Domingo keeps it real despite series success

TMG Print


TELFORD VICE, Adelaide

FIRST came Faf du Plessis. Then Vernon Philander. Then Steve Smith, Usman Khawaja and Darren Lehmann. And Stephen Cook.

Only then, more than 40 minutes after the start of the barrage of press conferences that followed Australia winning the third test by seven wickets in Adelaide on Sunday, Russell Domingo sat down behind the microphones.

The press conference is, as one grizzled Aussie journalist said earlier in the Adelaide test as we waited for another victim to present himself, “the opiate of the hack”.

They can be tediousness itself for both the questioned and the questioners, an apparently necessary evil of modern sport.

Being the only person on the other side of the microphone curtain can be deflating, nevermind waiting for six others to do their thing first.

So perhaps that’s why Domingo seemed flat.

Or maybe, still thinking about what went wrong for South Africa in Adelaide, Domingo was struggling to rekindle the happiness of winning the series in Hobart two weeks previously.

Or he was keeping it real.

“You can’t think you’re the best side in the world when you’re winning and you can’t think you’re the worst in the world when you lose,” Domingo said.

“It’s the same with coaching – you can’t think you’re the best in the world when you’ve won a few games and you can’t think you’re the worst coach in the world when you’ve lost a few games.

“You’ve got to keep a balance and you’ve got to keep perspective, and you’ve got to keep the focus on things you can control.”

Among the things Domingo can’t control is what his underground army of detractors – motto: what does he who has never played high-level cricket know about coaching? – say, even though he has reeled off one-day and test series triumphs against Australia? 

“It’s just another day,” Domingo said with a shrug. “It’s no drama in my life. There’s always going to be people (who doubt you).

“You try not to get to stressed about it and think about it too much. You’ve just got to try and do the best you can, and that’s what I’ve really focused on.

“I’ve always said it’s not about me – it’s about the team and the players and how the team plays.

“If I’m the right guy for the job, I am. If I’m not, I’m not. That’s the bottom line.

“The team is more important than any individual and that’s my mantra.

“I know some people have thought that that’s not the case, that I’m not the right guy. But so be it. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion.”

Some of those opinions were that South Africa would struggle to replicate their 5-0 ODI series win over the Aussies in the tests because rested fast bowlers Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood would be back in harness.

The visitors went into the series without AB de Villiers, who is recovering from elbow surgery, and they lost Dale Steyn to a broken shoulder on the second day of the first test in Perth.

South Africa will win despite all that? Let’s get real …

You could argue that the naysayers had a point. South Africa did not, after all, win the test series 3-0; only 2-1. And Khawaja and Hazlewood were the leading runscorer and wicket-taker.

But Kagiso Rabada, Kyle Abbott and Vernon Philander all banked five-wicket hauls and Dean Elgar, Stephen Cook, JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis all scored centuries.

To Hazlewood went Australia’s only five-wicket effort and Khawaja scored an equally lonely century for them.

The better team? No contest.

For South Africa it was all so different to last season, when they lost five of eight tests and tumbled from No. 1 to No. 7 in the rankings.

Domingo gave a large chunk of the credit for that resurgence to Philander, who missed most of the 2015-16 campaign with an ankle injury.

He took a dozen wickets at 23.58 in Australia and provided the stability South Africa needed to keep the pressure on the batsmen.

“It’s good to have players back and to have players back in form; that’s the bottom line,” Domingo said.

Another bottom line is that De Villiers seems set to return as captain despite Du Plessis’ success in the role.

“Obviously those decisions get made by the board with suggestions from the selection panel,” Domingo said.

“As far as I know the status quo will remain – AB de Villiers is the guy that’s in charge and once fit he will come back into the side.”

Easy to say, more difficult to do. Even squeezing De Villiers back into an increasingly settled batting line-up looms as a challenge.

“AB de Villiers is one of the best (batsmen) in the world,” Domingo said. “I’m assuming he’ll come straight back into the side and somebody will need to make way for him – you can only play 11.”

