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'Rebuilding key to reclaiming No. 1 spot' - Domingo

Having lost Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith, South Africa face a difficult task to return to the top of the Test rankings

Firdose Moonda

May 1, 2014

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Graeme Smith embraces Jacques Kallis after his sharp catch, England v South Africa, 3rd Investec Test, Lord's, 2nd day, August 17, 2012
South Africa will need to rebuild quickly to fill the void left by Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith's exits if they are to regain the No. 1 Test ranking © AFP
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Rebuilding South Africa's Test side as seamlessly as possible following the twin retirements of Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis will be key to regaining the No.1 Test ranking, according to coach Russell Domingo. South Africa were displaced from pole position after the ICC's annual update, which saw Australia leapfrog them into top spot, by a 0.35-point margin, following a summer of rich returns for Michael Clarke's men. But Domingo is not pressing the panic button just yet.

"I am a little bit surprised because I thought there was quite a substantial gap between the No.1 and No.2 ranked side but that's the way it is," Domingo told ESPNcricinfo. "We just have to get on with it and play cricket again."

South Africa were assured of holding on to the No.1 ranking even if they lost all three Tests against Australia earlier this year and received prize money of $475,000 on April 1 for topping the rankings. However, they slipped 0.35 points behind Australia after the update at the end of April which dropped results from 2010-11 and weighted series from 2012-13 at only 50%, giving more recent results more emphasis.

Between July 2012 and March 2013, South Africa won eight of the 11 Tests they played, including series victories in England and Australia and a clean sweep of all five Tests against New Zealand and Pakistan at home. But, between October 2013 and March 2014, South Africa's results dipped. They won just three of the seven matches drew a series with Pakistan in the UAE, triumphed over India at home and tasted their first series defeat in five years, against Australia at home.

For Australia that victory and their Ashes triumph, which were both achieved in the past summer, was enough to see them edge ahead of South Africa but their stay at No. 1 could be short-lived. South Africa play three Tests, including one against Zimbabwe, before Australia next take the field in whites and they are targeting those matches as a way to reclaim their crown.

To do that, South Africa will also have to hold their own in Sri Lanka, the place where they last lost a Test series away from home in 2006. They will travel there as a team under reconstruction who, for the first time in almost a decade, will not be led by Graeme Smith.

His successor is expected to be announced in June and is likely to be one of AB de Villiers or Faf du Plessis. Both are already international captains, in the ODI and T20 formats respectively, which should make the changing of the guard nothing more complicated that a formality but Domingo still recognises there will be a need for some adjustment and he hopes that can happen smoothly.

"The Test side will take on a new shape now, especially with Kallis and Smith not being there so .the main thing is getting the new leader in place and forging the relationship with him," Domingo said. "It's important that we pick the right person and that person has some time to establish how he wants to do things."

Smith's absence also leaves South Africa in the market search for another opening batsman. Dean Elgar is the frontrunner - not only has he already been part of the Test side but his regular position is in the top order - but names such as Quinton de Kock and Stiaan van Zyl have also been mentioned.

Van Zyl was the leading run-scorer in the most recent edition of the first-class competition, which also saw Justin Ontong, who ended five runs behind van Zyl, surge back into contention. While Domingo would not be drawn on who his preference is, he emphasised that whoever the selectors choose to add to the mix would need to be given time to establish himself.

"There's a big difference between scoring runs at franchise level and at Test level and that's why replacing Kallis and Smith will be the big challenge," Domingo said. "Whoever comes in, it is important that we are patient with him. There are big boots to fill."

Patience was also the quality Kallis called for after Smith's retirement in March. Then, Kallis told the media that bridging the experience gap would be the largest hurdle for South Africa's Test side in the immediate future. "There are going to be some younger players and a little bit more inexperience than usual so there will be more pressure on them," Kallis said. "But there are enough quality players in the system to make sure South Africa always stays there and thereabouts."

Since the rankings system was put into place, in 2003, South Africa have never found themselves outside the top six and have spent the bulk of that time in the top three. Their hovering around the No.1 ranking without actually claiming it was put down to lack of ruthlessness but they resolved that during their run in 2012-13.

Now that those results are no longer valued as highly as far as the rankings are concerned, they have to find their killer instinct again if the hope to summit again. That will be a challenge given the transition period the Test team is going through and what Domingo called the "stop-start," nature of South Africa's schedule.

South Africa will play only five more Tests in 2014 with substantial gaps between them - two in July, one in August and two more in December against West Indies. That will be followed by one more in January before the 2015 World Cup. "It's very much a stop-start Test schedule for us. One-day cricket is the the priority with the World Cup coming up so we don't have many Tests. We only play three Tests before the Boxing Day Test so that's disappointing. It would be nice to play more Tests," Domingo said. And longer Test series.

