TELFORD VICE in Cape Town
IT’S not in any coaching manual, in anyone’s kitbag or on the scoreboard, and it wouldn’t register with thermal cameras, super sensitive microphones or ball-tracking gizmos.
But it’s as important to success on the cricket ground as runs, wickets or anything else. Maybe more so.
And, every few years, it’s rebuilt from the ground up.
It’s the relationship between coaches and their players — particularly the senior figures in the team and, at the head of that queue, the captain.
South Africa are in that moment now: Ottis Gibson, Russell Domingo’s replacement, is scheduled to arrive in Mzansi tomorrow.
Then the rebuilding will begin …
“The captain and the coach are trying to get the same message across, and that breeds confidence,” Domingo said. “If varied messages are coming across it can create uncertainty about how to go about things.
“It’s probably the most important relationship in the group — to make sure the two of you stay unified even when things are not going well. So that you always come across in a controlled, calm manner and are always supporting each other when there are tough situations around.”
The bond needs compatibility if it is even to form properly, nevermind grow and strengthen.
“There’s no doubt that the better you get on personally with the coach or the captain the easier it is to buy into his understanding and reasoning, whereas if the mutual respect isn’t there it’s very easy to find fault and criticise and cause conflict,” Domingo said.
“The team is more important than the relationship between the coach and the captain. So if there is disharmony you’ve both got to be professional enough for that not to be exposed in front of the team or in a public space.
“Those type of conflicts can be dealt with behind closed doors, and you need to have differences of opinion and different ideas. But that needs to happen privately.”
Happily, then, South Africa’s dressingroom is a more welcoming place than it might have been a few years ago, when figures of the stature of Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher roamed the place like the giants they were, dispensing wisdom and justice as they went.
“The core leadership of the team are really good people,” Domingo said. “They all have good value systems, they all try and live their lives in a professional and disciplined ways.”
He rattled off a list of names to bolster his point. Among them was that of AB de Villiers, who has opted not to play in South Africa’s last 15 tests but will be back in whites against India and Australia in the new year.
Du Plessis himself has said the test team didn’t expect to see De Villiers in their midst again, which might make for an awkward reunion.
But a player of De Villiers’ calibre looms as a key part of South Africa’s recovery and rehabilitation in the wake of their poor performance in England this winter.
“To have that type of batsman in the middle order and working with and playing with some of the younger players is a massive benefit,” Domingo said. “If I was the coach I would welcome him back with open arms.”
Gibson no doubt will. How he gets on with De Villiers will be almost as important as his partnership with Du Plessis.
It’s a love triangle with a difference, and it means everything to South Africa’s immediate future.