Whoever they are, they’ll be a damned good team.

Advertisements

By hook or by Cook

TMG Print


TELFORD VICE, Adelaide

LOSING is supposed to hurt. But, despite Australia’s seven-wicket win over South Africa in the third test in Adelaide on Sunday, Stephen Cook emerged victorious.

And that even though, for the first time in his six tests, he was in the losers’ dressingroom – which of course housed the team who had won the series.

The short version of why Cook had reasons to be cheerful despite the Adelaide result is that he scored 104 in the second innings.

The long way round is that he finally made his efforts count after, in his other four knocks in the series, he looked like a man risen from a sick bed to go out and bat. Worse, he scraped together only 75 runs.

Not that he made a better aesthetic impression in Adelaide, where he trod the crease like a tortured soul for more than six hours.

“I’ve had a tough time the last couple of weeks, that’s plain and obvious to say,” he said.

“Before the series I knew things were going to be tough. I knew the Aussies had a good bowling line-up.

“And I got tested. By hook or by crook, I suppose – or by hook or by Cook, there’s a line for you – I managed to come through it.

“I knew Australia is a place you can be made or broken. I’m leaving with people perhaps being able to see that I can bat better than I have these last few weeks.”

Some of those people are the selectors, who before the second innings would have asked themselves whether Cook was the man to open the innings when Sri Lanka tour South Africa next month.

That question has now been answered. But, for Cook, who played his 183rd first-class match in Adelaide, struggling for survival was nothing new.

“There have been a lot of times in my career where I’ve gone on streaks longer than this without scoring runs,” he said.

“I suppose you work out how you can get back. The nice thing is that I never felt like I was playing that badly.”

How something feels, Cook didn’t say, can be different to how it looks. But looks have never mattered much to him.

“It wasn’t a pretty show but I’ve never been a pretty cricketer,” he said of his technique.

“I know it’s not classical. I know it’s a little bit ugly. I know I crab across the crease.

“I’ve heard many descriptions of it. Unfortunately it’s the one I’ve got and the one I’ve used for a long time.

“But it’s gotten me so far – yes, I’ll do little tweaks and try and make amendments – and by and large I stick with what I’ve got and try make it work for me.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to jump onto the front foot like Ricky Ponting or move in and behind the ball like some other players. For me it’s about getting my gameplan going and keeping my disciplines going.”

That was good enough to earn Cook the praise of his captain.

“He’s a fighter; I’m proud of the character he showed,” Faf du Plessis said.

“It’s hardest when you’re under pressure to score a big innings like that.”

Cook and Du Plessis are tough guys both, but perhaps the secret to Cook’s success in Adelaide was a pair of smiles.

They belong to his wife and young child, who joined him in Hobart, where the second test was played. 

“It’s a massive help,” he said of having his family around. “It’s amazing how your spirits lift when they arrive.

“That’s when I felt things turned around for me on this tour on a personal level.

“My family doesn’t care whether I’ve scored nought or a hundred. My little daughter looks at me the same way today as she looked at me three weeks ago.

“It shows you what’s really important. In the end it’s just a game of cricket.”

Even when winners lose.

To Australia the win, to Cook the glory

TMG Print


TELFORD VICE, Adelaide

TO Stephen Cook went the glory in the third test at Adelaide Oval on Sunday, even though to Australia went the victory that stopped their rot.

Cook, 81 not out at stumps on Saturday, was last out for a grinding, doughty and probably career-saving 104 in South Africa’s second innings.

Nought, 12, 23 and 40 were his other scores in the series, and even though he was clearly on an upward curve he could not have been confident of retaining his place in next month’s home series against Sri Lanka without banking a big effort in the second dig in Adelaide.

Cook can now consider that job done, even though that relief will be dulled by knowing what it feels like to finish on the losing side for the first time in his six tests.

South Africa’s and Cook’s innings were ended with the visitors just 127 ahead – not enough to stop Australia from winning by seven wickets with a session left on the fourth day.