"The three series I've been involved in so far - two of them have been two-Test series," Domingo said, referring to the series against Pakistan in the UAE last October and India at home in December. "All Test cricket is pressured but two-Test series are always a little more pressure. You can just have one or two bad sessions and then you can't win a Test series. It would be nice to play more three or four-Test series but there's nothing we can do about that."

Lamenting South Africa's lean fixture list is something everyone from Smith to Domingo has done publicly while accepting it is beyond their control. Take the small example of Australia having played 37 matches in the period under consideration for the latest rankings, compared with South Africa's 26. With the FTP still under negotiation and South Africa not among the Big Three, the chances of them playing more often seem slim. That may be the reason Domingo did not mention more fixtures as another way South Africa could seize back top spot.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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Posted by   on (May 7, 2014, 18:10 GMT)

i would highly recommend DU PLESSIS to be the captain of the team. he should brilliant captaincy skills in the t20 tournament, whereas AB D was ordinary ..probably give D KOCK a chance even at this young age. he needs to get adapted to the test environment. #PROTEAFIRE #PUREPROTEA

Posted by   on (May 6, 2014, 11:16 GMT)

Time to Give R.Rossouw and S.Van Zyl a shot in the test team. These two stood out with the bat in the Sunfoil Series. There are also other players knocking on the doors of the selectors like Dane Piedt, De Kock, Harmer etc.. Like Australia the future seems bright for South Africa

Posted by TommytuckerSaffa on (May 6, 2014, 9:47 GMT)

What a farce. SA win overseas consistently for years, Aus beat a bad england team at home, get thrashed in India and win in SA 2-1 and go to No.1

Rebuilding will start with the removal of Russell Domingo.

Posted by Marktc on (May 5, 2014, 9:32 GMT)

The points make no sense, although they are a fair reflection. It is also sad that SA are not playing enough test cricket. This is a concern when they are in a restructuring stage and in terms of regaining the number one spot. We need more tests, that is the bottom line. As for the team, Van Zyl should get shot over Ontong, simply in terms of age. Peterson will have to improve to hang on to the second opening spot. There are some good spinners that should also be brought into the frame. Our fast bowling stock, as always is promising. My biggest concern is Domingo....I do not see him up to the task.

Posted by JJJake on (May 3, 2014, 3:46 GMT)

Combining both test series, 5 v England and 3 v South Africa: Australia has scored 5135 runs in their 16 innings at an average of 321/innings. Opposition has scored 3803 runs in their 16 innings at an average of 238/innings. Australia has secured 17 centuries in these matches Opposition has secured 4 centuries in these matches. Warner scored 1066 runs @74.3 Australia has lost 123 wickets out of 160 in their 16 innings costing 42 runs/wicket Opposition has lost 153 wickets out of 160 in their 16 innings costing 25 runs/wicket Australia declared in 8/16 innings Opposition declared in 1/16 innings Johnson took 59 wickets @ 15.7

Posted by JJJake on (May 3, 2014, 2:54 GMT)

South Africa will bounce back. Just like Australia has. They have a history a producing good fast bowlers. The wickets in SA are a mixed bag, so there batsmen are tested on wickets that swing/ bounce and turn.

Posted by Gordo85 on (May 2, 2014, 16:02 GMT)

Buggsy give me a break. They do have a number of good spinners but yet for some reason they refuse to select them such as Shaun von Berg and another who I think has talent is a man called Dane Piedt. The pace bowling stocks are coming along nicely at domestic level. The batting is of some concern though however I don't think it will be an issue because these younger guys only need a chance to prove themselves and they will be right. I guess all they need to do is keep there eyes open and even select someone who in the past they had said no to. Such as David Wiese who before the break was opening the bowling and started to bowl well and take wickets.

Posted by Charlie147 on (May 2, 2014, 13:12 GMT)

Justin Ontong??? Please give me a break. The most overated and underachiever in SA Cricket

I also don't think that Domingo is the man for the job. Ray Jennings is a tough nut that we need right now, he stands for discipline and a no nonsense approach but I don't think he will get the nod again.

Testing times ahead for SA for sure. The ICC scheduling of Test Matches is ridiculous. ENG, AUS & IND play many more matches than anyone else.

No wonder Cook is breaking records as he plays more than most (very overrated IMO)

Posted by Buggsy on (May 2, 2014, 10:51 GMT)

Not looking good for South Africa. Steyn is in decline and as such the lack of a spinner is now even more glaring. Morkel and Philander are decent support bowlers but hardly threatening by themselves. The batting is looking even worse with only DuPlesis and AB worthy of mention.

Posted by WheresTheEmpire on (May 2, 2014, 10:31 GMT)

Champions like Kallis and Smith cannot be replaced overnight - Aussies know this from experience. However, there is a lot of top drawer quality within the SA team to rebuild around and I look forward to some more great SA-Aus battles in the future.

I agree completely with calls for more Test cricket. The limited overs stuff is fine but is like take away food compared with a satisfying and memorable meal of Test cricket like the excellent recent SA-Aus Test series.

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