Sri Lanka in South Africa, 2016-17 January 15, 2017

'We want to play an expansive brand of cricket'

Coach Russell Domingo talks about South Africa's recovery from the slump they fell into in 2015-16, and what he expects from the coming year
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"The next year is a big year for us. We've got our rankings back up but we've still got work to do. There's no way we can be complacent after three series" © Getty Images

It's sunny in South Africa again. At least in Test cricket terms. Just 12 months after their worst season since readmission - South Africa lost five out of eight Tests in 2015-16 and tumbled from No. 1 to No. 7 on the rankings - the team is back up to No. 3 and starting to look like its old self. Batsmen are dominating on tough pitches, bowling has become incisive, and there is renewed energy.

One of the men who has experienced the ups, the downs, and the ups again is coach Russell Domingo. In a press conference after South Africa completed a 3-0 series win against Sri Lanka in Johannesburg, he spoke about what's changed, why things were never as bad as they seemed, and what there is to look forward to in the coming months.

South Africa have now won three consecutive Test series and sit at No. 3 on the Test rankings. Has the tide turned completely after last summer?
It's the start of a new era for this team after the trials and tribulations of the past year or so, but we are not the finished article. There is still room for improvement in every department. The next year is a big year for us. We've got our rankings back up but we've still got work to do. There's no way we can be complacent after three series.

Which areas, specifically, do you want to concentrate on?
Consistency with the bat. Dean Elgar has stepped up in this series with a hundred and two scores over fifty. Before that, there hasn't been a hot streak amongst one our batters. We are slowly getting there. It's about trying to get two or three hundreds per series per player. We also have a new bowling attack and we need to find the best balance in our bowling attack.

"South African cricket has got more challenges than most other nations in the world. In terms of finances, in terms of Kolpaks, in terms of the make-up of the team. Yet, we always tend to find ourselves in the top three more times than not, in all formats"

How would you like to see this Test team progress?
We want to play a positive brand of cricket. We want to play an expansive brand of cricket. It will be clichéd to say "fearless". When opportunities arise, we want to seize the initiative and rather err on the positive than the conservative, and we want to continue to grow that. We are going to make mistakes. Someone is going to get caught on the boundary and you are all going to say, "What the hell is he doing, how can he play that shot?" But that's cool. That's the way we want to try and play our cricket.

Are you happy with the way the openers have performed?
If you want to have a quality Test team, you need a quality opening partnership and we definitely seem to be moving that way at the moment. Stephen Cook and Dean have got a good thing going. They complement each other really well. They are both gutsy players. The way they played on the first morning here [at the Wanderers] was wonderful. They only put on 45, but it felt like a hundred because of the nature of the wicket.

Are these the kinds of pitches you would like to see used for home series?
It depends on who you are playing against. If you are playing against Australia, who are historically not a great team on slower wickets, you might want to play more on coastal conditions. If you are playing a subcontinent team , you want to play them on these types of wickets.

In six Tests this season, against Australia and Sri Lanka, Dean Elgar has made 469 runs, with two hundreds and two fifties © AFP

Are you concerned about Temba Bavuma's form?
When the team is winning there's always going to be one batter that's struggling for form. That's just the nature of Test batting. Three Tests ago, Temba probably won the game with Quinton de Kock in Hobart, when he got that wonderful 70-odd and set the game up for us in tough conditions. A Test before that, he also got runs when we were 60 [81] for 5. It's the nature of international cricket. You can't have all six or all seven of your batters firing at the same time. When one batter is struggling, it's important that the other guys contribute.

The depth of the talent pool was under scrutiny, not only after injuries to bowlers last year but also because of the spate of Kolpak signings. Are you happy with the resources at your disposal?
South Africa are blessed in that we seem to produce really good cricketers. I have been speaking to the Under-19 coaches and there are some high-quality players in the U-19 side now, who, in a couple of years, can progress to the national side the way a Quinton de Kock or Kagiso Rabada did. We are very fortunate that we have a good schooling system that can produce the young players.

