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March 27, 2013
While Gary Kirsten and Russell Domingo will spend the next two months playing with their kids, the other member of South Africa's coaching staff, Allan Donald, has adopted what looks like a set of problem children. Donald will spend time as head coach of the Pune Warriors squad, who he meets on Thursday, and has been tasked with changing their fortunes.
Pune finished IPL5 at the bottom of the table and won only four of their 16 matches. The best they've performed in a season is in second-last spot after their maiden run in 2011. Since then, instead of positive results, they have racked up controversies.
Their first campaign was nearly aborted because of sponsorship disputes. When it was decided they would play, Sourav Ganguly was picked as their captain and his relationship with the franchise appeared to deteriorate steadily. He was appointed their mentor for the second season.
In their playing group was Jesse Ryder, who was going through a personal crisis and travelled with a personal psychologist, and Wayne Parnell and Rahul Sharma, who were involved in a drug raid at a party. In an effort to change things, they bought Michael Clarke to captain them this season but before it could begin, he was ruled out of the tournament with a back problem.
Donald admits things have not been easy and knows his main job is to turn that around. "We've had two tired years so this season is about finding some confidence," he told ESPNcricinfo. "In a tournament like the IPL, it's a difficult thing to understand. How do you gain confidence and momentum?
"Last year, we started pretty well and then things backfired massively. It was quite a nightmare. But we've looked at a bit of restructuring and I think this is still a great stage to take on a team." Ganguly is no longer involved and Donald is taking South Africa's conditioning coach Rob Walter, who was with Delhi Daredevils, with him to try and bring in some of the culture that has made the national team so successful.
"We've got a good blend of younger players to mix with the leadership group but now we've got to get it together," Donald said. "There's been a bit of reworking and we seem to have good systems in place so I am looking forward to a better season."
For Donald, the way the team performs is a direct reflection on his ability as a coach, something he wants to develop over the next two months with a view to future endeavours. "Every time challenges get thrown at you, you should take them and this is a massive challenge. It doesn't get any bigger than the IPL. Ultimately I want to become a head coach and I think this will be step in that direction."
Donald has served as bowling coach to England, New Zealand and South Africa but he has never been the head coach. Bangladesh were interested in him for the main job shortly after he joined Kirsten's ranks and he turned them down. With Kirsten having made it clear he does not intend to stay involved indefinitely, Donald may be eyeing taking over if the opportunity comes up in the future.
He will be one of two South African head coaches at this year's tournament. The other is Ray Jennings who has been in charge of Royal Challengers Bangalore since the second season. Shaun Pollock, Jonty Rhodes, and Doug Watson worked at the Mumbai Indians in the past and Kepler Wessels was with Chennai Super Kings in the first season. On face value, Donald has a tougher task than any of his compatriots, especially because he has not had a break.
Donald will depart just four days between the end of the South African series against Pakistan and the start of his new job. He could be in India until May 26, should Pune reach the final. Five days after that, South Africa will play Holland in a warm-up match for the Champions Trophy. Even if his stay with the IPL ends with the franchise's last match on May 18, Donald will only have little more than a week before he has to resume his national duties.
His travels will be made easier because his family is accompanying him for a longer period for the first time. His wife and two children will be at the IPL and it will be his daughter's first visit to India which he said she is very excited about. But before he can make time to show her the sights, he wants to concentrate on mentoring Pune's young bowlers.
Donald identified recent Test debutant Bhuvneshwar Kumar as one he would like to mould. "He is not express pace but he is very skilfull. There is a lot to work with there," Donald said. Others who will hope to benefit from Donald's experience are Ashok Dinda, Mitchell Marsh, Kane Richardson and someone who has worked with him before, Parnell. "I always enjoy working with talented bowlers and I hope to make able to make some sort of impact."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
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