TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
IF Russell Domingo had played international cricket this story would have been published on July 28 last year. Or on March 18 this year. Or even last Thursday.
On those dates, SA won a test series in Sri Lanka for the first time since 1993, won a World Cup knockout match for the first time, and won a T20 series in India at the first attempt.
If AB de Villiers’ team win the fifth one-day international in Mumbai on Sunday we can add October 25 to the list: it will mark the first time SA have emerged victorious in a bilateral ODI series in India.
If they do, Domingo, who undertook his first series as SA’s head coach in July 2013, will have guided them to another success.
But the story of Domingo’s role will not be published if SA win on Sunday. So best it is published now.
In cricket’s addled ethos those who did not do cannot teach. Domingo did not do at anything above club level. And when he was done playing for Port Elizabeth’s Gelvandale Cricket Club he coached.
In the ambition-fuelled world of elite cricket that’s a worry. A club player coaching a national team? Surely not.
In fact, it is an indicator of loyalty – Wendell Domingo, a cousin, helped found Gelvandale in 1977 – work ethic and passion. Domingo did not have the reputation of a pile of international caps to lean on and he still became the coach of an international team? Surely not.
“It’s a total misnomer that a good player will make a good coach,” Gelvandale’s chairperson, Gary Dolley, said on Friday. “Their skill sets are completely different. Russell is a student of the game and that’s part of what makes him a good coach.”
But that truth is not easily accepted. On top of his non-playing credentials Domingo is SA’s first coach of colour, a fact that leads some South Africans to believe Domingo got the job because he is not white.
That he has been coaching for 18 years, from under-13 level to the SA Schools XI and SA A, clearly doesn’t count for much. Neither do the five finals he took the Warriors to in six seasons. Winning the franchise one-day and T20 double in 2009-10? Ag, that’s nothing.
Then came two years as Gary Kirsten’s understudy, a double-edged fact because Domingo would have learnt a lot from Kirsten but at a significant cost to himself.
“Why is Gary so late joining the squad?” SA reporters tired of being asked that question at the World Cup, particularly by their irritatingly insistent Indian colleagues, and having to answer that Kirsten, by declining to take up a new contract as coach, had relegated himself to the role of part-time consultant.
Translated, the question was: “Can you trust a man with no high level playing experience with a World Cup?”
It was answered emphatically on March 18, when SA delivered unarguably their most dominant performance in the 535 ODIs they had played to that point to beat Sri Lanka in the quarter-finals.
But it is difficult not to wonder whether part of the reasoning behind putting Mike Hussey in SA’s dugout in India, as he was at the World Cup, is to blunt those questions. At least they have somebody who knows what he’s doing, you can hear India’s reporters tell each other.
Which is not to say Domingo gets it all right. Of his 29 series in charge, including tournaments, SA have won 15. His first tour was a 4-1 ODI drubbing in Sri Lanka, and under him SA have lost at home to Pakistan and Australia, who have also beaten them Down Under. And let’s not forget SA’s ODI series crash in Bangladesh in July.
Let’s also not forget that a team blessed with Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy and Dale Steyn – and a next generation anchored on Quinton de Kock and Kagiso Rabada – should play quality cricket most of the time.
Why don’t they win every time? all the time? Domingo’s fault: if he had played international cricket they would. Now there’s a story that’s been published too many times.