Do you think there was an overreaction to the troubles of last summer?
I was saying to someone the other day, and I am not comparing, but South African cricket has got more challenges than most other nations in the world. That's the truth. In terms of finances, in terms of Kolpaks, in terms of the make-up of the team. That's just the way it is. Other teams maybe don't have to deal with it. A team like England. Yet, we always tend to find ourselves in the top three more times than not, in all formats. There's a lot to be appreciative of about the way South African cricket operates and the way the players go about their business. Not many teams face the sort of challenges we face. Maybe the public at times just expect you to be No. 1 at absolutely everything and it's just not possible when old, mature, experienced, high-quality players leave and potentially talented players come into the team. The likes of Quinton de Kock, Temba Bavuma, Kagiso Rabada and Stephen Cook, to a certain degree, take a little bit of time before they get to that level. Some of those guys are now getting to that level and that's why the team is performing better.

"There are some high-quality players in the U-19 side now, who, in a couple of years, can progress to the national side the way a Quinton de Kock or Kagiso Rabada did"

Did you think there was a chance you would lose your job?
I could go tomorrow. Nothing is certain. I by no means look too far ahead in my coaching career. I take it one series at a time. You never know what's around the corner in coaching. I've always felt that the support that I've got from the players is the most important thing. If you've still got the support of the players, that's all that matters. I've always felt I had that. It's out of my control, what happens happens.

We often talk about the players' schedules and how packed those are, but coaches are also on the road for long periods of time. We've seen Australia give Darren Lehmann a break and split the responsibility. Would you also like some time off?
I am going home for two nights after this Test because if I didn't go home for these two nights, I might only have had one or two nights until April 4, but when I get back here Tuesday, I am really excited by the group of players I am going to be working with. I am not going to be seeing Faf [du Plessis], JP [Duminy], Hashim [Amla], KG [Rabada]. There are going to be 13 completely new players in the T20 series. They will be so hungry and so desperate to make an impression for South African cricket. And that's exciting for us. I've told our coaches, "Boys, we've got to have our A game here because it's like first day of school for a lot of these guys." They are so desperate to play for their country and it's exciting for me to get to work with those types of players.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ajay on January 18, 2017, 7:58 GMT

    Contuining. Previous post was just a thought process and I'm not under illusion that we will str8 away go and win overseas. LOL. But we can continue to build on this concept and maintain a 5 bowler strategy. Jadeja and Pandya can be swapped based on pitches offered. Jadeja in Adelaide/Sydney, Pandya in Melbourne/Perth as 5th bowlers and No.8 batsmen with Ashwin coming in at 6 if Saha is continued as keeper (Saha is a shaky starter and may not be ideal at 6) or Ashwin at No 7 if Parthiv is retained as keeper. I personally would love to have Dinesh karthik in the mix as he is a good fit as a No 6 batsmen and keeping is as reliable as Saha. Anyway either one of Karthik or Parthiv is fine to strengthen the batting in order to continue with Kohli's 5 bowlers theory. This Wk is a short term solution until Pant becomes ready in a couple of years while he is allowed to transition from shorter format to tests. Rahane No5 batsmen on first overseas tour given his experience w/ Nair Rohit standbys

  • Ajay on January 18, 2017, 7:01 GMT

    Contuining. This time around India is building a decent lead (ranking points wise) soon to get wider by 10 - 12 points after Aus visits next month. They are going for much bigger back to back to back home wins unlike the past where they won by smaller margins. So this wide lead will take some time to drag India down. They can afford to lose 3 away series and still stay in top 2 and come back home again and climb up again and build on the lead again. Also it's easy to climg to No1 but to stay at No1 is difficult. When India was No1 and visited WI they lost 1 point even though they won the series by 2-0 away. That is the problem while you are on top and meet a much much lower ranked team as WI. A 4-0 whitewash will fetch you only 1 point gain. A 3-0 win will retain the point with no change and a 2-0 will cost you a point. So No1 position can be sustained only by blanking out Number 2 to 5 teams at home and come out with a couple of drawn series overseas and a couple of narrow losses away

  • Ajay on January 18, 2017, 6:29 GMT

    Duidelik -While you had very good away record (which had a few draws and a few narrow wins), your home record was not as spectacular as other top teams who routinely steam roll the opposition at their home. At your home you had two series losses to Aus and Eng and a narrow 2-1 series and another 1-1- draw against India. That is where your record balanced out. While you stayed at No.1 you couldn't build a substantial lead (ranking points) to sustain that for long period. One series loss against India costed you big time since there was no big gap between rankings. Aus No1 team held it for long period because they had a similar decent away record but they steamrolled every opposition that visited them and gained the extra valuable points from massive home wins. India had same issue. They climbed to N01 in 2010 courtesy of decent away record built from 2003 to 2011 (away record 1.0 - second best to Aus team) and good home record (not a home run record like Aus). so they lost in 18months.