Not that the result hurt South Africa too much: the series has been over as a contest since they won the second test in Hobart almost two weeks ago.

South Africa dominated in Perth and Hobart despite the loss of major players AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn to injury – a fact not lost on Faf du Plessis.

“Those were massive blows, and before the series if you had told the South African team they would lose those two players they would say they had no chance to beat Australia,” Du Plessis said.

“The most pleasing thing is that everyone out their hand up. As a captain it’s so pleasing to see everyone fulfill their potential.”

Sunday’s victory ended a streak of five test losses for Australia. However anaemic this success is in the greater scheme of things, will if nothing else quieten the strident calls for change in the game in this country.

The major gain for South Africa is the experience of having played a pink-ball, day/night test – only the third yet staged.

Soon, surely, the newest version of the oldest format will make its debut in South Africa. The fact that 125 993 people clicked through Adelaide Oval’s turnstiles in not quite four days tells us this idea’s time has come.

The behaviour of the new, improved pink ball was far closer to that of its venerable red cousin in this match than last November, when it swung around corners as the sun set and helped the inaugural day/night test hurtle to a finish inside three days.

“Before the series the questions we had around the pink ball and playing day/night (test) cricket were asked out of skepticism,” Du Plessis said. “Now that we’ve been through it, not so much.

“I think there are positive signs going forward, and I would definitely like to see it in South Africa.

“But there are a lot of factors to consider – the lights (in South Africa) would have to be upgraded quite dramatically.”

Despite the colour of the ball the Adelaide match unfolded a lot more like cricket has for the past 139 years. 

That held true into Sunday’s play, when the visitors resumed on 194/6 and were dismissed early in the second hour with Mitchell Starc taking 4/80.

Cook stood firm through the dismissals of Quintin de Kock and Vernon Philander as well as Australia taking the new ball to pull Josh Hazlewood through square leg for four and bring up his second test ton with the last delivery before drinks.

South Africa were all out 14 balls later when Starc nailed Cook’s off stump to put paid to an innings that had endured for 240 balls.

David Warner and debutant Matt Renshaw got Australia’s runchase off to a solid start.

But when the partnership was worth 64 miscommunication between the batsmen led to Warne being run out for 47.

Two balls later debutant left-arm wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi trapped first-innings centurion Usman Khawaja in front for a duck.

A stand of 61 between Renshaw and Steve Smith, who scored 40, took Australia to within two runs of victory.

They won with four sessions left in the match and with Renshaw 34 not out.

Time for cricket to tamper?

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Adelaide

SHOULD cricket ease the regulations around ball-tampering, or should cricketers ease up on the illicit but implicitly accepted practice?

After everything that has happened in Hobart – where Faf du Plessis used sugary saliva on the ball during the second test – and Adelaide – where he was punished for doing so – the fuss boils down to exactly that.

“It’s been part of our game, something that’s been almost an unwritten rule – how you do it, what you do,” Du Plessis said this week after he had been fined 100% of his match fee and come within a single demerit point of being banned.

“There are so many things out there. Some people use sunblock to shine the ball, I know of people who carry lip (balm) in their pocket and shine the cricket ball, gum, there’s just so many things.

“It’s so difficult to say what is right and what isn’t. To say that when you have a sweet in your mouth it’s wrong, but when you have a sweet in your mouth and the camera doesn’t pick up on it, it’s OK (makes it) a really massive grey area.”

That wasn’t the case for International Cricket Council (ICC) chief executive Dave Richardson, who had a one-word answer when he was asked whether he agreed with Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) assertion that the regulations around what constituted an “artificial” – and thus banned – substance were vague.

“No,” Richardson said with a firm shake of his head.

But he and Du Plessis would not have disagreed about how few undoctored balls were whizzing about the world’s cricket ovals.

“This has always been an issue that’s quite difficult to police,” Richardson said. “Even before we spoke about using mints and sweets, we’ve been using lip-ice and sunscreen on our faces for years.

