New Zealand in South Africa 2012-13 December 12, 2012

Meet the studious, stats man

South Africa's new Twenty20 coach Russell Domingo deals with tactics and stats, and seems to be an ideal foil for Gary Kirsten's coaching technique

When it's Russell Domingo's turn to address the media at a press conference, something has gone wrong. Not so wrong that Gary Kirsten should be tasked with the end of day formalities, but just wrong enough for none of the players to be thought capable of handling it.

Days that drift into nothingness are Domingo days. In 2012, South Africa have not had many of them. Their cricket has been as purposeful as it has been clinical but on the handful of occasions where they were pastel rather than bright, it was Domingo's job to explain why.

To a sometimes jaded audience, he brought mouthfuls of statistics and in-depth intricacies about players and places. He spoke eloquently and honestly and held conversation in the same casual way you would expect of a man in a pub. Not just any man though, a man who obviously knows more than his audience does.

Domingo never played professional cricket so he does not have the air of someone who did. He didn't become a coach because he couldn't become a player so he does not talk like he has something to prove. Completely at ease with himself, Domingo offers insight that is worth listening to even if you are not part of a dressing-room. Those who are, agree.

"He is a wonderful coach with a lot of potential. He works really hard. He likes his stats, he likes to know exactly what is going on and he likes to study the game," AB de Villiers said of Domingo. The education is now thought to be complete and Domingo will take charge of the national side for the first time next Friday, in his first outing as the Twenty20 coach, against New Zealand.

As an illustration of how rare it is for someone who has not played the game to make it as a coach, Domingo and his opposite number Mike Hesson are the only two coaches on the current international circuit not to have played professional cricket. It's not something that bothers Domingo. He has earned respect through his knowledge and he hopes to continue it that way.

"I've always enjoyed stats and strategies. I watch a lot of cricket, actually. It comes from having not played professional cricket that I have had to become a student of the game," Domingo told ESPNcricinfo. I enjoy looking at those game-plans and strategies and statistics on players over periods of time. It keeps me stimulated."

The attention to those details is essentially what Domingo thinks makes him different to South Africa's Test and ODI coach Kirsten. "He is very driven by man management and leadership and I am very driven by technical and strategic aspects and analysis. I think he finds that quite tedious and at times I can find managing people with big egos quite tedious as well so we complement each other quite well," Domingo explained.

But that does not mean things will change drastically in the shortest format. Although Domingo's research will be meticulous as always, he will keep the Kirsten streak of placing most of the responsibility on the players themselves to make big decisions. "Gary wants continuity. He knows I understand what he is trying to develop in the group and he has got faith in me and I will try and incorporate a lot of those philosophies."

"[Kirsten] is very driven by man management and leadership and I am very driven by technical and strategic aspects and analysis. I think he finds that quite tedious and at times I can find managing people with big egos quite tedious as well so we complement each other quite well,"
South Africa's Twenty20 coach Russell Domingo on Gary Kirsten

South Africa's Test squad has matured and blossomed as Kirsten introduced a work-life balance. Instead of concentrating on cricket only, Kirsten has taken the players on excursions as far as Switzerland and given them an unusual amount of time off between games and during series. An approach like that could easily result in people slacking off if it fails but it works and if it works well, the results could be as good as South Africa's have been.

Where it has not taken hold fully is in the limited-overs sides. South Africa did not perform as well as they wanted to at the World T20 in Sri Lanka, and Kirsten said transferring the success in the longest format to the shorter ones would "still take a while." That may be because the ODI and T20 squads are not as settled as the Test one. Combinations are still being sought and the floating middle-order has yet to prove an effective tactic.

Domingo is seen as the man best placed to conduct those experiments because his six years with the Warriors franchise ensured he is well-versed on the domestic scene. He has the additional role of integrating the new players and trying to infuse the ethos of the Test team into the T20 side. "I enjoy working with younger guys that I can have some sort of impact on. I like to try and develop their game but also to develop a similar culture to what we have in the Test side. If we can emulate a similar sort of culture in the T20 side, that will be amazing."

The philosophy in the Test team was helped along by having an end goal: securing and maintaining the world No.1 ranking. Apart from winning an ICC trophy, a similar sense of purpose can be difficult to identify in the blur of endless limited-overs contests.

Domingo said the World T20 in Bangladesh is "too far away," for him to think about now, so he will make the main aim of his tenure to aim for continuity in the medium-term. "The public demands a side that is going to win consistently so it is important that we put in some good performances," he said.

The first chance Domingo's side will have to do that begins next week. Some will see it as an easing in for Domingo. New Zealand do not have the same glamour as some of the other opposition South Africa have faced this year, but having not played at home since January, there is still a massive desire to do well in front of their own fans.

Every member of the squad has talked up New Zealand as a side to be careful of, as they should before a series starts to avoid being embarrassed if the unthinkable happens. Domingo did the same. "Beware the team that is in a bit of turmoil and New Zealand seem to be in a bit of turmoil at the moment. That can be a galvanising factor," he said.

"The truth is that there are no walkovers in international cricket. You've got to respect your opposition. New Zealand are a very dangerous side and on their day they can beat anybody in the world, as we saw in the World Cup. If we underestimate New Zealand and the space that they are in at the moment, we'll come second. That's as simple as it is."

So Domingo's maiden run will be treated with all the seriousness it deserves and then some. He may even find himself needing to do a Domingo-day press conference at some point. Whatever happens, he will make his mark as an international coach in the next few weeks.

T20 has opened the door for some players to go on to bigger things and with the split managerial role, it could do the same for coaches. Domingo, like David Warner, does not want to be boxed in a T20 specialist. "A successful coach will be successful in whatever format. The same values and the same principles apply. I don't think you need a specialist coach for the T20 format because the basics remain the same," he said.

He also does not see it as a stepping stone to the main job. "It hasn't been an out and out goal of mine to become the national coach. I'm really focused on doing each job to the best of my ability and taking it from there," he said. "I don't try and coach with my career in mind, I coach for the team." Pragmatic. Just like Domingo.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent