Leading Edge: The case for and against retaining Russell Domingo

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE in London

HERE goes nothing: Russell Domingo should be retained as South Africa’s coach. He has built an enviable record, confounding those whose names once meant something in cricket and who now sling transparently prejudiced criticism at him.

Based on performance, Domingo deserves to keep his job. Anything less would, in the real world, be unfair dismissal.

But sport is not the real world, and South African sport is in a galaxy far, far away from reality. It’s not enough for South Africa’s team to be, more often than not, among the best in the world. If they’re not the utmost best, and if they don’t prove they’re the best, they’ve failed.

It doesn’t matter who retires or is injured, how far insecure opponents skew conditions in their favour, or what nonsense the suits get up to: if South Africa don’t win, they’ve stuffed it up. Losers.

Sometimes, of course, the opposition will play better cricket and win. Other times, the blame for a South African loss belongs to no-one and nothing except South Africa’s players.

And sometimes it is the coach’s fault. But how often is it the coach’s fault when they win?

That we cannot know. But we do know that South Africa have won 55.6% of their matches with Domingo in charge, discounting the first test against England at Lord’s. Under Gary Kirsten they won 54.5% of the time, and under Bob Woolmer 64.6%.

South Africa have lost more of their games — 36.1% — with Domingo at the helm compared to Kirsten — 33.3% — and Woolmer — 24.2%.

Does that make Domingo a better coach than Kirsten by some measures but not others, and not as good as Woolmer on all counts? No. But you will struggle to find support for the idea that Domingo deserves the kind of respect Kirsten and Woolmer have duly been given.

Regardless of the argument that he does not merit that respect because he did not play first-class cricket, let alone test cricket, Domingo has indeed earned it. If a significant playing record matters, how come Paddy Upton, whose first-class experience is two matches for Western Province, and Graham Ford, with seven such caps for Natal B, are rightly recognised among the better coaches in the game?

Domingo shouldn’t need Kirsten’s endorsement, but he got it anyway.

“The team is settled and the coaching staff have incredible work ethic and good knowledge to assist the players,” Kirsten told this newspaper on May 19 — the day after Cricket South Africa said he had been appointed to a panel that will, on July 21, reveal to the board its choice for the job.

Which brings us to what some will argue is the case for not re-appointing Domingo. Since May 24, South Africa have lost a one-day and a T20 series to England and crashed out of the Champions Trophy at the first hurdle.

The question, then, is not whether Domingo is capable of coaching South Africa successfully. That he has proved beyond measure.

Rather, it is whether he is the coach to take them forward — to make them an even better team than he and his predecessors have done.

That, also, we cannot know. So, why should it not be Domingo?

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