“We understand that, inadvertently, in shining the ball there’s the potential for it to get onto the ball.”

That didn’t mean every ball randomly smudged with sunblock would be presented as evidence at a hearing.

“We’re not going to go around wildly accusing players of cheating using lip-ice, sunscreen or sweets,” Richardson said.

“We’ve taken the approach that we will only really charge someone if it’s obviously being done for that illegal purpose.

“There are two examples from the past. One was Rahul Dravid (in a one-day international against Zimbabwe in 2004), where he actually took the sweet and rubbed it on the ball – you probably couldn’t get more obvious than that – and in our opinion this (Du Plessis) instance.

“If anyone does something similar we will, hopefully, if we get to see it, treat him in exactly the same way as we’ve treated Faf in this case.

“These decisions were not taken lightly. It was because it was so obvious a breach of the current laws that we thought we had to report it.”

What are the chances of law 42 being changed to keep pace with reality?

Promising, according to CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat: “We will pick up this topic with the ICC and I also understand that the cricket committee had already earmarked this discussion.”

Not quite, said Richardson: “I think he jumped the gun in saying it’s on the agenda. But I think that in light of this incident and of other comments being made by other players around the world, it’s fair to say it should be discussed by the cricket committee going forward.”

Other players like Australian captain Steve Smith, who admitted that, “We along with every other team around the world shine the ball the same way.”

What Du Plessis did was against the laws of cricket and therefore deserving of punishment. But should it remain so?

Enjoy pink ball uncertainty while it lasts

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Adelaide

CRICKET is an alchemy of the certain and the uncertain, of teasing tangents and tall targets, and the perennial probability that anything is possible. Then, one step beyond all that, there’s the unknowable.

Or, as Faf du Plessis said after South Africa’s first experience of pink-ball, day/night test cricket in Adelaide, “I don’t even know what to expect. We got 250 but it feels like we got more, but it isn’t a massive score.

“The (pink-ball) game speeds up because there’s a lot more action on the ball. So 250 is perhaps 350 with the red ball.

“But this is all speculation, and where I think we are in the game.”

Talk about the glorious uncertainty of sport. And talk about it Du Plessis and his team surely have.

“Everything feels weird about it. We’re going to get back (to the hotel) at 11pm. Your brain will be spinning for another two hours. That’s normal when you finish a game.

“So you go to bed at 2am and wake up at 8am and you’ve got to go again.”

To the unknowing, changing the colour of the ball and the hours of play will seem superficial. To some extent they’re right.

The latest iteration of the pink ball is significantly improved on what came before and the difference in artificial lighting from, say, 20 years ago is the difference between night and day.

But other changes the pink ball will bring to test cricket are more subtle, like what we saw on the first day in Adelaide.

“Someone had the courage to declare with nine wickets down and without eking out the last few runs,” former South African wicketkeeper Dave Richardson, these days the chief executive of the International Cricket Council, said.

That someone was Du Plessis, who declared on 259/9 with 14 overs left in the day/night’s play.

Were the ball red and the sun still in the sky his decision would have sent eyebrows soaring and thoughts lurching towards match-fixing.

But, in just the third day/night test, there is perhaps a subconscious reluctance to take cricket’s newest toy too seriously. Not for long.

“We’re finding that the ball can last better than expected and that the pitches don’t need to be as green or as grassy as we thought previously,” Richardson said.

“But the climatic conditions and the quality of the floodlights has to be carefully looked at before willy-nilly going and scheduling these matches.”

So, while we have it, let’s enjoy the uncertainty.

Leading Edge: Sit down, shut up, move on

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Adelaide

EMOTION is to the truth what mints are in the mouths of cricketers – dangerous. And after days of much more emotion than truth we need to get back to the facts.

Here’s the only one that matters: if Faf du Plessis did not have contraband in his mouth, from which he fetched spit to shine the ball during the Hobart test, we would not have had the week from tabloid hell.

