flat and it was a 0-0 draw. But in Pakistan’s last series against England the wickets spun appreciably, and they’d be fools not to prepare pitches that spin, for guys like Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez. It won’t surprise us if they turn.”

Asked whether he believed middle-order batsman JP Duminy could play an increased role as an off-spinner in Tests under his watch, Domingo said: “Without a doubt, he’s capable of bowling more overs in Tests.

“It’s good to have him back in this format, a massive plus for us. He’s more familiar with one-day bowling but is a skilled enough cricketer to adjust so it’s a nice addition to our attack.

“Pakistan don’t have too many left-handers so that’s a little bit of a down-side I suppose, but a quality off-spinner can be effective in any event, so it’s exciting to have JP back.”

Like so many others associated with South Africa’s thriving Test cricket set-up, Domingo is disappointed with the fact that the Proteas seldom seem to land series consisting of more than three Tests at present - and current ructions with India over their proposed summer itinerary in South Africa only seem to threaten the situation further.

“For sure, we would like more Test cricket ... we’re playing good cricket! It’s disappointing in a way that we’ve got two against Pakistan, perhaps three against India, three against Australia, so that’s eight in 10 months before we go to Zimbabwe (next winter) ... but you can only prepare for what is put in front of you.”

Domingo re-emphasised that it was not his intention to alter the successful South African Test formula of the past couple of years, as he prepares for his own debut as head coach in the arena.

“Every coach has his own ideas, but you don’t want to tinker too much with a Test side that has played as well as the Proteas have in recent times. For me to do that wouldn’t be terribly (logical) as things stand.

“Why play a different brand in Tests? The guys have played amazing cricket and we must first focus on maintaining those standards, to add to the achievements already made. Other sides are trying to hunt us down as leaders, so we have to stay ahead of the pack - that’s the key.”

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
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