TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
THE most important news of SA’s press conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday ahead of their departure for the Caribbean was delivered before a word had been spoken.
It was the sight of Russell Domingo – who is still SA’s coach despite having been the prime target for the criticism that followed his team losing almost as many matches as they won last season.
Since October SA have lost test series to India and England, and a T20 rubber against Australia. They have also won one-day and T20 series against India and England. But the test defeats loom largest, along with a record South Africans don’t like the look of: won 14, lost 13.
The last of those games was played in March, which has given Domingo time to reflect and recharge for the ODI tournament against West Indies and Australia. SA play their first match against the home side in Guyana next Friday.
“It’s been a wonderful two months,” Domingo said. “There is nothing like spending time at home and putting everything into perspective; enjoying the small things in life and sitting down and watching other coaches sweat it out at the Indian Premier League, seeing how small the margins are between winning and losing.
“It can make you realise how so many times results are not really in your hands. I am fresh and ready to go. I probably need a break from my dad chores.”
Dad spent some of the downtime listening to his 11-year-old son’s take on SA’s spiral from No. 1 to No. 6 in the test rankings.
“He reckons it’s a good thing we’ve dropped down because it takes a little bit of the pressure away from trying to hold onto that position and doing whatever you can to get into that position.”
But for the next month SA’s focus will be on the white-ball game and at least one set of opponents South Africans respect.
“You know the history of SA and Australia,” Domingo said. “They’re a side you always want to judge yourself against.”
Aside from sharp-edged rivalry, Domingo said, “winning is important – the public demands it, cricket people demand it”.
Some of that winning could be done by a slow bowling component that features leg spinner Imran Tahir, the left-arm orthodox Aaron Phangiso and left-arm wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi.
“The wickets are not quick,” Domingo said. “They don’t offer much lateral movement and the spinners, particularly in Guyana, play a big role.”
Phangiso liked the sound of that: “That means there will probably be an opportunity for two spinners to play most of the time. The conditions will allow that.
“I’m hoping to put in some good performances and to get some consistency.”
Phangiso will also hope that he can put his recent past – which included being throw off a flight for unruly drunkenness and having his bowling action declared illegal, then cleared – behind him.
“There’s a lot of lessons you learn from those type of things, and a lot of the time the public get a story that’s not 100% (accurate),” he said.
“It was a bit tough. It was four months of newspapers – ‘Phangi’ this, ‘Phangi’ that, (bowling) action that. But I’ve got a strong family, very Christian people. That helped a lot.”
Phangiso, inspired by what he learnt at a spin camp in India this month, said he would bring a new approach to the triseries.
“I’ve been a defensive spinner all my career. I’ve always kept it tight, tight, tight – and then taken the wickets with pressure. But now maybe I’ll look to attack.”
Whatever. Just win.