Don’t blame the television cameras for zooming in on the mint. Or the press for swooping on the story. Or International Cricket Council chief executive Dave Richardson for charging Du Plessis. Or match referee Andy Pycroft for finding Du Plessis guilty of ball-tampering.

All of those things are as they should be. And none of them would have happened had Du Plessis not violated the laws of the game with gratuitous impunity – he would have gotten away with it had he the good sense not to flaunt his indiscretion open-mouthed.

This, then, is all his fault. He is the villain of this piece.

It doesn’t matter a jot that everybody does it, including – as Steve Smith admitted – the Australians.

It also doesn’t matter that the relevant part of law 42 is out of step with what has been happening on cricket grounds worldwide for decades.

What does matter is that what Du Plessis did, and did blatantly, is outlawed.

Guilty as charged. Do not pass go. Do not collect R200.

And yet South Africans both inside and outside the dressingroom have howled at the moon with disingenuous indignation.

They are one with that sorry class of homo sapiens who booed Du Plessis for scoring a century in Adelaide on Thursday.

We have to be angry with him for treating the regulations and conventions of the game that pays his bills like crap. But we have to celebrate him for adorning the same game with an innings of shimmering quality and not a little chutzpah. Simply, hate the tampering not the tamperer.

Let’s blame Donald Trump. Now that politics has been tipped into a post-truth abyss where everything is as someone says it is and not as it really is, why should cricketminded South Africans and Australians resist the primordial, illogical urge to think with their feelings rather than their faculties?

That South Africans watching this calamity unfold from home are pissed off is understandable. But they shouldn’t be pissed off with anyone except Du Plessis.

Of course the South African squad were upset at Du Plessis’ fate. So upset that Hashim Amla stepped clean out of his own character to say so at a ham-fisted press conference in Melbourne.

It was difficult not to draw parallels between Amla and Trump when Amla insisted he knew nothing of the theories of what sugary saliva could do to cricket balls.

That assertion looked sillier still in the days that followed when Du Plessis and Smith spoke of the pervasiveness of the practice.

None of which denigrates anyone mentioned. Du Plessis is a gutsy player, a canny captain, and the best leader of players in South Africa, in any sporting code. Amla is decency on legs, a powerful example of how the world could be a much better place, and a wonderful batsman.

But even paragons like these can get it wrong, and they have got it very wrong in recent days.

Now Du Plessis has decided to prolong this agony by appealling Pycroft’s decision. It would take some kind of lawyerly mumbo jumbo for this latest challenge to succeed, but even that won’t make it go away.

Here’s what will help that happen – Sit down. Shut up. Move on.

SA wear black armbands for Hughes. What about Goddard?

TMG Digital


TELFORD VICE, Adelaide

FORMER South African players will be disappointed to discover that the black armbands Faf du Plessis’ men wore at Adelaide Oval on Sunday were not necessarily meant to mark the death of Trevor Goddard.

News that Goddard, a pre-unity captain of the all-white South African team, had died on Friday reached Adelaide on Saturday during the second day of the third test.

Former test batsman Daryll Cullinan posted on social media on Saturday that Goddard, who captain South Africa in 13 of his 41 tests, was “a well-loved and respected cricketer”.

“I hope he will be acknowledged with black armbands in Adelaide tomorrow.” Cullinan wrote.

When the South Africans appeared on Sunday they duly wore black armbands.

But Cricket South Africa communications head Altaaf Kazi explained that the armbands were worn at the request of Cricket Australia to mark the second anniversary of the death of Phil Hughes, who was killed by a bouncer while batting in a Sheffield Shield match in Sydney.

Kazi was unsure how many, if any, of the South Africans were also remembering Goddard.

That would not have answered the question former test batsman Barry Richards asked on social media: “Glad (they’re) remembering Phil Hughes. Trevor Goddard as well I hope?”

Kazi said the South African team’s standing policy was to wear black armbands only when family members or others close to the team died.

The wearing – or not – of armbands to mark the death of apartheid-era figures in cricket has become a point of political difference in the game in South Africa.