  • Vaughan on January 18, 2017, 4:48 GMT

    @Cricinfouser ..... how many times must we say that we've had the best away record for nearly 9 years, even better than Steve Waugh's great side! Also, concerning world cups.... everyone forgets that we won the inaugural ICC Champions Trophy under Hansie Cronje in 1998 in Bangladesh!

  • Alex on January 18, 2017, 3:45 GMT

    His time is up when faf gets injured. Is there anything else i can add? Nothing.

  • guyajw5204138 on January 17, 2017, 16:12 GMT

    The biggest issue facing South Africa is simply the age of their squad. Domingo can say that it's the 'start of a new era' but realistically about half of the current squad will not be around in 3 years time. Amla, Duminy, Cook, du Plessis, Philander, Steyn and ABdV are all 30+. Cricket South Africa will need to prepare for a spate of retirements in the not too distant future. Still, really looking forward to seeing Rabada and de Kock up close in England this year.

  • David on January 17, 2017, 10:43 GMT

    Not sure what Domingo means by expansive cricket, is it another way of saying aggressive cricket? The reporter did not press him on the issue. Another thing that stood out to me is his insistence of preparing wickets to favor them at home. What happens then when you travel abroad especially the sub continent? The ICC has got to take over the care of wickets around the world otherwise we are going to continue to see these one sided affairs in favor of the home teams.

  • andrew2711976 on January 17, 2017, 9:34 GMT

    So you can't win the match but a draw secures the series. A batsman following his coach's 'expansive' mantra gets out caught on the boundary. Which is more important - promoting brands or winning test series? I'd suggest the latter and remember fondly the times before discussion of cricket was invaded by meaningless business speak.

  • Dillon on January 17, 2017, 8:55 GMT

    @Waterfallfan: I've read that Ackermann signed a Kolpak with Leicestershire. He's been very good this season, but his overall franchise/SS record still puts him well behind Bavuma (1976 runs@40; 3 100s vs 2994 runs@46; 8 100s), as well as de Bruyn & Kuhn (who I think deserves a chance, though he is 32, esp. because he can open) for national selection.

    Agree that Bavuma should be sent back to FC cricket if he fails on the NZ tour, which would hopefully give de Bruyn a chance (not clear yet that ABdV will be ready for NZ & I supspect he's reluctant to commit to tests due fitness & workload concerns - people forget that Graeme Smith retired from international cricket at 33 because of persistent injury problems).

    Hope to see de Bruyn get a chance in the ODIs vs SL now that Rossouw is gone. Agree that TdB is a long-form specialist, but his List A record for Titans is still pretty impressive: 609 runs@46 in 14 inns (2 100s, 2 50s, 80+ SR), so I think he could do well in ODIs for SA too.

  • antonn8616850 on January 17, 2017, 7:41 GMT

    @BUNDYBEAR55 Does it really go much deeper than financial stability? Let's not pretend there's some esoteric motive here. Firstly, they are - in the main - fringe players and therefore not guaranteed a four year contract as they are with the counties. Secondly, none of them are guaranteed IPL picks, so why would you hang around for a maybe when there's a definite on the table? And what do you mean opportunities for white players are becoming increasingly limited when the make up of the franchise teams are still, over 20 years after the official end of apartheid, primarily white, as are the backroom staff, coaches, etc. South Africa is innately political - it's not only sport where it impacts. Every decision in the country is made against the backdrop of the past - to think you can suddenly turn that off is very, very naive. No-one is entitled to anything - these players know the framework in which they operate because it's all they've ever known.

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